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Month: March 2015

On Pig Love and Equinox Based Panicking

On Pig Love and Equinox Based Panicking

This is an odd time of year.  It’s odd every single year, yet every. single. year I am surprised by it.  I can feel the spring moving beneath my feet, feel her stirring and shifting the heavens and the earth, yet we are ice bound, cold and wintery for yet another month.  As I begin to look at the calendar I feel the panic, I start to feel for certain that there is no way, no way there is enough time for all the things we’ve planned for this season.  And as for enough money, well that’s laughable.

I keep feeling that we have arrived at a point where we stand a chance of knowing what we are doing.  Sort of.  Well at least we have a sense of the turn of the year, the tasks and the order they’ll come along in.  Booking animals into slaughter is routine and requires no agonizing, just planning.  Ordering chicks for the coming year is about ticks on the calendar, weeks counted and housing needs balanced.  We know what we are going to do, we just have to do it as well as we possibly can.

But now there are other levels of farming that we are just beginning to enter into.  We are intentionally breeding our sow Lady B with our boar Arthur; or should I say we seem to have bred them and now we are waiting to see how it all pans out.  Animal breeding is a bit like throwing cement, bricks and roof tiles in the air and hoping a house lands, that is to say it’s hit and miss.  We do our best but there are no guarantees and sometimes you just have to cross your fingers and do the best with what you get.

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Last year we successfully bred Lady B to a borrowed boar from a nearby farm.  She was a young ingenue, he an experienced older…pig, and the union was immediately successful.  Let’s just say he was enthusiastic in his attentions, so much so that her caring Farm Dad sent the boar back after just one week because he was getting pretty rough with our sweet girl.  Like a pro she farrowed out in August, allowing us to sit with her through the long night, as she brought new life into the world.

After weaning (and selling) the extra piglets, we left Mama and babies to hang out in the field together.  Being a groovy, long term breast feeding mama myself I was happy to let her piglets continue to nurse on her, assuming they’d self wean after a certain point.  They didn’t.  They ate a bunch of feed and nursed on their mama, who became increasingly fed up and aggressive towards them.  This sweet, gentle pig was being asked to do too much and it showed.  So we moved the babies over to the other field and let her get some well earned rest.  After a little while we introduced a young, virile young lad called Arthur; they seemed to get along and we hoped for the best.

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Lady B was undoubtedly keen, but poor Arthur just didn’t seem to know quite how to go about things.  This time he was the inexperienced one and she the older woman with lots to teach.  It took them some time to get their groove on.  We were concerned when, in January, she was displaying such obvious signs of heat we thought she might call a taxi and head to the nearest disco if Arthur didn’t tend to her womanly needs; after all, a girl’s gotta eat.  She displayed this with such subtle signs as mounting him, and Stephen and chasing me out of the field in case Stephen decided he fancied me more.  She was ready to go. No matter how much we watched we never saw any actual action, but pigs can be private creatures and with the cold weather we weren’t exactly hanging around outside that much.

In February, with Stephen away in the UK, I was on high alert for signs of heat.  I watched her back end with an unseemly interest, checking every day to see if she seemed to be in heat.  I watched for signs that Arthur was interested, or the two other (castrated) male pigs in the barn with her (being related doesn’t put them off one bit if she’s in heat) or that she was mounting anything that moved.  Nothing.  The only thing she cared about was eating and keeping warm, I could relate.

So here we are in March, still no signs of heat and a bit of a rounding out of the tummy that we hope means there are little squiggles in there.  I’ve also noted (this is where it gets farmy people) that Arthur’s package (ahem) is looking a bit wrinkly and under used (no judgement) unlike the full and swinging sack he had not so long ago.  Boars will stop producing mating hormones (responsible for the phenomenon known as boar taint) if they are separated from fertile females for 30 days.  I’m hoping his lack of love preparedness means that Lady B isn’t triggering him into baby making mode because she’s up the stick.  In the club.  Has several buns in her oven.  You know what I mean.

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Yes, gentle reader, this is how Stephen and I spend our mornings here on the farmstead.  Checking out our pig’s clitoris and our boar’s testicles while doing calculations on gestationcalculator.com to find out when she might farrow out, when we’ll need to wean the piglets and when she can go back with the boar for a little bit of summer lovin’.  And that’s all before we’ve even had a cup of tea.  That’s when we’re not talking about udder formation and speculating on the relative value of a female Jersey calf (lottery) vs a male (full freezer).

On one hand, in fact on about 2/3 of my whole body, I’m basically in a state of panic about when in hell I’m going to have time to educate my children, grow a big garden (with a herb bed!), raise 300 meat chickens, take on new cows to expand our herd, milk a cow, make cheese, butter and yoghurt every day, can all the produce and stop my house from falling into a quagmire of filth with me banging my head against the washing machine as laundry tumbles over my head crying “Why?  Why?!!!”.

