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. 

A Convivial Life: revisited

Our home-cured ham before being thinly sliced into prosciutto.

Last night was the annual holiday gathering on the farm, with good friends from far and wide. As a result your faithful scribe is moving a bit slow this morning. So, I leave you with one from the archives on the same topic.  Cheers (But, quietly, please).

In what was a convivial happenstance, the weather turned cold last night for our annual Christmas/Solstice gathering, and we spent several very pleasant hours with good friends from town and country here on the farm. This morning damage was confined to a few bags of trash and a full slop bucket for the pigs. So different from the parties of our younger days, but maturity comes in time to us all.

Wandering through the house during the evening, I heard snippets of conversation: a fellow farmer on a sow’s first-time farrowing, a librarian on the decline of library patronage, a native of Chicago on where Emma Goldman is buried (Waldheim cemetery), Cindy with an explanation of our hoop-house to be built in the spring.

As the energy ebbed into the night, I walked with a few friends in the bright moonlight past the orchard to admire a new barn, a fresh stack of lumber, and a massive oak log — the standards of entertainment being quite high here in the rural hinterlands. Our guests extended appropriate gestures of appreciation, then we made our way back to the warmth of the farmhouse for more wassail.

With the last guests leaving by 11, we turned in after a little cleanup before midnight. We slumbered deeply until Teddy began barking savagely around 2 a.m. After a few ignored shouts from me to shut up and no move from Cindy to deal with the problem, I got up. Funny that, the domestic politics of pretending to be so deep in sleep that your partner is forced out into the cold house and even colder night.

The mercury hovering in the mid-20s, I stomped around in boxers and T-shirt on the frosty ground, as Teddy continued to respond as if slaughter awaited in the darkness. I played the flashlight among the trees, but saw nothing but a cold and beautiful star-filled night. Teddy’s coat still bristled when I finally put him on the back porch.

Imminent death by serial murderers be damned, I then headed back upstairs. Sliding back under the quilts, Cindy still feigning deep sleep, I drifted off again until the morning’s light.