Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Life on the Farm, Polar Vortex edition

I shouldn't really say that I live on a farm. We don't depend on anything we grow or raise for money. In fact, so far we only give things away: eggs to my parents, plants for the gardens in the spring, a little produce. When I refer to this land as "the farm," I use the word in an aspirational sense--someday--and with a hint of the preposterous: no one who knew me in the first, say, 30 years of my life would ever have guessed that I'd be living at a rural address in the Midwest.

For one, it's too cold. That's what I always said. That was before I had experienced the ice storm of a century in 2011 and now the polar vortex of 2014. I like the sun and desert heat. Here's where I live now. I think it's called Canada:

Another reason I would never do what I did a few years ago (leave the Southwest to make a home next door to my parents in Indiana): I'm not really a "hands-on" kind of person. I'm an academic. I bump into walls. How convenient.

Our move here seems abrupt in many senses. In the space of three weeks, we went from admiring the little house we were renting in a cute Arizona town to negotiating the purchase of 21 acres in Indiana. But while our move here was sudden, the decision was weighed carefully. James found a way to work from Indianapolis and I was ready for a radical life change of this sort. I wanted to live on a farm--I braced myself for the mental and physical strain and for the disappointments that inevitably come to those who suddenly decide to do something they know nothing about. I hoped I would weather the trials and stay for the long haul, but I knew moving here was an adventure worth trying either way. Spoken like someone who can afford the luxury of trying and failing, I realize. (I have mad respect for those who go all in, who commit to living off the landbuild small farms and take real financial risks. I understand their hunger if I don't share their audacity. Many of us grew up far from a life that asked us to make physical sacrifice, and we want to live, damn it!)

But I want to tip my hat to those folks, just a couple generations ago, who were born into a life of farming, whose hardships were not voluntary. Here's my maternal grandmother and her brother, who grew up on a farm my great-grandpa described as "saved" by the New Deal:
Aren't they cute?

Awww.... Despite her genuine smile in this picture, she says keeping chickens was "gross."
Grandma's stories about the farm keep it real. Her honesty balances my tendency to over-romanticize. The truth is, part of my romanticization comes from her. On the other hand, if I'm honest or remotely in touch with the person I've been for the past 38 years, chickens are super gross. I've got a t-shirt that says so. I still love the weirdos.

And here is my husband James's paternal grandmother:
Apparently the kids tried to neutralize the goat smell with perfume.

Sometimes, people do hard work in brutal conditions because they have no choice. I've been so fortunate: I have had a choice, and until October of 2010, I chose to avoid discomfort and hard physical work. Now, I have put myself in a position where, at least in the past few days, I have had no choice but to live here, endure power outages, be chilled to the bone, and do farm chores all while recovering from a nasty cold (but who's complaining?). Maybe I can allow myself to speak of "life on the farm" from time to time.

I have stood ankle-deep in pine shavings and chicken poop. I've been out in one degree weather filling a five-gallon bucket with water from a frost-free water line for the hens.

James took this photo from the kitchen window
... and now I can say that I have been out in -13 degrees with a -39 windchill, massaging my chickens' combs and wattles to keep their blood flowing and minimize frostbite. I chose this, and can you blame me? I'm getting some awesome war stories.