"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Not Sure if I'm Cut Out For This (Late Winter Blues)

Most of what I do on this blog, it seems, is bitch and moan about the weather. Well, stand back, I'm about to do it again. Life on this farm is so much more difficult and arduous than life would be if the farm were located in - say - central California.


In particular, it's the mud that gets me down. Five months of mud, without respite or relief. The mud varies in temperature, but not in depth or disgustingness. It might be merely chilly or it might form an ice-crystally crust that holds you for a fraction of a second with each step, before breaking and plunging you in well over your ankles. This a jarring experience. Several times this winter the mud has sucked off one of my gumboots entirely, leaving me hopping and cursing helplessly.

The animals hate the mud, too. Goats especially hate mud, and they have been more or less confined to quarters for weeks because they refuse to traverse the lake of mud between the barn and the nearest dry ground. The horses aren't quite as affected, but they also dislike the mud and the unrelenting wet. The poor beasts look glum, plodding around up to their hocks in mud or standing forlornly under the roof of the small field shelter. The chickens are bedraggled and not laying as well as they should be at this time of year. We are running out of hay and I can't turn the animals out on the pasture yet, even for short periods, because the ground is so waterlogged that every step a hoofed animal takes destroys turf. This inactivity means that manure piles up quick inside the barn and field shelter. More work for me.

The pigs - who are now in the freezer - were the only animals who didn't mind the mud. They seemed to ignore it completely, and actually they were responsible for a great deal of the mud. The area in front of the barn has always been muddy, but this year it became the enclosure for the pigs and they are the ones who turned it into a deep lake, by constantly trodding and churning and rooting. And pooping, of course. Can't forget pooping. Can't forget that what I'm wading through it not as innocuous as mere mud. The pigs themselves didn't mind the mud, but they made ME mind it a great deal more, because they were constantly spreading it on me with their horrible snouts.

And the dogs! Oh, the dogs. The dogs actually come into the house, you know. The dogs jump on my bed.

Argh. Enough about mud. Let's talk about rain. And wind. And sleet and hail and snow in April. It's going to snow again tomorrow, they say. I should be planting the earliest seeds, snow peas and spinach and radishes, but no-oooo, I'm cowering in my bed under the covers with the heat turned up way past what we can afford. I have to screw up my nerve every time I go out to do chores, and race through them as fast as possible. Last week I had to trim goat hooves - I'd put it off, waiting for a dry stretch, but alas, no dry stretch is forthcoming. I almost cried, holding the wet filthy hooves and getting liberally smeared with ordure when the goats kicked.

I never used to think of myself as fastidious. Not the kind of person who was bothered by a little mess. But this life has made me realize that actually I am a prim little princess who can't bear to get her hands dirty. It turns out, I really hate reaching for a flake of hay and slapping my hand down into a pile of fresh chickenshit. I really hate changing my clothes three times a day and still smelling of barnyard delight.

I also never used to think of myself as weak. In fact, I used to think I was pretty strong, for a woman my size. I didn't have any trouble with the kind of jobs I was called upon to do once in a while - moving furniture around, flipping a mattress. But I am decidedly not equal to the tasks that running a farm demands of me. I can carry 50 pound sacks of feed without too much trouble - but I can't carry four or five of them out to the barn without feeling the effects of it later on that night in my lower back. And there are many tasks I can't do at all. I can't muck out the barn in the spring after a winter of deep-litter. The straw gets compacted and hard and incredibly heavy, and I can't move it. The best I can do is drive the pitchfork into the mass and wiggle it, loosening it up for Homero, so he can muck later on.

I can't turn the compost. I can't stack hay. That annoys me - I ought to be able to stack hay. The small grass hay bales we buy only weigh about fifty pounds, sometimes less, but they are so awkward I can't lift them. I really hate leaving all the muscle work to my husband. Partly because it isn't fair, and partly because he doesn't do it in a timely fashion and we fight about it.

It's not just a matter of strength, either. There seems to be something wrong with my skin. I am continually hurting myself, getting cut or stabbed or bruised up doing ordinary things. The other day I was using a special serrated comb on Poppy, trying to get burrs out of her tail, when it slipped and raked across my thumb, opening up an inch long gash that bled like murder. And here's the thing - it wasn't even sharp! One of the reasons I can't stack hay is that the twine cuts my hands open. Apparently I have soft girly little marshmallow hands.

Most of this angst is specific to the season. I will feel better as soon as we get a week without rain. Blue skies and temperatures in the sixties will perk me right up. That may not happen until June, though. I do love our summers here, and give thanks every day that we don't have to endure weeks of above 90 degree temperatures. I suppose the flip side of mud is dust. Recently I read the book Epitaph for a Peach by a farmer in southern California (good book), and he spends a lot of time cursing the dust. We never have dust around here. We also don't have to irrigate anything, ever. Water is so cheap that mine is not even metered.

And I suppose that gloves would go a long way in protecting my marshmallow hands.

5 comments:

George said...

Beautiful goats. Hope your weather improves. We have had a very mild winter in Delaware, with hardly any snow and basically too little rain. It gets muddy when it does rain, but dries pretty quickly. Could get quite dry in the summer if we don't get more spring rains.

jj said...

Trade you - we get snow: wet snow, icy snow, crunchy snow, blizzards... and cold. Really cold. Minus forty. Mud season is two weeks in the spring that we look forward to because it means we can plant the peas soon. I think the grass is probably always greener...

I do recommend gloves. And coveralls.

Hope said...

Thank you George. They are pretty, aren't they? I hope you get the rain you need. Believe me, I'd send you some of ours if I could!

JJ, yes, I know I'm a total whiner. If I had to go out in minus forty... well, I just don't think I would!

Gail V said...

Yes, leather gloves. And a wheelbarrow to tote hay bales, or a "hand truck"to push them with. I'm likin' the wheelbarrow most.
I'm sorry the weahter's got you down.

Jerry said...

Meh, don't stress over having to rant once in awhile. My nemesis here is the wind. I'm not too fond of the overly short growing season either, but I can do more about that than about the wind. Seriously, it drives me crazy. I think of the poor herders on the steppes of Mongolia and how much worse it much be there and feel rather whiny too, but I bet they do some bitching themselves. And drinking of a LOT of fermented yak milk.