The Butcher’s Bill

The obligatory cute lamb picture

This mid-winter morning, the mercury hovers around 10, the ground is lightly covered with brittle snow, and, as the prospect of another week in the deep freeze settles into my chilled bones, my thoughts are dark. I spent most of yesterday avoiding outdoor projects on the farm. Time that could have been employed constructively was devoted instead to a post comparing our cushy fossil-fueled lives to a 19th century slaveholder economy. Eventually I shelved it. “Too bleak,” Cindy said. “I want to hear about the lambs.”

Heck, I too would rather hear about lambs than read yet another rant about our fatal addiction to consumption. Which, I admit, is just one more pile of sand in which I bury my head. My competing impulses create a quandary. When a young person talks to me about his dreams for a good life, my first instinct is to interrupt, to tell him the planet has determined that our good life is no longer viable, dreams or not. Instead, I tell him about lambs. The promise of birth and death and birth again. I believe in both narratives, and I don’t want to burst his bubble, so I tell only the one story.

Which is why I love farming. It is a great place for a short-term optimist/long-term pessimist like myself. The old joke about the farmer who won a million bucks perfectly encapsulates my outlook: “So what are you going to do with that million dollars?” “I guess I’ll keep farming until it runs out.” Well, I too will keep on farming, enjoying and embracing it for however long it lasts, even as I remain convinced that the planet is preparing to reboot. If I could just find my pipe and supply of hope-ium seed, then just maybe I could help extend that optimistic vision out another generation.

My own inclination for a favorable construct, meanwhile, continues to be fed by lots of new pigs, a new pregnant sow, baby lambs hitting the ground daily, an ongoing diet of learning new skills, dreams of a better garden, and good friends in the community. Two of the latter stopped by last night with a gift one of them had worked on for the better part of a year. A beautiful rustic bench adorned with a seat back that spelled out “Winged Elm,” it was handmade of wood from both theirs and our farm. We invited them in to share some homemade chicken and dumplings. The chicken itself was a gift from two young farmers in exchange for the use of our chicken plucker. So, despair not, gentle reader, for your scribe. I’ll always enjoy a convivial evening and the miracles of everyday life.

Well, the sun isn’t up, but in this frigid dawn light I see the ram lambs. They are gathered at the hay barn, trying to magic their feed down onto their dining room table. I must leave you — thinking of cute lambs, not about the butcher’s bill that inevitably comes due.


Reading this weekend: Lanterns On The Levee: recollections of a Planter’s son, by William Alexander Percy. A beautifully written memoir of the Mississippi Delta, that also manages to be both offensively racist and full of class snobbery. 

10 thoughts on “The Butcher’s Bill

  1. Hmmm. Interesting to describe yourself as a short-term optimist, long-term pessimist. Having blogged (off and on) for ten years now about impending collapse (I appreciate the euphemism “reboot,” but it’s likely to be far worse than restarting a computer), I’ve been waiting, waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were, feeling like it could happen any moment, and yet we trudge on with time growing ever shorter. Thus, I can’t quite manage even short-term optimism. Moreover, our political landscape sinks lower and lower as though there is no floor or bottom to it. That said, I do have my consolations.

    • our political landscape sinks lower and lower as though there is no floor or bottom to it

      Indeed. It causes me to ponder how much further it can sink. Chicago is becoming an interesting political petri dish of late (hoping such a metaphor doesn’t insult anyone). While I would offer kudos to Senator Durbin for his recent calling out of certain sinking sultans I have to wonder how effective the opposition in Washington can be. This may well prove a most interesting political season.

      And consolations. Grace here and now. Perhaps we the consoled might be called upon to spread such consolations about. And while it should be rightfully a mission for all to spread justice and hope to parts of our planet deemed s***hole nations by his trumpness – I wonder if rather the s***hole on this planet is actually much closer to hand – and oval in shape?

      But enough of such. The cold is quickly killing insect eggs laid in the soils of our agricultural heritage. The freezing and thawing and heaving in the fields is erasing a multitude of anthropomorphic insults. Winter cereals are vernalizing so that they might fruit for our benefit in the coming months. By the reality of the Earth’s incredible resilience I maintain a certain near term optimism, and dream it at least plausible there is cause for some longer term optimism as well.

      Stay warm.

        • The library? It grows like a well fertilized garden. Books at 10 cents on the dollar are tough to pass over. But I did manage to restrict my purchases to what I could carry away by myself. No forklift needed.

  2. Brian,
    Optimism is a rare thing now-a-days and we all put our head in the sand now and then just to get away from all the bad news. Sometime It just feels like all the news seems to only get darker and darker, confirming our worst fears. It seems that humanity is determined to self destruct this civilization we depend upon. I am glad there are still people such as you and Cindy who continue being farmers. The world needs more small farmers.
    What a lovely evening you described, the gift of a bench made with love, and sharing a dinner with friends who are good neighbors. I couldn’t agree with you more…”I’ll always enjoy a convivial evening and the miracles of everyday life.” Too often when the world seems darkest we forget that the best times in life generally occur sharing laughter and friendship with good food and company.

Any thoughts or questions?