End scene.

Instead I’ll take a breath, fill out my plan for the next term of homeschool (more history, we need more history), begin my trays of tomatoes (my goal is to can 100 quarts!) and finish reading the Wintersmith to Huwyl and some James Herriot stories to Neirin.  I can’t do it all at once, truth be told I probably can’t do it at all.  But somehow, inexplicably, it will get done anyway.

In other news Neirin wants a bunny.

Dear Mr Pratchett

Dear Mr Pratchett

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Dear Mr Pratchett,

I have been thinking of writing to you for some time now, writing to tell you how much your books mean to me and my family; but it seems like the hourglass ran out on us.  I’m not sure what the communications are like where you are (is there broadband in the silver desert?) but I will write this anyway, and hope it makes its way to you somehow.

I remember distinctly the first time I read one of your books.  I was at boarding school in the early 1990’s, I hadn’t done anything wrong in case you’re wondering, it’s just the way life goes sometimes isn’t it? So this particular weekend it seemed like everyone had gone home but me.  There were a few other girls knocking around, but no  one that I knew well or was in my year.  I was a bit adrift really, feeling lost and bored, roaming the halls of the boarding house without purpose or intent.  I can’t remember how I ran into another girl in my year (I think her name was Lane), we didn’t get on and we knew it.  We didn’t try to get on for the sake of boredom either, but she was the one who loaned me one of your books. Maybe it was just to get rid of me, but that book was the beginning of a deep love that exists to this day.

What was a desolate and lonely weekend, became hours immersed in the world you had created.  Suddenly I was glad there was no one to drag me away from the pages of Mort, I dived in and swam gloriously filled with joy.  I couldn’t believe what I had found!  Someone who’s writing really seemed just for me, just written to bring me happiness.  I still feel that way, as if I’m sharing in a secret joke known only to a few.  I know that your books are read in the millions, yet it feels like being part of a little gang who see the world the way I do.

Over the years I read all of the books you’d written and then waited with eager anticipation for the next instalment.  I had to wait for the paperback of course, it wouldn’t be until later I could afford to get the hardbacks with their earlier release date and fancy jackets.  Yours were the books I turned to when I needed a break from reading 18th century novels or 20th century poetry, I’d read them in bits promising myself another sample later on if I just did another hour of work.  They were my temptation, my treat, my peace.

When I met my beloved, 20 years ago now, we bonded over our love of Pratchett.  That’s what we call you, Pratchett, like Shakespeare or Shelley, your name is a whole category of things to us, a monolith, a titan.  Later, when we decided we should both live under the same roof on a more or less permanent basis, we merged our two Pratchett collections into one.  That seemed to outrank wedding vows in our minds; we committed to sharing something so very dear, to having only one copy of each from now on, a copy we would share and care for and keep, forever.  It was a symbol of our union, it was a sign that we we loved the same things.  We would giggle together over lines read out in the pre sleep bedtimes; sometimes we were laughing too much to read it out aloud and would have to pass the book to the other person, pointing breathlessly at the line that caused it all.

Christmas became easy during your more prolific years, the latest Pratchett from who ever wished to buy it.  Always happily received, always read with maximum relish and as quickly as possible.  I would wait, eagerly and not patiently, for my love to finish his first read, then I could tuck in.  We knew it was Christmas when we were lying on the sofa reading the new Pratchett.  It was a part of our lives, expected and enjoyed.  Each year the collection grew a little bigger, moving into the hardbacks as money became more available, the weight of the book increasing as your style evolved and grew.

When we heard you were ill, it was like hearing the news of a dear friend.  We wondered how you were doing and, selfishly, rejoiced when the books kept coming.  We dreaded doing without them but knew that they had to be rationed a little.  The books became more satirical, they went deeper and stayed with me more.  I find it is the later books, with their finesse and depth I read over and over, the chance to be with the characters that are now so familiar is like sinking into a warm bed after a long day.  They coax me into a different world and leave me better than when they found me.

This year I started to read the Wee Free Men series to my eldest boy, he fell in love just as we did.  He rolls around on the sofa, laughing and slapping his knee, crying ‘Crivens!’ and other such phrases.  Nothing could be funnier, better or more exciting to him.  He wants to create a computer game of the Wintersmith, he wants to stay in that world as long as he can every day.  We have to ration it out because we know he’s not quite ready for the older books just yet.  So we take it slowly, delighting in sharing this bit of ourselves with our boy, of sharing our secret love known to millions.

