This weekend felt like one big reboot for me.
It was exactly what I needed.
No, I didn't do it all, but I found time for so much more than I have for many days.
I made time for myself, my kids, my husband, and a friend. Inside I found time for more painting and an epic mudroom clean out. Outside there was early morning garden weeding, a wonderful harvest, our first two days milking our goat Melissa, and a half-day spend as a family fencing new pastures for the sheep.
And with all that goodness going on fencing – somehow – rose to the top of my list of weekend highlights. (Okay, milking rose to the very tippy top, but fencing – a job I don't normally love – topped even painting this time.)
Here's the thing about animals.
They look pastoral, romantic, and sweet. Which they are. But they are also a great deal of work. Taking good care of them is, indeed, more work than we expected. There's a learning curve on them all (steeper on some than others) and while we're working our way up, it's a slow road.
Almost three years in on our little farming gig and there's lots of reevaluating going on. Do sheep make sense for us? Do goats? And meat birds? And the rest? We're running a cost-benefit analysis on every aspect of our life and making sure how we spend our time is worth the energy and effort we're putting in.
They are good questions that I encourage everyone to ask themselves.
Some of our biggest, most rewarding life changes have come from asking ourselves juicy, challenging questions. "Is this our right path?" "What do we really want?" "Is it working?"
Our biggest game-changer came more than a decade ago, with me holding then two-year old Sage on my hip, looking out the window at the pasture across the road. I felt myself awaken to the reality that we were living in a place we moved to for a job I quit two years before.
And I yelled, "What are we doing here!?"
Within two years we had sold our house, Pete quit his job, we moved to the community we'd always wanted and started our own business. Boom.
Ask the big questions.
But I digress. Back to fencing.
Fencing always falls to Pete. And for start-up inexperienced farmers who want to rotationally graze animals on 42 varied acres it's big work to take on. And it's ever-changing. Factor in that sheep have different requirements than goats and that we have a lot of lowlands and horsetail that don't work for either, it's like doing a Rubik's Cube when the time comes to move animals.
As I said, we're reevaluating.
Reevaluation or not, the sheep needed a clean pasture this weekend, and when Pete went out to fence before the rain that was forecast for Saturday I pulled the kids in for a chat.
I told them that animals were a lot of work, most of which their papa did. I acknowledged how much we all love having sheep and goats but that it didn't feel fair that Papa has so much of their work on his plate. I suggested that we go out and help him put the fence in so the job would be done faster.
And to my amazement, they thought that was a great idea and all but bounded down to the creek to help place insulators and fence posts and wire.
I savor these moments of delirious cooperation and harmony.
They are rare and I don't take them for granted.
And what a lesson for me! Had I forced them to do this work our day would have likely been joyless drudgery for us all. I supposed the same goes for me, had I been strong-armed into it. But they saw that they were needed and jumped in with enthusiasm, and so did I. We led with love. We wanted to help.
I also saw how Sage, nearly 13, needs meaningful adult work in his life.
Work like fencing and stacking wood and cooking dinner and mowing the lawn. He needs to see his own competence, contribution, and value. He needs to see how our family works because he contributes.
When he looks out on our sheep, contentedly grazing down in the valley, will he see his own hard work and success? I think he will.
Don't we all need that in our lives?
And finally this: fencing is not my favorite task. It's not even on the list. I would have much preferred painting or sewing or canning the dilly beans or making lunch than popping insulators on T-posts all morning.
But going out to help with fences forced me out of my rhythm (or rut, as it may be) and into something new.
While working with fence posts I marveled at the blue vervain and the bone set, the mullein and the swamp milkweeed. I noticed honeybees, their legs thick with orange pollen legwarmers. I listened to the gurgle of the creek. I smiled. A lot.
I got out in it, despite having other plans.
And these co-pilots we've brought into our lives are so good for that, aren't they?
Our children, our livestock, our partners, our pets – they all pull us off our comfortable, predictable tread-mill and take us out into the world, to places we might not otherwise go.
They get us up off the couch and out into the beauty of the world that exists just beyond our sight. How grateful I am for that nudge.
And come to think of it, I guess that belongs on our list as we reevaluate, too.
What big questions are on your list today?
4 thoughts on “Fresh pastures”
Oh, how I’ve enjoyed the unstructured days of summer but for our family it is time to evaluate our homeschool goals and plans: what do my children need this year? what do I feel passionate about teaching them right now? Much to ponder . . . Thank you, Rachel, for your writing. It is a blessing to me and I love knowing I can visit your blog for some real life wisdom and fresh country air. I look forward to sampling your products, too!
Such a healthy thing to re-evaluate your life.
You always seem to post musings like these just when I need them most – we are at a crossroads with our children and I have no idea what to do. In the fall my son will begin a semi private autism program through the school district here – I have been feeling some major mama guilt over not being able to meet his needs at home. Just when I thought we were ok and at peace with this decision (it’s only half days for a couple of years), now my daughter is begging to go to school too. She is very upset that her little brother gets to go to school while she continues homeschooling kindergarten. I don’t want to force her to homeschool, that seems terribly unfair and against the autonomy we’ve been trying to instill in her, but…..I don’t want to send her to public school either :/ So now my two kids, whom we’ve always intended to homeschool since before they were even born, are standing at the tail end of summer before the school year begins and I’m a mess. I haven’t enrolled my daughter yet, and I’m still not sure I’m going to, and it seems like such a huge decision that I can’t seem to make. Not really sure where I’m going with all of this but I needed to vent I guess, so thanks for asking 🙂
I have two sons, 11 year old and nearly 12 year old, and am re-evaluating how we “do school” as we have our winter holiday here in New Zealand. My 12 yr old has been introduced to iPad games and x-box by his cousin and it almost feels like the tectonic plates have shifted (without trying to sound melodramatic!!) because he said to me this week that all he wants to do is play on technology. This coming from a boy who lives on a farm, who was so energetic, creative, always working on inventing something or creating something or playing with Lego or his tractor toys. This mama heart broke. Trying to find the balance between protecting this fleeting time of childhood which is the only time they get to play with toys and be children and let him have a taste of the world he will eventually move into. Trying to give him more of a voice in how we do school, trying to evaluate if it is really necessary to do spelling and maths when they bring tears and the “schoolness” of them seems to suck all the joy out of the morning, or to move towards unschooling more, trying to balance coulds with shoulds. Feeling that time is so fleeting and I just want to make choices and decisions that allow us to make the most of our time together.