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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Day After Friday the 13th: Valentine's Day 2015

“Oooooh! You live on a FARM!?!?  That must be Soooooo amazing. I bet you have a garden. Do you have a garden? Do you have animals?  Cows??? You have cows? I love cows! They are Soooo cute!…Oh wait! Do you eat them???”

I love to tell people about my life. (Obviously, here I am blogging about it.) I enjoy their reactions because I completely understand their enamoration with the idea of living on a farm. (Yeah, I just made up a word, go with it.) 

I understand because just over a year ago I would have said exactly the same thing. Living on a farm was a dream. I would drive out to my sister’s house, which is now just over 10 miles from my home, and look at the houses and wonder who “those people” were. Did they commute over an hour each way every day into the cities or were they all farmers, writers, and telecommuters? What would it be like to have not just a yard, but a garden? Not just a garden but gardens - with an S?!? Flower beds, vegetable garden, herb garden and room for more. “Be careful what you wish for,” he laughed when I said on our first date that I had always wanted a garden.

And the cows! Yes, the beautiful, hairy and horny herd of Scottish Highland cattle that rely on us for hay, water and the occasional alfalfa treat and scratch on the shoulder. How does one explain to someone who only knows of Holsteins and Herefords the gentle eyes, toupee-like  forelocks and unique personalities of these creatures? 

Sofie, with her sandy blonde hair and desire to roam free (she is out of the pasture so often we now call her our “yard cow” and just let her roam the yard until she is ready to go back in).

Rasta, our new bull with white hair falling over his eyes and dreadlocks that make me certain he would sound like a surfer version of Bob Marley if he could speak. 

Maxine, with her black hair highlighting the red, making her look like she’s wearing eye makeup. 

Lola, this year's first calf, born in the mud and left by his mama. He survived. We thought he was a she, named her Lola. Now we know she is a he but the name Lola has stuck. And it fits.

Fester, the tiny silver calf whose curls remind me of his daddy, Sylvester (rest his sweet soul) 

and his mama Fia, the stoic matriarch of the herd with her perfectly crooked horns. 

I cannot possibly begin to explain to you the magic of these creatures or how it feels to be in their presence. 

Almost everyone who drives by slows down to watch them and, to be honest, we stop on the road by the pasture every time we drive in and watch the cows too. So, if you are driving by our farm and want to stop, it’s OK. We get it. 

But if I may, let me give you a peek behind the curtain for a day. I don’t want to disillusion anyone. My life really is perfect, but you might find that you need to adjust your definition of perfect if you want to continue to idealize it.  

Today is Valentine’s Day, Saturday, February 14th, 2015. It started like many of yours, if you have kids. We slept in a bit, then exchanged cards and gifts during breakfast. My guy got my boy a survival knife, a TOTALLY sweet Valentine’s gift for a farm boy with an allergy to red dye (think about it).

 He gave me 2 bird feeders. 

The reasons this is the perfect gift for me could be a blog of its own. Watch for it another day but suffice it to say I was more than thrilled. 

I ordered my guy a print of his favorite photo out of the thousands I have taken, but it won’t be ready until tomorrow. 

This is the beginning of things going not quite exactly as planned… foreshadowing, if you will.

The rest of the day was going to be simple and ordinary. Fill water tanks, run hay and work on the house. Just another Saturday, really. It’s -1 with a -30 windchill so we both bundled up in layers of long johns and Carhart’s and headed out to do chores. My guy went out to warm up the tractor while I headed to the barn to feed the barn cats and fill water tanks. Yesterday when I checked the tanks one of them was frozen over so my guy went in to check and make sure the tank heater is working properly while I struggled to fit the hose with already frozen fingers. A long string of curses told me something wasn’t as it should be. The cows had shit in the tank. That’s the thing about cows. They aren’t terribly bright and they don’t care where they shit. Unlike some other animals they will shit where they sleep, in their food and in their water. So now we have to drain the tank, clean it and refill it… in -1 temps and -30 windchill. Of course the pump was frozen so we had to bring it in and thaw it. My guy successfully emptied the tank and cleaned it out (in -30 windchill) but when we started to refill it we realized it wasn’t sitting evenly. There must be a frozen chunk of cow shit under it. Of course we noticed this after it had too much water in it to deal with it easily. So, together, we pulled the tank into a precarious balance. While my guy held it steady I reached under and moved straw and frozen chunks of cow shit while a 900+ pound steer with 4 feet of horns stood a foot behind my right shoulder watching curiously. I wasn’t nervous at all. 


