I write about life in the outdoors, and that generally means my recreational time afield. My outdoor life is an escape from all the everyday things that make life stressful. But there’s a part of my life in the outdoors that begins as soon as I step out the back door. It’s a part of my life that is every day, twice a day, sometimes more. It’s as close as my back yard, except that it’s not a yard, it’s a pasture.
To most who knew me growing up in Elyria, it represents something of a cultural shock when they visit my country home. I’m what they call a modern “Homesteader”; that is to say I live on a few acres of rural land with a huge garden, fruit trees, and animals. My friends like to call me a farmer, but I think that’s an insult to real farmers whose profession is far more difficult than maintaining my hobby farm. Still, it represents a lifestyle that comes with its own set of challenges that can’t be put off for any reason.
I have a few horses, goats and chickens, and depending on when you come you might find pigs, turkeys, pheasants or who knows what. I’m not a survivalist, my garage isn’t filled with supplies, but I can vegetables from our big garden and fruit from our trees and I’ve often thought if the world ends tomorrow we’ll do just fine.
Of course I’ve tried a few things on the extreme edge of farming that didn’t work out so well, like growing ginseng (they got “weeded”), or raising worms for bait (the top blew off in a rainstorm, they all drown) but generally I’ve been blessed with success and it’s always been fulfilling. Of course, it’s not always fun.
I recall an especially fine example of a recent Ohio winter; most of you make it home from your stressful twelve minute drive, crack a cold one, sink into your chair and watch Sportscenter. Sounds nice, but my horses need water, and when you have several horses, they need a lot of water. No problem, just open the spigot above the trough, right? Wrong, it’s twelve degrees below zero in the barn and the spigot is one big icicle. The electric heater coil at the bottom of the tank can’t keep up with this kind of cold, and the trough itself has a thin layer of ice on it that needs to be broken, and my two mares wait impatiently. The cold makes them crazy in the first place and the idea that they have to compete at the trough makes them even more nuts. I remind myself constantly that horses are herd animals and prey animals and everything they do or see reminds them that they either have to compete for food or that they are themselves food for something else. In this weather a horse will kick at almost anything instinctively. Have I been kicked? Sure, and it leaves a bruise like getting hit by a baseball bat, but it’s nothing like getting thrown across a stall or worse, having your legs knocked out from beneath you while a nervous bucking horse kicks at the air and prances an inch from your head. When this happens you roll under the bars and thank your lucky stars only to be coming up badly bruised and covered in manure. Now I can get on with the business of ferrying several 50 gallon barrels of water from the (unfrozen) garage hose to the barn on the back of the gator.
It’s about the same time that you’re stacking the delivery of a hundred hay bales, each weighing eighty pounds, twelve feet high that you begin to think about your buddies in their recliners and how they don’t know the feeling of your eyelashes freezing when you close your eyes, or what “Sore at the end of a long day” really means. They’d hate to get a phone call after hours, that would ruin their night. For me it’s 10:30PM, all set to head to bed, and there’s the unmistakable cry of a momma goat in a difficult labor. Pull the boots on, find my head lamp, head back to the barn to play mid-wife.
I’d love to “blow it off” or say “she’ll be fine”, but it’s just me here, there’s nobody to call and nobody to help and if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. Sometimes I fall short, sometimes there’s nothing I can do and there’s always the carcass of a dead animal looking back at me when I fail. That’s the feeling that gets me out of bed; the knowledge that if I didn’t give it my best I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway.