When I was a child, my father's parents kept a fair amount of animals like chickens, ducks, geese, and am occasional goat. They grew a substantial amount of their food. My mother's parents never had animals but they had a very large garden and grew enough food to feed an army. They were and are the people chasing others down to give them vegetables. They liked growing their own food so much that they felt the need to grow more than they could possibly eat. While they didn't keep animals, my grandfather was an avid hunter and fisherman and our freezer was always full of game and fish. We lived in the city and my mother only did container gardening but we spent a lot of time in the garden working for my grandparents when we visited. I can't say that anyone in my extended family thought of themselves as mini-homesteaders. They just liked what they were doing. It wasn't political. It was about enjoying the process.
I am not a gardener. I like having the garden available to me when I want to make a salad or I have the hankering to grill zucchini but I am just as happy buying it from someone else. I just hate gardening. Like a lot. I don't like digging in the soil or starting seeds or weeding. I just don't enjoy it. I know there are a lot of people who do and I cannot figure out what they like about it so much but I am pretty glad they share their bounty with us. Homegrown is pretty darn good; especially tomatoes.
I am also not a pet person. I like the idea of pets more than the pets. Actually, I am not sure I like the idea of them. Well. Maybe cats. They are low maintenance. Except our cat. He is pretty darn needy the way he likes to crawl into bed with us all but since he kills mice, shrews, and spiders, I can deal. Well, and the dog keeps the bears and coyotes away, albeit with a few injuries. She can stay. I can deal with her, too.
The photo above is one I took from behind the farmhouse here and it looks down towards the edge of the woods. If you keep going in that direction, through the woods, you will run right into the edge of Lake Superior. There is a lot of space. If I stand in the hayloft and look out the window, there is only so far that I can see because the woods block my view.The farm covers, quite literally, all I can see and then some. I went from living by the train station and a quick ride into downtown to living on a farm with more land than I can see from the hayloft. I am pretty soft. Too soft for this.
But I think that's okay. I think we all start off soft, no matter what, and maybe we stay soft. We took a frightening gamble and Ben quite his big city job and we sold our large comfortable house with the kitchen we renovated to be my ideal (*sniff*) and we moved to the family homestead and we were two soft for it. In fact I was just telling Ben this very thing. But I think I misspoke. I think we used to be too soft for this. We aren't super hearty like our neighbors who have lived out here their whole lives for generations and generations but, we are still alive and so are most of the animals.
We have taught the children how to cope with loss by loving them through a bitter period of caring for a calf that was born with neurological issues. We fed him, and stroked his head, set him in our laps, and took turns with him. We invested everything we could and then watched him die anyway but how to still invest in the next one that comes along. That toughens you up.
Jack got ducks and cared for them every single day until we processed them and had them for Nativity. He compassionately cared for these animals, knowing that they were food, He proudly served roast duck and the risotto I made with the stock from the bones. That also toughens you up.
As a family have harvested apple and sold them by the hundred pound lots for canning, gotten up in the dark to trek out to the barn to milk cows, chased cows and lambs back in from the orchard and gardens when they have gotten lose and helped themselves, and we have even (twice in the last week) gone out and roped a cow so that we could tie them up and pull porcupine quills from their muzzles. The kids have shown produce at the fair. I have made more butter and varieties of cheese than I ever thought I would learn to make. We have found ourselves needing help and advice more times than I can count and, most importantly, found neighbors willing to dive in and help. We have given away homemade cheese, butter, bread, jellies, dried apples, home canned pie cherries, plum syrup, and other thing in a delicious barter arrangement with others.
I think we are still soft. We are still tired. We are still overwhelmed at times. The real measure is that we keep waking up and doing it. Maybe it isn't about how feel at the beginning, but what we have finished in the end. Maybe it is isn't about the process but about the end. That even when we don't enjoy the process, at the end we have not only accomplished something, achieved something, we overcome the greatest of stumbling blocks: ourselves.