Busy Day Ahead

May 21, 2017

My eyes opened at 3:15 this morning and I was immediately wide awake, my brain racing. I never allow myself coffee until 4 AM but I sat at the breakfast table and made my list.

My weekend felt jammed yesterday and that was before I realized I had to spend the afternoon in the car shop. Mike’s face had blanched at the sight of my tires. “Sis, that car’s not safe to drive!” Oh, dear. I could not search for a good deal or drive any distance, I just had to get new tires as quickly as possible. Moreover, since the car is All-Wheel Drive, I had to buy four. What an expensive whack! As always at such times, I reminded myself how glad I was to have the opportunity to pay $500 not to be in a car wreck. Still, I gulped as I passed my credit card over the counter.

I could not do any computer work while I waited, so I’d brought my story notes. I haven’t had a moment to glance at any of this creative work since spring break.  My eye stopped at a note I’d made on Isaac Sears, the head of the Liberty Boys of New York City in the 1760s: “bully and self-promoter, much like Ethan Allen but without the humor and charm.” It occurred to me to wonder what either of these gentleman would have thought of the idea that someone would be thinking about them 250 years later — while waiting for car repairs.

I’ve made today’s list and tried to assign approximate times to each chore. It appears I have twelve or thirteen hours of work ahead. This would not be particularly daunting except that I’ve had many fewer hours of sleep.

Yesterday as I was hurrying to set fence for the sheep, I heard the liquid notes of a warbler in the shrubbery above me. It was a reminder how lucky am I to live in a place of such beauty. I can’t let myself get so fretted by lists that I lose sight of this.

Coffee and go!


Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

May 17, 2017

Heading to the barn shortly for 90 minutes of farm chores (moving sheep and bringing the cows in out of the heat and flies) before my teaching day begins (Gulf of Tonkin in 8th; Hamilton and Burr in 7th). However my brain is stuck on a single thought: what to do about my 2008 Chevy truck.

I called the dealership yesterday after work, braced to learn the extent of the bad news, and to my surprise a voice told me brightly that the truck was ready to be picked up. “The mechanic says nothing is wrong with it!”

I have now spent over $1200 at four different shops to investigate why this truck’s wheels are seizing up — and no one can find any problem at all. Nevertheless the truck is completely dangerous. Thankfully Damon has experienced the situation or I’d almost believe the impatient you-must-be-imagining-it looks I’m getting from these men.

I don’t know what to do. If I could afford it, I’d trade the truck in on another used one. Unfortunately I don’t see how I could swing a purchase of anything right now. Moreover, what about my responsibility if the dealer sells this dangerous truck to a new buyer and that buyer is injured? Will that be my fault? Am I obligated forever to this lemon? My brain goes round and round.

In the meantime I am creeping around my pastures in my retired, rusted-out, 17-year-old pickup to water the sheep. I hear the broken frame grind against itself and hope the whole thing doesn’t crack in half and collapse on the grass.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Grey Day

May 15, 2017

8 AM: It’s raining. I’ve been working since 5. My heart is starting to race at my apparent inability to get on top of the workload, between the house, the farm, and the job.

Yesterday I was on the road most of the day to Vermont to pick up flooring. When I finally got home, after unloading 500 pounds of tile I discovered at evening chores that one of my Buff Orpington hens was missing. I searched without success, but hoped against hope she was hiding somewhere in the barn. This morning she is still missing. I am worried that the coyote who came boldly to the door of the barn last summer — killing four of my chickens — may be back. This thought is especially anxiety-provoking with the new goslings now outside during the day.

Clearly I need to spend a couple of hours mending fence and getting a charge in my perimeter lines. Though these fences won’t stop a coyote, they will teach him caution. However, after work today I will be spending two hours with Damon ferrying the truck to a neighboring town for its repair appointment tomorrow (the first I could get). Meanwhile all the rest of the chores on my list are piling up.

I don’t have time to worry about it. I have to get ready to teach Bloody Sunday at Selma.

