I woke up in the middle of the night and staggered into the kitchen for Ibuprofen and a glass of water. My body feels as if someone has been beating me around my shoulders and arms with a wooden spoon.
I spent eight hours yesterday mucking the deep bedding out of the sheep stall. Even the muscles over my ribs are sore. What was I doing, breathing too hard? Possibly.
The stall is knee-deep in bedding. Every day I spread a little fresh hay to keep the surface dry and clean. Every day the sheep trample and pack it down. Usually I muck the stall to the ground every two months in winter. This year, due to a blizzard, I was unable to muck it before I left for Florida, so it’s four months’ deep.
I knew it would be a tough job. I didn’t realize quite how tough. In eight hours, I got slightly less than one third of the stall cleared to the floor.
The trampled hay is woven together in a solid mass. It’s hard to break into with a pitchfork. You have to slant the tines for a shallow slice, and then pry with all your might. When you break the dry surface, the wet underlayers release their composting ammonia and clouds of steam.
Your pitchfork finally grabs and lifts a matted layer: it is invariably either the size of a piece of toast, or the size of a dining room carpet. Neither one is helpful. You stomp on the carpet-sized pieces with your boots to try to tear them into manageable clods. Then you fork the clods up and swing them, heavy and smoking, into your waiting wheelbarrow. They don’t slide from the tines easily, so often you have to use your boot to pry them off again.
When the load is brimming, you trundle the heavy wheelbarrow out to the manure pile. You fight through the five-inch-deep mud of the driveway and try not to cry if the wheelbarrow tips over. At the pile you run, slipping in mud and shoving the wheelbarrow ahead of you, to gain momentum to push it up the slope. At the top (or wherever the wheelbarrow stops rolling and starts to sag back on you) you dump the load.
Repeat 5000 times.
I was in a stupor by the time I quit at 6 P.M. I had to return the sheep to their stall, so simply spread fresh shavings at the bottom of the trench I had excavated. The lambs were delighted to jump up and down the new landscape.
Today Lucy and I are scheduled to drive to Vermont to look at some cheap living room furniture posted on Craigslist. I will carry my bottle of Ibuprofen with me — and gird my loins for tomorrow, when I’ll have to return to the fray.