When we finally got the tank settled we both breathed a sigh of relief. Now, he could go run hay while I finished filling the tank. The boys, 2 steers and 2 calves marked for becoming steers who were isolated in the bull pen, were almost completely out of hay. 

Wait, did I mention the winds? Not only was the wind chill -30 but the winds had been about 30 mph for over 24 hours. Yesterday, I had been mesmerized watching the wind blow the snow, like rivers, along paths winding through the yard, down the driveway, and around the house. Less mesmerizing was the formation of drifts on the paths to the hay storage sites. It wasn’t long before the Kubota was stuck in 2 feet of snow. Saying we hooked a strap to the tractor and towed it out with the Cummins Turbo Diesel doesn’t account for the fact that we searched high and low through 3 sheds for about 20 minutes before locating the tow strap and I was the one driving the Kubota, sketchy even under the best conditions. 

I would have laughed with relief when I felt solid ground under the tires if I had thought for even a minute that would be the end of it it, but I knew this meant a bigger problem. My guy can’t get to the hay. The cows need the hay. He has to get to the hay. He can’t get to it around the back of the shed so he headed out to the field entrance to pick up one of the less desirable bails and is back much too soon, with no hay on the bail spears. The field is drifted with snow too.  The last option is the front entrance to the shed, which can only be approached head on. No big deal unless you know that without ballast on the back bail spear the weight of a bail on the front will tip your tractor over.  Honestly, I don’t know how he did it. I went in the barn because I knew the tank was going to overflow if I waited any longer. By the time I turned off the well and drained the hose he had a bail on the back and was picking one up from the front. I was just in time to open the gate for him so, at the very least, he didn’t need to get off the tractor to open it and run the risk of cows (Sofie) getting out while he drove through. 

By the end of this we were both cold and crabby. My eyelashes were thick with ice and every time I blinked my eyes threatened to freeze shut. While my guy spent the next 2 hours (in -30 wind chill) moving snow so he could get to the hay, I brought wood up from the shed, built a fire and tried to do what I could to make the cabin warm and cozy so at least he could come in to a warm hearth and hot soup when he was done. 

“When are you going to work on the house?” asked my boy. 

Not happening! Not today.

After lunch we took some time to decompress, to relax and absorb some of the warmth of the wood stove.  I’m not a napper so, while my guy took a well deserved snooze, I pulled some chili from the freezer and put it on the wood stove and started the beginnings of a new bread recipe. This one needed a few hours to rise so, while it was rising, I took the opportunity to teach my boy how to bake the best (recipe modified from Paula Deen) Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Banana Bread and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. 

By the time the bread was baked it was almost 8 o’clock. We were hungry! Maybe the bread was that good or maybe we were that hungry but it was the best bread I’ve baked so far. (I'll post a recipe another day). While we ate and watched Nature on PBS I listened to the banter between my guy and my boy. 

“OK, Marcus Elwood”, said my boy.
“OK, Fancy Pants,” said my guy.

It’s their thing. 

It might not seem like much to you but I can’t possibly express how much it means to me that my guy and my boy have a thing. 

The moral of this LONG story…
Yes, my city girl turned farm life is idyllic. That is absolutely, without doubt, hesitation or question, the truth.

But maybe…probably… not in the ways that you would expect.