Thursday, December 19, 2013

Finding Contentment

After a loose day at school that included lots of sugar and a little bit of work, I head up to Emily's to milk for her. I forgot to grab my chore pants this morning. The goats don't appreciate my favorite green skinny jeans that I swore were strictly for clean things. I am bad at keeping nice things nice.

I press my head against the goat's side, my hands working rhythmically, then clumsily, thinking about contentment, the theme of my week.

I find it here, cascading down my midline: the honest smell of manure, squishy beneath my muck boots, the child-like sneezes of the goats as they greedily submerge their heads in dusty, dry alfalfa. Out from behind my desk, my body rejoices. I close the gate to the gully, freshen the goat's water, laugh at the chickens, fluffing their rusty red feathers as they ready for another cold night in their perches.

The ever-shifting light plays off the mountains, glowing over the Uncompahgre Plateau. It touches the moisture and dust that hangs in the air, as if giving even the smallest particles a fond kiss goodnight. I fetch each goat and lead them back to the worn barn. As we head for the stanchion, I graze the rough, unfinished wood. Some boards are darker than the others, some longer, shrewdly hodgepodged together in a way that reminds me of my china plate collection, pieced together from various thrift stores across the West.

It is here that I know myself. It is here that the heaviness of this season and the darkness of winter take pause. Here, a hoof in the pail is no big deal, a hoof in the pail, no measure of my ability, no cause for self-beratement. Here, I see what is inside me and find peace.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Embracing the Mess.

Homesteading is messy business.  Our poop sits in the composting toilet until we empty it. Bags of cilantro, harvested weeks ago, still sit in the fridge, browning, destined for a batch of pesto. Project after project lie about, materials pile up, freezers overflow, and no matter that shoes are left at the door, mud makes its way onto the floors daily. Rarely do we pawn our messes off to some unseen person or place.

My neighbor, Eric, spends most of his time building. He largely uses recycled materials. Skeletons of old trailers used for parts scatter his property. Some people think the state of his yard an ungodly mess. He searches for that specific something, old and unwanted, and people call him up when that crooked barn won't survive another bout of spring winds, knowing he'll put each nail and board into something uniquely beautiful.  Eric takes broken, abandoned junk apart and breaths new life into it, creating art, a mobil sauna, an earthship.

Feeding the wood stove scatters bits of wood, soot, and ashes about the house. To keep it clean we'd have to sweep twice daily.

Raising chickens...messy! They poop, they molt, they attract flies, and when it comes time to butcher them, blood, guts, and feathers stick to everything. I understand why people would rather buy a vacuum sealed bird at the store.

It doesn't take long around here to get intimate with the nitty-gritty, dirty details that, as Westerners, we don't normally see.  In spite of the supposed nuisance of stinky armpits, the seemingly junky yards, the admittedly gritty homes, we're generally pretty satisfied, like pigs in shit.

Old habits die hard, however. Many of us grew up in places where cleanliness represented goodness. None of us are immune from a sense that we ought to keep everything picture perfect, which is impossible when you're trailing goat poop around on the hem of your pants. Sometimes I think I need to hide the messy things I feel as well. When I do that numbness blankets me like a half-dead plant buried in snow. Since I crave aliveness, acceptance is in high demand. Life is messy and the more I embrace the mess and find the beauty in it, the more alive I feel.
A good neighbor and a great friend,  Eric. Below are a few pictures of his property.

Eric's upper outhouse.
Two of my favorite messes in Paonia, Eric and Em.

The view along the way to the dump to drop off the recycling. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Saying "I Can" to my Paralysis

At birth, I weighed eleven pounds, the size of a Thanksgiving turkey or a bowling ball. My size led to complications during my birth that partially paralyzed my left arm.

Twenty-nine years later I cannot raise my arm above my head to put my hair in a ponytail. I lack the strength and ability to straighten it completely to do a push up,  and I am not able turn my forearm downward to type with two hands. My left arm and shoulder measure two inches shorter than my right.

In spite of all this, I telemark ski with one pole (and I love bumps!). I play banjo. I perform on stage. I milk goats, build, dig, and drive a stick shift. Last year, I started swimming laps at the pool. I've rock climbed with one arm, kayaked, played lacrosse, and fallen over a lot trying to do headstands in yoga.

