Monday, April 28, 2008

Happy 49th Mark

Well, the best-laid plans and still a week goes by with no verbage. That’s the nature of a farm diary, is my guess.

Today marks the beginning of my husband’s last year in his 40s. Wow. He was a young pup of 32 when we met and now he is truly, officially, almost 50. 50! How did that happen???

Our life together is so full. We so often laugh about the elasticity of time – in some ways, it seems we met just a few weeks ago, but in others it’s hard to even recall who we each were before we got together. And we both led very full, interesting lives before discovering Us. Mark had spent a year traveling through Europe, another three months exploring India and Nepal. He’d already been through a couple careers and several serious girlfriends. I’d moved all around the U.S., tried the Acting thing, very nearly sued a major American university, was half-way through a graduate degree,
and was just about to fill out my application to the Foreign Service. Not to mention had lived with and bought a house with a Very Serious Partner and had convinced my best friend to move 2000 miles with me on the possibility it might just change her life (it did).

So, we weren’t sitting around navel-gazing and wondering when our True Love would show up so life could begin. And yet. And yet, it is hard to discount the feeling of disconnectedness that those memories bring on. The Before life just feels like it belongs to a close friend, not to me. Like a movie I really enjoyed and watched over and over, less than my own experience.

Anyway, we’re getting old. Which I keep reminding Mark is better than the alternative. You’d think a person who has bested cancer twice would feel this intuitively, but the mind is a funny thing. Mark was complaining of being old when I met him (17 years ago June 1) and I kid him that eventually these neuroses will prove true.

And today has not been the most celebratory of days. It started with yesterday, when I tried my best to give him a birthday “do” because tonight was going to be so crazy. First, I tried to take him out to dinner, but he eventually decided he really didn’t want that. Then I asked what he’d like me to cook, which he figured out pretty quickly, only to have the day end up such that I went to milk Tammy’s goat and he ended up making his own birthday dinner. Then, today, he’s had one giant work crisis after another to the point that our slick hand-off evening plans around Dylan – where he met me at the site of my meeting and he and Dylan went off to baseball practice and milking – got thrown under the bus of him staying late at work and translated into Dylan coming to my meeting with me and us all arriving home around 8PM. Happy Birthday!

But, I did manage a little gifty here and there so at least he knows we’re thinking of him and loving him. Hard to do too much of that.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Living with Mom

One thing I’ve yet to talk about is the whole experience of moving my now-85-year-old mother up here to live in the cottage we built for her. It seems so normal and obvious, but it isn’t. I left home at 17 (gee, that sounds like a great start to a song….) b/c we couldn’t bear each other a minute longer. A couple of crises helped mend the fence between us, but all my adult life, my mother and I have been a once-a-week (or less) phone call and 2X/year visit relationship. Close? Sure, in some ways, not in others. We’re very different and, frankly, she’s very fragile in her way. Strong in others.

So, the idea that we would live 40 feet apart and I would cook her dinner every night would have only 10 years ago sent me into gasping hysterics of giddy laughter. Impossible. Ridiculous. No way.

And yet, here we are, two years later. Moving her was a spectacular ordeal, involving several friends and me driving the largest moving van available to non-union drivers AND towing her car – a concept I know for a fact I simply repressed before and even during the 2000 mile adventure in order to convince myself that I could finish what was started. I literally started shaking as I turned onto our tiny country road and was weeping openly as I pulled the truck to a stop by our driveway. I couldn’t believe I’d done it. Worried about insurance, I’d driven the whole way, asking my young and generous friend Meg to keep me company with wit and song. She performed admirably and is probably the reason we’re both alive today.

My mom was there with camera. I’d sent her on her way a week before, so that my friend Shelley and I could essentially torch her house and then, after I put Shelley on a plane back to her family, my friend Meg flew down and I drove this ludicrous mountain of crap up to my mom’s new digs while Mom herself could be busily making curtains and finding shelves for ancient canned goods.

40 feet. We were 40 feet from nose to tail and wow is that some kind of fun to park. Also, Wyoming. The Wind State apparently. Not sure why folks are looking for oil over there; the wind thing seems like the way to go. Anyway, we made it from central NM to Vashon in 3 days, which seems unbelievable now but felt like common sense when we were on the road.

