I’ve never made any bones about that fact that Stephen is the power house behind our farm. He’s the muscle that brings the hustle, he’s the man with a plan. Except.
Well except for the fact that he’s human and can break. I know this because I watched it happen. Over months discomfort turned into pain, which turned into debilitation. After ‘treatment’ for back pain that only made things worse, we finally found out that Stephen’s back had herniated. It could have been the time he carried twelve 5 gallon buckets of water for the cows, it could have been a million other things. Death by a thousand…well heavy buckets I suppose.
Eventually, after not being taken seriously by a lot of different people, we ended up where I knew we would, emergency surgery. As ever I’m eternally grateful for the medical services we have access to, as much as we try to do our own thing medically, when you can’t feel your legs you’re really happy that someone spent many years in medical school learning how to make you better.
So it’s been a bit of a road. A road of discovery, of hard work, of trying to figure out how we are going to manage everything. I took over the farm chores just after Christmas and it’s been mostly me and the boys up until now. Stephen has been on call for emergencies (so every other day) and has been coming out to help more than I’d like, but woman power has been keeping things going.
Now I’d like to big myself up, but my work is really a sticky plaster keeping things from gushing. Though I have learned to use an electric drill with deadly force, I know my limits. Luckily the work we did last year to improve the infrastructure on the farm has made it possible for me to step into Stephen’s wood smoke smelling farm coat and keep things ticking over. Without it, I really don’t think it would have been possible for me to manage the animal load with have this winter. 5 pigs, 4 cows, 9 ducks and a flock of laying chickens is more than we’ve carried in the past and was more than I would have thought I could have managed without my love to carry the bulk of it.
So how have I managed? Well, at times, I’ve felt not very well. There have been tears of frustration, of anger, of exhaustion. I’ve been worried, I’ve been fearful, I’ve been extremely cross. The weather has been a mix of blessedly mild and horribly problematic (I’m looking at you ice rain) but I’m generally grateful for the lack of mind numbing temperatures that make your fingers stop working after 5 minutes.
There have been setbacks, more than a few. A frozen water supply because one of our cows likes to pull the plug out of the trough heater. The pigs all deciding a fun game of ‘swap houses’ would liven things up during the long winter months. A less fun game of ‘try to shag my underage daughter’ meant that the house swap really was not groovy and had to be resolved asap despite the fact that one of the players is a 600lb boar who ain’t going no where if he doesn’t want to. And then there was the day when I walked into the chicken house to find that most of my flock had been murdered in the night by a weasel that I would really, really like to kill.
And that was just the last 2 weeks.
But hey, as my neighbour says, that’s farming. As the weeks have gone on I’ve found my rhythm. I’ve worked out what I can and can’t do, what I will and won’t tolerate. I’ve got my own little routines and have figured out ways to make things easier. I’m taking pride in learning new skills and am basking in the glow of some pretty heavy kudos coming my way from my beloved. He’s a man not given to false praise I can tell you. I feel a bit broken in places but I’m proud too, proud of keeping things going forward and of not giving in. I’ve really wanted to at times, but these weeks have given me a real sense of ownership over aspects of the farm I never saw as mine. I’m making more decisions, I’m able to see the issues more clearly because I’m part of it all more. I’m finding a mental stamina that feels good to possess.
Plus I’ve had help. I’ve had Stephen’s knowledge which is extensive, his physical help whenever it’s been needed or even when it’s not (sitting back doesn’t come naturally to him). Our neighbour has stepped in and moved hay, shifted snow and been a support as he has for the last 5 years. My dear friend and her husband have helped with childcare, meals, shifting heavy feed sacks and general sanity preservation; things really would have been bleak without their amazing back up. We have loving family members offering to get on flights and help out if need be, plus the emotional support we need from those we love the most.
The boys (particularly Huwyl) have been basically wonderful. Hauling wood, water and straw bales around the farm isn’t the usual remit of an 11 year old, but my lad has been by my side whenever possible. Though they are still young the boys are learning the importance of family sticking together, of working side by side to support each other when it’s needed. I’m proud of the young men these lads are turning into, I’m grateful for their open hearts and strong shoulders.
So here we are. Counting the weeks until spring, watching the weather forecast obsessively and turning our faces to the wind to see if it feels like spring is coming yet. There are good days and bad days, but that’s the way it always is. A lot of the time I wonder why, why do we put this stress on ourselves. Why do we make life harder than it has to be? Wouldn’t it be nice to just lounge in bed a little more each day? Wouldn’t it be easier to just not?
Yes, it would be.
But then, the moments that make it all seem worthwhile would be gone too. The special glimmer that shines like a diamond sliver in a handful of sand. The feel of a heartbeat on a fresh born baby critter, the long chats at the farm gate while the fragrance of wild summer air surrounds you. The knowledge inside you that made something, did something, created something where otherwise nothing would exist. It’s what keeps you moving forward, the memory of that, the hope of that. It’s addicting. I’m hooked. It’s a lost cause.