Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from the Living Kitchen Farm and Dairy!

With gratitude,

Linda, Lisa, Kasey, Teeny Tiny, Pascal, and the rest of the herd

Monday, November 16, 2009

A question that lingered

Lisa participated on a panel that answered questions after showing portions of the movie Food, Inc. at All Souls Unitarian Church yesterday. The panel included Wes Downing of Downing Family Farm and Doug Walton who works with the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The questions that came after the film were interesting, different than I expected. One question in particular has lingered with me.

A woman who works with seniors in Tulsa asked the question, "What should they buy when they shop at Walmart to be sure they're getting the safest food possible?" I found myself wondering why they're shopping at Walmart, but I realize there is likely a complex answer behind that. There's a certain appeal to the one-stop shopping Walmart offers, particularly when people rely on others for transportation. My mom who is nealry 80 years and would hardly be characterized as a revolutionary or activist is on a one-woman campaign to boycott Walmart in the small town where she lives. She sees them as a threat to the small grocery store in town and while the selection at the grocery store is more limited and may, in some cases, provide less healthy and less safe options simply because there's a smaller customer base to demand such options, she is firmly committed to doing her part to keep small businesses alive. I know there are options. Walmart isn't the only choice, but even if it was, the answer to the woman's question is more complicated than that.

Doug Walton attempted to answer it on several levels. First, he talked about choices between processed foods and whole foods. Second, he tried to discuss the difference between organic and non-organic products. His attempt to highlight the multidimensional nature of the issue irritated her, I think. She fired back at him with several more questions and seemed frustrated. I'm not really sure what her frustration was. Is it the cost of those products versus the cost of processed foods that use commodities that are highly subsidized and can be provided at below-cost-of-production prices? Is it anger that we're caught in a situation of having to even concern ourselves with the safety of food to begin with?

My dad had a big vegetable garden nearly every summer. He planted tomatoes, corn, green beans, okra, beets, potatoes, and other assorted goodies. The garden was always much bigger than needed to feed us and provide produce for my mom to can for the winter months. We used to tease about his ambitious planting, but I think there was often more behind his intent than he ever let on. He loved to share what he grew. Neighbors would come pick for themselves after he'd harvested for us. And he loved to take bags of stuff to people he knew couldn't come pick for themselves. He didn't do it because it was trendy or an act of social justice. He did it because he loved to garden and believed none of what he produced should go to waste.

After he retired, he and my mom volunteered with Meals on Wheels, delivering meals to homebound people in the small town where they lived every other week. When his garden was producing, he took extras along with him and delivered fresh vegetables to everyone on his route. Now, my mom doesn't drive much and can't garden for herself, but a couple from town who delivered Meals on Wheels with them have taken to bringing her regular deliveries of vegetables from their garden during the summer months.

The problem in the woman's question isn't just about the safety of food. I think it's also about the breakdown of community and a demonstration of what we value most. We've sacrificed small community-based businesses and our own health on the altar of convenience. On one level the answer to her question seems simple non-processed, organic foods from local producers whenever possible. It gets more complex only because it means challenging our values. To do so means budgeting for our health. It means allowing time to find the products that are safe. It also means being aware of those who are most vulnerable and susceptible to relying on unsafe food as the staple of their diet simply because they truly can't afford or gain access to good, clean food.

That feels complex. It's hard to challenge our values. I don't think it was ever so complicated for my dad or for the couple who pass things along to my mom. They just simply planted more than they needed and looked for those who didn't have access to it. Maybe it really is that simple.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Coming home

Every night it’s the same. I turn down the road and see a couple of white dots in the distance, dancing along the horizon, getting larger as I approach. As my truck nears the driveway the dots take shape and Ginger and Cosmo, the guard dogs, wag their tails and pant and walk slowly to greet me. Sadie is not so patient. She races past them, coming from wherever she is on the farm as soon as she hears the truck. I pull in the driveway, put on the brake, and turn off the engine, and hear a thud on the driver’s side door. Sadie jumps up to look in the window. I’m home.

I’m a member of the pack, part of the herd, one of the clowder. I belong to the brood. If I’ve forgotten that in my workday world, I’m reminded as soon as I round that corner. Goats turn to look and bleat. Dogs run to meet me. Chickens cackle. And cats…well, cats raise their heads and appear annoyed.

It’s just like a human to see herself as the center of attention when she arrives on the scene. Make no mistake. I know for many, my return home means it’s time to eat. I’m at least a reminder of dinner time, at most a means to an end…the hand that reaches into the barrel with the grain or scratch or other food or to pat a waiting head. It’s not an indication of my self importance, but in some small way it is one of the most assuring things I encounter everyday. I know I belong.