But, I digress. The real point is, here we are, me in my 40s and her in her 80s, living 40 feet apart and it’s just fine. More than fine, it’s really quite lovely. We lead our separate lives – she has much bridge to attend to (in the absence of tennis) and I have 4000 things to do. On occasion, we talk during the day, but it’s not often. Instead, most nights I call her to let her know what time we’ll be eating and she shows up, her bottle of extra-cheap wine in hand, to chat with me while I finish the last bits of dinner or empty the dishwasher or whatever. I try to orchestrate it so that essentially it’s just us, and we have a half-hour of just mother-daughter time.

Most nights, it works. And it’s great. In two years, we’ve had just one disagreement, worked out the next day. Maybe that’s bad – we’re not being as honest as we should be – or maybe it’s good. Two people, so very different with such completely different expectations of life, putting down their philosophies and morals and ethics and just being family together. I mean, I can’t help but wonder: how many other people have a pleasant and enjoyable meal with their parent most every night of the week?

I never thought my mom could in a million years be part of my lesson to my child of why family is important – in so many ways it is unbelievably ironic – but here she is, and no less a wonderment to herself than to the rest of us. How did Marjorie McFadden, run away from home at 18 to marry and join the war, married six times, and had one child who left home as soon as was possible, how can she be the main story line in the tale of Family? Well, she is. Because we brought her here, and forced her to live among those who love her and refuse to allow her to grow bitter and old. Because she’s a tough old bird, yes, but one who demonstrates again and again a miraculous openness to learning and is learning still and has learned, not a little bit, all those things that are truly stupendous about her only grandchild and the beauty of a true life partnership from Mark and I – something she never got but can surely recognize.

Is she a saint? No, she is no saint. (but neither am I) She is not some storybook kid’s granny who knits and has a secret recipe for chicken soup. She has never knitted or crocheted and we didn’t even bother to put a stove into her house because the microwave was essentially invented for my mother. But, in a certain vein, about certain things, my mother is absolutely fearless. And not only deserves credit for being so, but has valuable lessons to teach all of us.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Time or Money

Well, it’s getting on toward the end of April and it snowed today. Thank goodness this global climate business is all an elaborate hoax. Still, it was a good day. Quiet. A music-focused weekend for Mark and a wish-we-had-a-woodstove weekend for Dylan and me. Movies and books and a lot of talk about the weather.

It’s also Earth Day today, perfect with the snow in April. The Farmers Market was buzzing w/climate-focused tents and children building birdhouses for sale. I checked out Seabreeze’s usual gorgeous display of gourmet what have you and tried to talk a little meat w/George but he seemed somewhat unhappy I’d brought the subject up. I went my way, further convinced that our local success story was definitely a businessman first and a community advocate way down that list.

I’ve been thinking about money a lot lately. Wondering if we can make it on this one-salary business long enough for the farm to start being a contributor to the family income or if I’ll have to work full time again to make the money to put aside to support the farm for a while. Sigh. Time or money. Time or money. Can’t have both. Sometimes can’t have either. Life costs a fortune.

I’ve been thinking of ways to make the farm more of an enterprise. I keep coming back to how much people like being here. What we have here, here on an island in the middle of the Sound, tucked between 2 major cities, is different. It’s special. More than any one product, I keep coming back to the experience of the farm itself as being really what we have to offer people. I always thought that, and my vision has always been to eventually run an upscale B&B-type thing, but now my horizons are broadening. Workshops, Harvest Dinners, Shearing Days. I dunno. There’s got to be some other ways of entertaining people in a way that is profitable and feels good to all sides.

It’s late now, after 10PM, and it’s been a good day. The lambs-in-the-mudroom is beginning to lose its charm. Given that they’re in a playpen, they are up close and personal with their own waste quite a bit and this means they’re pretty odiferous and less cuddly every day. The good news is that Tammy’s goat milk has done wonders for them and they’re growing bigger and more rambunctious all the time. We’d have thrown them out to the shed already, but with snow in the scene, it seems obvious to keep them in the house, at least at night, a few more days. I’m ready for them to cease being entertaining pets and begin their lives as livestock. Our house stinks. The incessant “baa’s” stopped being cute a while ago, and I worry about their ability to transition into being part of the flock.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Meeting our meat

And that, right there, proves it. Yes, almost three weeks have flown by. We are getting more and more traction into this farming business every day. Mark took a week (which translates into 9 straight days) off from his demanding day job to work with me on projects that have been begging around this place. What a fantastic week! We both felt exhausted and exhilarated by the end. It was so much fun doing stuff together, working in partnership for a common goal, rather than constantly doling out who’s fault it is that things are in the state they are. I have been feeling so disconnected from him these past months and this last week cured that malaise completely.