So when we heard that Death, the Death I met when I was 17 (I won’t lie, that was over 10 years ago now…) had come for you, it was a blow.  I cried out ‘Oh no!’ as the news hit the interwebs, and had to explain to my boys that a wonderful man had died.  When I read the tweets, later on by myself, I cried.  Someone we loved had died, someone who had brought so much joy and laughter into our lives was gone.  It was not abstract, nor is it now.  But as I read the tributes, as I saw how many others felt this sad loss, I was a little comforted.  It’s nice to know so many care about the things you care about.

I don’t know what your thoughts are on the afterlife, whether it’s an inn with endless quaffing, a library filled with the boundless knowledge of the ages or, perhaps, the Disc World itself, balanced on the back of the great A’tuin.  But I know that you live on here, in hearts and minds, in pages in houses in real life homes.  You are a part of our family, a part of who we are and what we’ll be down the road.  I thank you for being part of this journey with us, for sharing your vision, your boundless imagination.  I thank you for looking into the secret places and telling us what you found, with humour and kindness and no reverence what so ever.

Good luck on this next part of your journey, your adventure into the unknown.  If you don’t mind could you please pass on a message to Death, if you happen to see him?  Could you tell him, ‘You came too soon.  Way, way too soon.”

Thank you Mr Pratchett, and gods bless.

Emma

Making Landfall

Making Landfall

Today.  Today was a big day.  A momentous day.  A day of riotous joy.  And also laundry.  But mostly riotous joy. Today…I saw grass.

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The temperatures rose to a might +6c today, which felt like a balmy beach in the Bahamas compared to the -39 we were experiencing just a couple of weeks ago.  The snow, which had begun to take on that flopped over look it gets as it begins to melt, is in full retreat.  We can see the drive way, we can run around on the deck, there are rocks to climb on and grass to rejoice in.  Today feels like Mother Nature is giving us all a warm hug and saying It’s ok, you’ll get through.

Suddenly the boys want to be outside, they want to run around, climb on hay bales and, yes, take their shoes off when they visit the chickens.  Speaking of chickens they have begun to venture outside after their long confinement, scratching at the earth though I fear there are no tasty treats there for them.  They are at maximum production, giving us a tray of eggs each day in colours ranging from pinky taupe to richest brown with the occasional splash of blue green, a rainbow nation of deliciousness.

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The weather is due to drop again this week, a chilly -7 and then back up to around 0 for the next week or so.  This week, as my youngest bean turns 6 years old, we’ll begin to see the mark of spring on the world.  There will be cold and probably snow ahead of us, but the season has turned.  We may not have fully arrived at our destination, but we’ve made landfall and the end is in sight.

Outside

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Sometimes there is so much to say it is paralysing.  The last couple of weeks have been like that, so full and intense that I don’t really know where to begin in recording it.  But it would seem strange to not write about something that has been quite transformative, in my mind at least.  I’ll have a stab and see how I do.

First of all, thank you to everyone who wrote such nice things about my last post, it was lovely to receive such kindness here and on Facebook, I really don’t have words.  Thank you for thinking of us and sharing your thoughts and hearts.

When we found out that Stephen’s Dad had passed away we were getting him ready to go the airport on a business trip to the UK.  The irony of this is far from lost on us.  He hadn’t been back for over 8 years and was booked on a flight the day his Dad left this world; it meant he was able to be with his loving Mum within 24hours which was, I think, a godsend for all concerned.

What this meant was that Stephen had prepped the farm for his absence; we knew he’d be gone for a week and he’d done everything he could to get us more than ready.  As it turned out all of his hard work meant that I only had to shift one bag of feed in a two week period, a blessing I was eternally grateful for.  I’m not sure how things would have gone for us if events had been different but I know that we couldn’t haven’t managed for 2 weeks alone without the work he put in before hand.

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So, Stephen left and it was me and the boys, for two weeks.  Or should I say me and the boys and the farm for two weeks.  If you had asked me before our little adventure if I was up for managing the farm and the boys and school and the house, in February, the answer would have been a resounding bugger off.  But, as it turns out, we managed, survived and, in our own way, even thrived.  It was hard, really hard at times, but we worked as a team and got through together.

First of all, I have to say, I would not have done this with younger kids.  Huwyl is 9 1/2 and Neirin nearly 6, this made a massive difference and was a lifesaver for me.  Both boys were able to chip in on the farm and around the house (well Neirin was mainly able to not set fire to things and occasionally stay inside alone) and I was very grateful for that help.  Huwyl in particular worked so hard alongside me, and extra set of hands when needed and maintaining the positive perspective he has on life.  He never grumbled, even when I did, and slogged through cold mornings and snowy afternoons right by my side.  He’s a pretty special lad.

