life anew (again)
I was slipping on my work boots the other day, just about to head outside for morning chores, when I heard some unusual sounds. A great cacophony so early in the morning is never a good sign, only this time it certainly was. I stepped outside and there they were, wave after glorious wave of Canada Geese filling the skies. Their calls bouncing off each other’s wingtips and falling down to me.
“Home. We are home!”
They return. Last fall, I stood in the forest watching them leave. Many wouldn’t survive the voyage. Some would be killed. Some would lack the stamina of youth. I didn’t know if I would even be here when they returned. I wished them Godspeed and told them it would be lovely to see their return knowing that such things are not guaranteed. “I may not be here when you return,” I said, “but if I am I will welcome you home”
Turns out, I am here. And so I watched them with great appreciation. All day they came, and then for many days since. The great, exuberant V formations flying overhead and us lucky enough to be on their flight path. I am still here and I get to witness their return again. One flock after another, all day long, as I collected sap from our maple trees. They called as I frost seeded the pastures. They honked as I crawled through a woodpile looking for a pregnant mama cat. The Canada Goose Express and their relentless cacophony of celebration shaking the winter cobwebs from our minds and bodies. “Spring is here!”
There is evidence of spring everywhere now. The cattle’s winter area, once pristine with winter’s white blanket and clean smelling wood shaving bedding, melts into a ‘poop soup’. Everything that winter stores now melts and trickles and, in some cases, creates torrential little streams. Any low lying ground finds lower lying ground to seep its murky water into.
It’s still not safe to move the ducks and geese into their summertime houses near the pond. The pond remains frozen and despite the fencing around it, remains an easy place for a fox or coyote to get an appetiser. Once the pond thaws, the predators are thwarted by the waterfowl’s tendency to bunch up in the centre of the pond when threatened. If the pond is big enough, the predators, at least the ones here, are discouraged by the water defence. But for now, the waterfowl remain up at the barn where they roam around outside during the day, finding whatever little three inch pond of water they can, and dream of days to come.
All the males of all the creatures have also got the springtime message - baby making time! Placid and peaceful throughout the winter, every fella’ out there is in wartime measures mode. The drakes are vying for dominance. The gander back to hissing and charging anything that threatens his lady love. The toms and roosters fight while the hens and ducks of all species start laying eggs in exuberance. The cattle, even those without parts still dangling, all know something is up. They are restless. They smell grass seeds blooming still deep within the earth. Mama cows with bellies heavy are showing the signs of impending little calves soon to make their appearance on planet earth.
And then there is us. Spring brings excitement and anticipation and, if I’m honest, there is a certain element of dread built in. All of life blooms and explodes. It’s astonishing to me to see how our part of the world goes from black and white silhouettes of life that was, everything still and quiet, to exploding, lush jungle-like growth. Our growing season is hot and humid and astonishing in its intensity. So much life concentrated in a few short months. So much work concentrated in a few short months.
Every winter we decide what our spring and summer projects will be around the farm. There will never be enough lifetime to accomplish all we want to, so we have learned to let that go. Beyond that, we recognize that there will never be the quality of life we want to live if all we do is frenetically run around from task to task, seeing everything with ‘shortcoming eyes”. There are enough people flying the heroic flag of unrelenting self sacrifice to outside forces. For some, that’s their “careers”, their sport, their farm, etc. that keeps them consumed. On a small farm, just like in most of life, there are demands that cannot be avoided and ones that can. We are constantly looking for what can be let go or simplified over what needs to be added. That takes razor sharp focus. We are always looking at ways to trim the excess. It often shows up as a harried energy that fills you up like a rabbit. A good signal that life is running away with you. If I don’t have time to sit with my husband on the porch and listen to the birds singing in the apple tree, there is something wrong with our lives. If I can’t swing in a hammock with my daughter and relish in the slow and simple because there’s too much to do, how could I ever claim to be my own boss?
Yes, there are always responsibilities and demands, but we want to live as simply as we can to eat and thrive in our place. We want to live our lives supported by our homestead, not have our homestead become our lives. If God plucked us off our farm and plopped us down in some foreign land, I’d like to think it would still be familiar because we would still be with that which we know, ourselves.
I spent yesterday afternoon cleaning out the duck’s summer pond house. I got half way through the layers of bedding, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow collected and then spread on the fields. When I was done, I stopped to take a break on the old hay wagon sitting in the middle of the pasture. Within minutes of sitting, three of the barn cats all found me. How they do that, I do not know, but I like it. The four of us sat there until the fifth, a jealous Great Dane by the name of Louis, came to join the party. We sat under the sun and watched as a bald eagle and her juvenile soared through the skies in great circles above, every crow in their midst hustling to get out of their way. Imagine if I had gone straight from duck house cleaning to my next task, which was clipping fencing wire? How tragic that would have been to have missed those eagles and those sun soaked cats purring on my lap while Louis leaned his big lug self against my knees. Probably the very best part of my day.
Spring brings the return of a different tempo of life for us. Unlike winter’s slow waltz, spring is all about the fiery tango, all passion and confidence. From the ease of feeding and watering animals in winter housing we move into rotational grazing, setting up and tearing down fencing, moving cattle every day. Morning chores become hour long affairs as we go from location to location, feeding, moving, watering. The garden has to be weeded and planted and weeded again and planted again. There are plants to be watched for in the wild places and foraged regularly lest we miss them. There is a cow or two to be milked daily and the bounty of her offerings be put to good use.
All of these things have their own rhythm. Eventually, we will fall into alignment with those rhythms and forget all about winter fires and the slow and thick that weigh down on our winter bones. Come autumn, when the grind of animal harvest and the crunch of impending snowfall squeeze out the last of our reserves, we will anxiously look forward to the slowness of winter again.
But here I am talking about the return of winter when the Red Wing Blackbirds and Chickadees are singing their springtime songs outside of my window. How rude of me to not be out there, clapping and shouting my “bravos”! Spring is relentless in her calling, her exuberance impossible to outrun. She’ll throw everything she has at us: the buzzing fat bumblebees bouncing off the earliest blooms, the wild turkey gobblers strutting in the fields in all of their iridescent glory, and the plump poplar buds offering up the first of her medicines. Who could resist such a show? We will, as we always are, be enticed back into her world, accept with determination the challenge to meet her callings with all of the gumption we can muster. She will accept no less.
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