We built a retaining wall in our front yard (a project of much greater mammoth proportions than originally projected), finished the doors on our tool cabinet, got a little more done on Dylan’s way-overdue treehouse, positioned our raised beds in the veggie garden, sold some fleece – finally! – and slaughtered our first lamb. Plus, got a system for moving the sheep every day up and running and saw a couple new ruminants into the world. Not to mention bottle-feeding the lambs first 5 and then 4 times a day, (and all the cleaning that implies) only recently cutting out a middle-of-the-night feeding.

Slaughtering was fraught with apprehension but in many ways turned out to be anti-climatic. Of course, our whole raison d’etre is to raise animals humanely and kill them that way as well. For weeks, I’ve been musing on the whole subject, not in any inconsequential way guided by Michael Pollen and Barbara Kingsolver’s own contemplations. Ultimately, I arrived at a simple but I think powerful mantra: These beings would not be alive to live the life they lead if not destined for the death they experience.

It is perhaps simplistic, but it is nonetheless true. Food animals get a life, they get a chance, they live. They feel warmed by the summer sun, they butt heads, they experiment with blades of grass, they snuggle with mama, they gulp milk, they cavort. This makes them cute, yes, but it also, makes them them. If not for the need for meat, they would not be they. Period. They would never know the sun’s warmth or their mother’s milk, or the fun of charging one another. It would not be. And, so, yes, their lives are short – but they ARE. They exist. And here at our farm, they exist well.

It was strangely untraumatic to watch a 10-month old lamb’s hide be systematically peeled down and removed. I learned with the turkeys that, if done right, animals become food shockingly fast. This was no less true with our lamb, although the trauma came later when we realized what we (and it) had gone through for the amount of meat rendered. One might reconcile oneself to killing; to do so for little or nothing is another conversation altogether.

Nonetheless, we move forward. The orphans continue to demand to be fed, every 5+ hours; Ewes continue to birth new lambs; Idiot Babies continue to forget who their mama is. And on and on. It’s fun, except it’s not. Hard to explain.

We love it all the same.

That is the weird thing – it doesn’t have to be fun to garner your love. There is something so basic, so primal, about growing animals that once you are immersed in it you lose the language to explain it. To the outsider it seems incomprehensible that you could bottle-feed a lamb in April and slaughter it in November, but the doing unravels the mystery. You can. Actually. You can. You can nurture the baby and revel in its life and still understand and appreciate its destiny. It would not be, without you.

In a very real way, this latest experience has made me even more militant in my quest to evangalasize the need for locally-produced meat. Meat costs – this is Mark’s big message – Meat costs a life and anyone who eats meat should be confronted with that cost. In most cultures around the world, they are; it is rarified, indeed, where we are so completely sanitized and disconnected from all our food, meat included. Most people know their meat.

Our friend Tammy, who has built an amazing business around goats eating blackberries, has taught me so much. She and I first met when I answered her ad for a good home for 2 sheep. I offered my services as an intern of sorts in exchange for mentoring and I’d have to say a fairly beautiful if arms-length friendship has spawned from there. We appreciate each other – she even appreciates Mark, which I’d hazard a guess she’s not predispositioned to do – and luck of all luck about a month ago she called me to tell me she had a mama goat with too much milk (triplets now twins) and could I use some extra milk in case something went amiss during lambing season. Seemed like a reasonable suggestion to me, so I was all for it.

Guess what? Not 24 hours later, my ewe rejected her twins and I was desperate for a way to feed them. Hello Tammy.

So, farm life moves in mysterious ways. These days it’s moving in the direction of my driving south 5 minutes every night right around 7PM to milk a goat who is not particularly fond of me. I am grateful grateful grateful for this bizarre coincidence and I do not pretend for a minute that it is truly accidental. While raised on it all my life, I am only recently truly able to accept the intricate web of what the universe has in store and what a wondrous thing it is to accept.