*  *  * 

PM: Hectic day but at nearly 8 PM the sun is now out for the first time in ten days.  Damon and I got the truck delivered to the dealer, despite setbacks. After work I drove to town and picked him up, waiting through road construction in the rain. Back at the truck, we discovered the battery was dead. What? I jumped it with my car. Damon got in the truck and the wheels locked up. He reversed, drove it back and forth, got it rolling down the driveway, began to pull out into the highway and — the wheels locked again. He was directly in the path of 55 mph traffic. He is missing one leg. He threw it into 4WD and hit the gas. With a terrible screech the truck shuddered forward, leaving rubber on the road from the locked tire. But he was safe on the far shoulder.

From my car I watched him play with the problem. The truck would roll free and then seize up again with a lurch. The tire smoked. Oh my goodness, I thought. He took a test drive down a side road. I watched his lights disappear, then return. “Let’s try it,” he called to me. “I ain’t gonna go fast!”

I followed him slowly down the mountain. We stopped for gas. He grinned at me with his old naughtiness. “You’d a had a heart attack!”

We drove 25 miles to drop the truck without further incident (except that the dealership had no record of all the repairs to be made) and I drove Damon home. Then back to school work for an hour, then to barn chores for 45 minutes, then to cook dinner. I am now working on my list.

Damon mentioned that my car’s rear tires are bald and need replacing.

I need more time.

Carry On

May 14, 2017

I felt gut-punched yesterday, sunk in gloom. It is hard for me to bear accidents that result in the death of any creatures in my care.

I imagine I have cared for a thousand animals over the years — a thousand little beating hearts and bright pairs of eyes. The photo above shows chick brooder boxes in the corner of our kitchen in 2003.

Animals die. I’m always sad, but when it’s my fault I never forget it. The baby rabbits, when I was eighteen and didn’t know any better than to allow them to nurse as much as they wanted from a bottle, that died of bloat. The baby skunks of the same era that became wet in an overnight rain and died of hypothermia. More recently a newborn calf, Jif, who because I didn’t double-lock a gate, jiggled the single latch loose and wandered into Moxie’s stall where he was rammed, incurring internal injuries. In the same week Cider’s first lamb, tiny and perfect…

… died of simple starvation. I knew Cider was an inexperienced mother, I thought she was not being attentive enough. However I was exhausted by a relentless virus that had swept through my four calves, triggering potentially deadly scouring that had me driving to the barn around the clock to feed each calf bottles of warm electrolytes, and to wash and coat their bottoms with Vaseline to protect them from the vicious diarrhea that burned their hides. I was so tired. I told myself Cider would manage. She did not. The lamb died. My dear Allen died that day, too. Jif died the next day.

It’s easier to focus on the lives I save. Here’s one of the calves a week later, finally back on his feet after the terrible scouring. Within a month all the hair grew in again and you’d never know I’d had to fight through so many sleepless nights to keep him alive.

I never forget the lives I lose through ignorance or accident. I never shake it off. I know I will feel low for days. But farming (and life) means you have to carry on.

Sick at Heart

May 13, 2017

I had been amused (how tired am I, I wondered, when I can’t count?) to realize that my goose Kay had hatched not eight goslings but ten. Seven boys and three girls. I had kept them indoors for a week to let them find their bearings before turning them outside.

Last night I moved them from the lamb stall to the big sheep stall, the first step toward the great outdoors. The ten babies were so cute, crowding around their food dish. I thought of taking a photo but it was too dark in the barn.

This morning I was horrified to discover four goslings were dead. I had put the shallow food and water dishes out for the babies and in a far corner I’d tied a one-gallon water pail for the adult geese. Somehow four goslings had jumped into this small pail and drowned.

I have had babies drown before. Newly-feathered chicks and turkey poults in their early hopping flights flutter up and land in a horse’s five-gallon water bucket and can’t get out. But these downy babies … in a small one-gallon pail … goslings, that can swim… and four of them. I tried to picture the scenario and could not. The only thing I knew for sure was that Andy, my gander, would have been shrieking and beside himself at the sound of their frightened peeping. This morning as I pulled up the pail of dead goslings he leapt at my face.