On a cloudy, windy evening after the sun was well on its way to setting, I rounded the corner to the side porch, briefcase in hand. The cats were waiting near their bowls when I stepped up on the porch. I reached for their food as I passed and filled each bowl. I noticed one of the four cats I knew should be around wasn’t there. I hadn’t seen him in the morning either. So I started calling him and caught sight of a small white creature moving quickly toward the house from out by the pond. At first, I assumed it was Ruben and started to head in to the house, but in a moment realized it wasn’t him. It was Buttons, a cat who’d run away the first night she was at the new farm, five or six weeks ago.

I yelled in the house for Lisa to let her know Buttons was home. Then, stood and watched. Buttons ran, but slowed as she got closer. She crouched low and slunk up to me, rubbing up against my leg. I picked her up. She didn’t like that and jumped down. Sadie ran to her, so she took off back toward a wooded area across the street. I grabbed a bowl of food and called to her. She stopped. I walked slowly toward her and put the food down, under the fence that separated us. She turned and came back to the food. Ginger and Cosmo saw her and jogged toward her. I called them off and they turned away. They NEVER listen to me. I was shocked.

The other cats, including Ruben who had appeared from somewhere, grew curious and started towards her. Bella, the ginger manx cat, everyone’s favorite, got the closest. She approached slowly, but confidently, and stopped near Buttons. Bella waited a few minutes while Buttons ate a little, then lowered her head and cautiously started grooming her, lightly touching Buttons’ coat, gently licking it. After awhile, Bella groomed in earnest.

There we were. Two white dogs a safe distance away. Lisa and I back near the porch. The cats scattered around the yard between the porch and the fence where Buttons sat eating. And Bella right beside her, licking Buttons' white and grey fur.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Wildwood Spring

We haven't given a name to the new place yet. No Name New Place is what I use to refer to it in my journal, a way of distinguishing it from The Farm, the name I used for the old place. But in my mind I've come to think of the new place as Wildwood Spring, after an Eliza Gilkyson song by the same name. The story of Wildwood Spring in her song sums up beautifully how I feel about where we live now. It seems the lives we live and the work we do are largely about slowing down enough to pay attention to the world around us, to where our food comes from, to the amazing activity of the many lives, however tiny they may be, that surround us, to each other. It's about daring to live out values that in many ways run contrary to the culture in which we live and that come with a sense of urgency that, at times, turns us into evangelists of sorts.

But our lives are not all sober and serious and completely oriented to the fulfillment of some higher good. A few nights ago we watched the llama play "king of the hill" on a mound of dirt in the night yard. He playfully bounded up and down the hill, chasing any sheep or goats who dared to ascend the mound.

There is a deep sense of pleasure and joy and satisfaction in this place. I experience love here at depths that have eluded me most of life, largely because I wasn't open to it. This place breaks me open, sometimes leaving me vulnerable to the point I fear my heart will never be protected again. But it's only a momentary fear, one that occasionally takes my breath away for a moment when I stop to think about all that I've let in. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I'm so grateful to be here.

There is a steady breeze blowing through the trees that stand tall against a sky that is moderating the light it will let in this morning. Clouds are scattered about, the last signs of the thunderstorm that passed by us earlier. The sun is shyly rising behind them, like a school girl trying to stay covered in the locker room during gym. Soon it will find some boldness and break through, rising higher in the sky and bringing a brighter hue to the world out here, but until then, I relish in the gentleness of a morning that starts this way. It matches the quiet, reflective mood I'm in and makes me want to walk the woods or write or just sit on a rock by the pond and watch the waves dance across the water like fireworks in a 4th of July sky.

I'm grateful for my life. Truly grateful. Grateful for the sense of revival that has come from the choices I've made over the past few years.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is anybody out there?

Testing. Testing. Is anyone still out there?

Ah, it doesn't matter anyway. I spent my first night on the new farm (boy, we really need to come up with a name for it!) last night. Lisa and I now live on 400 acres...with 17 goats (soon to be 22), eight sheep (soon to be, well, fewer), an assortment of chickens, seven cats, four dogs, and one llama.

I love it here. The place is beautiful. Fourteen stocked ponds, wooded areas waiting to be explored, more lush green grass than the goats and sheep could ever eat, and plenty of room for a large market garden.

If I doubted at all that my life has changed, I suppose the coffee pot conversation (our equivalent of the water cooler conversation) at the seminary today would convince me. Someone asked me about my weekend. I told her, "It was good. We moved the sheep and goats yesterday. Went pretty well, except we had some trouble with the llama." No one really knew what to say in response.

That's alright. It's not a life for everyone, but I'm sure glad it's mine!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Half Dome: New old pictures and a repost

A friend from seminary posted a couple of pictures from the famous hike to the top of Half Dome. I've stolen them from him to post here. :) I don't think he'll mind.