When I talk about things I can't do, my chest tightens and my throat constricts. Inside, I am not limited. My body is not disfigured. Inside, I feel fully capable and perfect. When my internal world crashes against words like I can't  or pictures of me that prominently display my injury, my insides get jumbled. Defeat wraps itself around me like a coiling snake.

I feel best when I say yes to life and go for it in every moment, even if my going for it looks different than others.  In the next three months I'll be undertaking a challenge with my left arm.  I want to consciously experiment with saying I can.

I've set a few goals for myself. With all the compassion and patience I can muster, I am going to:
-learn to juggle
-go climbing with my bad-ass climbing friends
-choreograph and perform a dance that pays homage to my paralyzed arm
-spend time everyday loving on my arm

Most importantly, I am going to address the strangling feeling that comes up when I talk about it because I want to be free, and light, and at peace. I am going to own this injury more than I already do, so that my internal world and my physical reality are one.

(PS: I caught and KILLED that pack rat all by myself!!!!! Boooya!)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Autumn, a Packrat, and Rotting Chicken

I've been stuffing my Subaru with leaf-filled bags that crinkle like discarded wrapping paper and fill my car with a heavy musk that feels like second-hand smoke. Incredulity tightens every muscle in Rudabega's body, not knowing how she will fit into the overflowing car. To justify my habit of trolling the curbs in town, block by block, I extoll the virtues of tossing fallen leaves in the compost to anyone who will listen; they hold valuable nutrients, improve soil structure, aerate clay soils, and help retain moisture.  Plus, the goats like to eat them.

In spite of the frosts, my outdoor greens continue to thrive under a layer of remay, which I canopied with some old chicken wire.  Inside the greenhouse the greens grow avidly and untouched.

The molting chickens, on the other hand, feel the effects of the waning light.  They only produce three eggs daily. Meanwhile, a packrat, with bulging, glossy eyes no doubt and a thick, scaly tail the color of bubble gum, is clearly nesting in the coop, eating excess amounts of feed and dragging cacti all over the place.

Though the chickens don't seem to mind, I do. I give myself a pep talk as I head out to the coop to collect eggs,  then again as I put my hand on the door knob, and again when I step into the coop. I tell myself this is another opportunity to develop my dauntless grit.

Speaking of chickens, Jo, our neighbor and caretaker of the barn, e-mailed me yesterday informing me that she found two chickens in a bag next to the freezer. Before I rented a freezer locker in town I haphazardly stowed them in the barn. In my hurried transfer from one location to the other, I left two chickens behind, only to be discovered by poor Jo weeks later. The unmistakable, oppressive smell that lurked through her house did nothing to alleviate my shame.

So I take my lessons this week from nature, making use of the things that  scare me and the things that bring me shame, reminding myself that each moment is an opportunity to cultivate and grow.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Intern Arrival

Last Thursday night, just before 10 pm, a crew of rumpled teenagers emerged from a Subaru covered with bumper stickers that read "Armed Liberal" and "Fuck the revolution, Bring on the Apocalypse." Crumbs stuck to their shirts, and hair pointed in the many directions they came from. They ambled down the wood chip path, whooping and hollering to announce their arrival. Entering the barn bearing the relief of arrival after weeks on the road, they greeted a rather perplexed Jo. 

For the past year Jo has lived in the barn as a caretaker, and rather than asking her to vacate her home to make room for the interns, we created a space for them up here on Dev's property. After about five minutes they gingerly stood from their places on Jo's couch, realizing they were in someone else's home, not in the intern house.

So far we built a low ropes course and then tried it out, went hiking and picked berries all along the way --service berries, thimble berries, goose berries and raspberries. We talked about communication, active listening, and what sustainability means. Then we got ready for camp, figuring out who would lead a wild edible workshop, a camp fire skit, a fort building activity. We spent hours bent over liberating onions and leeks from the tangle of ambitious weeds.

The interns are here to run three "sustainable" green camps, work on local farms, develop outdoor and leadership skills, but in all honesty, we have them here so we can live like we're at camp. We spin a chore wheel daily, dance at all hours, snort on our meals because laughter is constant. And if you were ever doubting your housemate's ability to keep a clean house, invite seven teenagers to live with you in a small space. It's an exercise in organized chaos.