I buried the goslings (2 boys, 2 girls) in the manure pile. It is hard to forgive myself when I make a mistake like this. I am heartsick.

Springtime in the Adirondacks

May 9, 2017

Spring in the High Peaks is always tricky, and often disappointing. Yesterday, May 8, we woke up to a thin blanket of fresh snow. There were snow showers and sleeting through the day, and at supper time it began snowing hard.

This morning we have another inch of new snow on the ground. The rest of the week is due to be cold and rainy.

The dark skies and chill winds are not uplifting. However I’m so grateful not to be worrying about drought this year, I am thanking God.

 *  *  *

On Sunday afternoon I fell prey to a strange, violent and painful stomach reaction and I’ve been sick and weak ever since. At the worst of it, all I could think was: how could I have been complaining while healthy? I need to remember gratitude all the time.

A Friend in Need…

May 7, 2017

… is a friend, indeed. Damon called yesterday and I moaned my frustration over the truck, stuck in the driveway and spinning ruts in the gravel due to the locked wheel. You know someone is a true friend when his immediate response is: “I’ll put my leg on.”

It won’t surprise you to learn that in five minutes Damon had the truck unlocked and moving. “What did you do?” “Oh, played with it.”

If I can get an appointment for the truck tomorrow at the dealership, he is going to drive it the half hour there while I follow in my car. Damon is unafraid of wheels locking up at high speed or much else mechanical. Last year when he fixed one set of brakes on the old farm truck, I quavered (after almost taking out a fence post) that the old truck took quite a while to stop. He snorted. “You just need to know how to drive!”

 *   *   * 

Paint update: I went to the hardware store yesterday for more paint samples. The local salesman was unfriendly, just short of rude. He could not make up any of my samples because he was sold out of the base for all of them.  Really, God? I was so tired and discouraged (Damon hadn’t yet been out and solved the truck problem), I was ready to give up, go home, and lie down with a towel over my head. However I forced myself to drive another twenty minutes to the next town.

There I discovered my first gift of the day: an older salesman so kind, so excited about the possibilities of paint, so eager to hear every challenge I was facing, that he turned my mood around. “Everyone feels anxious about paint colors! But really, what’s the worst that can happen? You make a mistake? You paint over it!” He compared the problem to his teaching himself to cook after a lifetime of buying packaged foods. “I got a set of cast iron pans! At first I was so worried about measuring everything exactly! And then one day I realized — make a mistake, throw it away, and start over!” He told me about his hobby writing. “I set my story in Seattle — I’ve never been to Seattle! Google Earth is my friend! After work I look up all the places my heroine will go! I’ve even designed her house layout on my designing program! It keeps my brain cells working!” By the time the last of my sample cans had been shaken, I was ready to invite the salesman out for coffee.

After trying more swatches, I think I’ve decided I will paint most of the house Linen White. It is a lot like Navajo White, but slightly brighter and less muddy. The soft color (more Jersey cream than linen to my eye) may look pale yellow or even peach in different lights (and I suppose in a cold blue north light it may even look green!) but I’ve given up on this issue. I realize that I am currently living in a house that is full of lima-bean green and gold, two of my least favorite colors, and — it has been fine. It’s actually pretty. I also realize that house paint colors are not, as they have been feeling, the equivalent of my 7th grade Latin exam when I forgot to study. It seems unlikely that anyone will walk in my home, glance at my walls, and say, “What a stupid failure you are!”

As for the white trim throughout, I haven’t quite decided, but I am reassured after watching a three-minute Youtube video of a home designer explaining which white trim was best for which situation. (DH asked in mystification, “You’re watching a video on white trim?”)

The designer was standing in front of a dark backdrop holding up pieces of what appeared to my eye to be standard white card stock. She said earnestly, “As you can see, White Dove has a grey undertone, while the undertone of Decorator’s White is blue.”

To me, it was a comedy routine. All of the cards looked exactly the same.

So I am less fearful. Onward!