winter drags on and on in the hinterlands of vermont. march is always a tough month, the last rugged slog before the promise of mud and, finally, spring. this is the toughest march i’ve ever known. people i think of stalwart, stoic, and completely unflappable by anything so unimportant as mere weather are making noises about moving away to warmer climes. it has been below freezing for most of the last four months. things that are normally fun to do outside aren’t really that fun. things that are normally no fun at all outside are bitter punishments. the air bites and bruises with a fury that usually lasts a few weeks in january, but refuses to let go this year, even into march.
your fearless author wishes she was made of stouter stuff, but this winter has creeped even into her stoical soul and made her wish for warm. this year, i turn forty. perhaps middle age has made me soft or maybe it has just made me practical in a way that i would have called silly five years ago.
living in the country, farming (even hobby farming): this is hard, hard work. it’s chores twice a day, every day, forever. it’s stringing fences, mucking coops, weeding, chopping, lugging, toting, stacking, hacking, lopping, pruning, digging, hauling, sweeping, raking, reaping, sowing, and shoveling 365 days a year. to every time, there is a season and to every season, there are a billion things that need to happen within a very short window of time.
there are magical days when the sun is shining, but it’s not too hot. you have the whole day to work outside and glory be! there are no blackflies or mosquitos. you stack 50 bales of hay, pull up nearly every weed in the garden, plant the next row of beans to time perfectly with the end of the row before, thin the beets, groom the horses, clean up the chicken coop and the tack room, string some fence, and even have some time and energy for a walk in the woods before dusk with the trusty dog. you come inside around dark, covered in sweat and dirt with maybe a bit of sunburn and a reek of woodsmoke (because you also burned some brush) and every part of you aches just a little bit. you take a hot, hot shower to wash off all the dirt and smoke and salt, but you keep all the glory of a job well done and a beautiful day spent doing productive things in the clean, fresh air.
there are also the other sorts of days, when it’s 10 below zero and you’re out in the dark first thing to feed horses, then off to work for eight hours putting out metaphorical fires and trying to make nice with people who are actively trying to make mean to you, only to get home in the dark to feed the horses again. nothing works right, maybe the horses are out because the snow was over the fence or the extension cord stopped working and the tank heater didn’t heat all day and 150 gallons of water are a solid block of ice. your face and hands go numb as you jog in place to keep warm while the horses have their grain. the horses are dripping icicles, crackling like maracas every time they move as ice clacks against ice. and then you have to go back outside before bed, when you’re feeling laziest and sleepiest to throw some more hay into the nags, keep up their calories so they can make it through a frigid, windy night when the temperature is forecast to plummet to 25 below. you go to bed every night for weeks with thighs so cold that you can’t feel them.
there are all sorts of bad days: sweltering hot days, rainy deluge days when the mud threatens to suck down everything that has mass, days when you have to run from task to task before the blackflies drain you of blood completely. there are heartbreaks of every stripe: the spring that’s so wet that all the seeds rot in the ground except for one stubborn celery and you don’t even like homegrown celery. the day in september when the brussels sprouts are almost perfect and just waiting for the first frost to harvest, but the goats get out and, before you can even shout, all your sprouts are gone. opening the chicken house door in the morning to find your favourite hen stone dead on the floor of the coop. watching nervously as that little pink nub on the mare’s third eyelid turns into a grisly, ghastly tumour. coming home just before the start of a nasty ice storm to find one of the geldings torn open and dripping blood from a six inch gash in his shoulder.
i think the bad days do outnumber the good days, it’s just that the good days outweigh the bad ones five to one. maybe four solid months of bad days is a little unfair. maybe it’s time for some other adventure, some other way of measuring good days and bad days, a new view of the world.
the thing is: this isn’t a life you can just walk away from. you can’t just sell up and move. there are critters everywhere who depend on me, who need provision. and when you farm like i do, taking in every pathetic dork animal that no one else wants, you can’t just rehome a bunch of happy creatures with loving families and call it a day. there aren’t too many people who want a goat who can’t be trusted around children, guests, or dogs and won’t stay in a fence for love or money. how do you place a cat with such a severe personality problem that you can’t actually touch her most of the time? it takes a very special person to take in a horse with a potentially recurring ocular tumour, hardly any training, and a pathological fear of anything that looks like a stick. there’s no one who wants a blind rooster… possibly only me.
and so the hardest work begins: ending the era slowly and painfully, looking for people as sappy and bleeding-hearted as me to help me move on. there aren’t too many of us. this could take years.