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.