While Stephen was away the weather really sucked.  It was down at -39C that first lonely weekend which felt something akin to having every ounce of energy or joy sucked right out through my face whilst beings sand blasted with ice.  It was cold.  Not only does the cold make extra work (Huwyl and I became experts at whacking ice blocks out of pig troughs with a mallet) but it makes everything you do that bit harder.  We wrapped up in our crazy cold ninja ensembles each morning, hiding our mouths and heads and every other bit of us before we ventured out into the deep freeze that was outside.  Those morning chores are the worst, the assault of cold against a still tired body would send anyone back to bed with an extra duvet.  But the thing is, the real thing is, we had no choice.  The furnace needed filling, the animals needed food and water and that was that.  So we did it.

We did it when it felt like the air itself was going to freeze you from the inside out.  We did it when the snow was coming down, covering paths and turning the world into one big snow drift.  Again.  We did it when we were tired and would rather stay inside.  We did it because it had to be done.

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But, and this is the perverse bit, there was joy in that.  Even though it was work I didn’t want to do at a time I didn’t want to do it, when it was done I felt really filled with joy.  Partly it was because it was done and didn’t have to be done again for several hours, but mainly it was pride.  It was that feeling you get when you do something way beyond your boundaries, when you feel like an elastic band being stretched to the point of breaking, and then it’s done.  You look up, breathe and take in what you’ve achieved.  It’s an amazing feeling, one worth slogging and working hard for, that feeling of pride at work well done.

The thing is though, when you stretch something that far it doesn’t return to the same shape, it becomes something new.  I’ve experienced this sensation before, this feeling of expansion after hardship; travelling in Nepal was one of them, parenthood another!  But I didn’t expect the simple act of doing chores in winter to have that same effect, to shift not only my body but my mind too.  That feeling of capability, of pride, of the sheer joy and having done something when normally I would have caved in and called in the man of the house, was wonderful.  I got addicted to Huwyl saying “Mum, you are amazing!” when I would beat the crap out of a foot and a half of ice or when I dug a 2 ft deep 20 ft long trench through a snow drift so that we could reach the cows without going down to our hips in the snow.  He’s a pretty amazing motivator that lad.

So we got through.  Hour by hour, day by day.  I obsessed over the weather report, hauled wood and filled the furnace to keep the house warm.  We used the kids’ sled to move gallons of water and load after load of wood.  Our outside time was doing the chores, morning and afternoon, snow or…more snow.  We ticked off the days, I looked forward to not having to do the late shift on the furnace any  more (turns out I can do heavy lifting only if I can have early nights too) and we moved through our fortnight.

I can’t say I enjoyed each day, that it’s something I would choose to do again.  But there were moments of such triumph that I can’t say I wouldn’t either.  The feeling of working along side my boys, of doing important and necessary work together was amazing.  I gained new respect for them and saw what they were capable of.  I also gained new respect for myself, I saw what I could do when I needed to. I also gained new gratitude for the work that Stephen was doing alone, unfailing and uncomplaining while working full time, to spare me the slog in the cold each day.    I think because he does so much of the big work on the farm I have always half seen it as Stephen’s endeavour, seen myself as more of a side kick.  Not now.  Over those two weeks I realised that I too was willing to fight for this life we’ve made, that I would slog and work when it was needed.  Over the course of each of those days I became more invested in our life here, in this small holding we’ve built.  It became ‘ours’ in a way it hadn’t before.

And it occurred to me that this is probably true for all of us.  It’s through our work that we gain ownership of things.  When we are invested, through creativity, through determination and diligence, through pure slog, we make it ours.  As I explained to Huwyl, many kids in this city we live in don’t face real challenges, they face challenges someone has made up for them, and they know it.  They know the work they do isn’t necessary or needed and so they don’t care about it.  I saw the pride the boys felt in their work, I know it felt good to them to actually contribute something to the people they love the most.  Day after day I’d offer Huwyl the chance to stay inside, warm and cosy, while I did chores.  Day after day he refused, instead walking alongside me, helping me with my work each step of the way.

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The photos I’ve added here aren’t from those two weeks, but from a walk we took in January, before the deep freeze hit.  It was a good day, the three of us enjoying the freedom of sunshine and still air, no responsibilities or worries for that short while.  I look forward to the spring when we’ll have the chance to roam more easily again, when the sun will warm our faces and the ice will melt away.  I look forward to the leisure of sitting outside, not rushing in on the heels of a freezing blast of wind, not slipping into snow drifts with buckets in my hands.  But I’m also looking forward to the work of building gardens and pastures, of raising the animals, of days falling into bed already half asleep.  It’s good to rest, but it’s good to earn it too.