In this photo, we're on the way to top, taking a break. I'm in the front on the right-hand side, in case it isn't obvious.

And here's proof that we made it to the top...well, I guess you'll have to take my word for it if you haven't been there yourself.

And below, I'm republishing a post from the first blog that I wrote about four years ago. It was a post that gave me my first real glimpse of the power writing had to change my life. The memory of that hike helped empower me in some very important ways. I'm so grateful to be reminded yet again of that great experience.

Half Dome

I used to have a poster print of a famous Ansel Adams photo of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. It was displayed in my office for years, a reminder of the most difficult and rewarding hike of my life. I often looked at the photo with a great sense of accomplishment and pride in what I achieved the day I reached the summit.

The Half Dome hike is about 17 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of about 5000 feet. A lot of the trail consists of steep stone stairs. Near the top, the grade lessens, but the distance is increased over a long series of switchbacks. The last 400 yards is straight up a sheer granite face at a 45-degree angle. To get to the summit hikers have to grasp two taut cables in their hands while carefully climbing cable rungs that are fastened to the rock.

The scenery is amazing. Ansel Adams has popularized many of the more magnificent views in black and white photos of the area. There are few places I've been that match Yosemite in its number of breathtaking, awe-inspiring scenes. Along the trail to Half Dome's summit, hikers are treated to several beautiful waterfalls (depending on the time of year), a crystal clear river, flora and fauna of many varieties, much of which remains unspoiled in spite of heavy foot traffic along the trail.

I started the hike with a group of friends early one summer morning. We camped out at a friend's house near the park entrance the night before to be sure we could start as soon as there was enough light. There were about 10 of us, allowing for hikers of varying fitness levels to stay in different groups without slowing down the stronger hikers.

Hiking is usually a solitary activity for me, but I stayed with some friends in the front group for most of the hike. Occasionally I dropped back or pushed ahead a few yards to have some time to myself. I hiked up the trail moving from one group of friends to another, enjoying a chance to get to know them better, then taking some time to myself to enjoy the beauty of the valley.

At various points along the trail, beautiful sweeping views of the Yosemite Valley are opened up through gaps in the trees. Each one invited us to rest. I was consumed with the landscape. As I looked out at the horizon, I measured the increase in elevation from the last view, wondering how much farther we had to go. The density of the forest and the position on the adjoining mountainside make it difficult to keep Half Dome in view for a large part of the hike. All that we had to assure us that we were headed in the right direction were a well-maintained trail and other hikers who were coming and going along the way.

Just before the switchbacks start, there is an opening that beautifully frames Half Dome, teasing hikers with a view that makes it seem just minutes away. As I recall, we were still about an hour and a half from the the final climb to the summit. The muscles in my legs were burning and shaky when I reached the cables. I wasn't sure I could make the climb, but I couldn't give up. I put on some leather gloves, positioned myself in between friends, and slowly started the ascent up the cables. My fear of heights overwhelmed me at several points and I froze, unable to move up or down. Each time a friend from behind reminded me to look at the rock in front of me and nothing else. If I looked up, I got dizzy. If I looked down, I started shaking. From time to time, I would have to let go of one cable to make room for a hiker coming down the face. Accustomed to repelling and having a rope to hold me in place or catch me if I fell, the experience of being on the side of a slick piece of granite with no harness or safety rope frightened me terribly. As I came to the last cable rung and saw that one step up would put me on flat ground, I reached with every ounce of energy I had left to hoist myself to the top. A few steps forward brought me to the rock's edge and the most spectacular view I've ever seen.

I couldn't breath. When I looked up, I saw nothing but sky and clouds and solitary birds circling in the wind. The sky was bluer and the clouds closer than any I'd ever seen. When I looked out, I saw the vastness of the Yosemite Valley stretching for miles in front of and around me. Trees and rocks blurred together, creating a view much like an impressionist painting. Though surrounded by friends, I felt completely alone, invisible, humbled. I found conversation impossible, so I walked to a place where I could sit alone for a few minutes. I contemplated the landscape and felt myself slowly disappear, swallowed up in a place bigger than me, a place so enormous that it was scarcely aware of my presence. I didn't want to leave.

It had taken us five hours to reach the summit from the trailhead. Some of the group stayed behind at a rest area just before the switchbacks. They were worn out and tired from the hike up, so they decided to conserve what energy they had left for the return trip. There wasn't much time to stay on the summit. We rested awhile and started the descent. When we reached the group waiting for us, someone suggested that a few of us hike ahead to catch the last shuttle bus to our cars in order to avoid increasing our hike by another two miles. Two others and I agreed to retrieve the cars. We started down the trail, moving swiftly and carefully.

I walked on ahead of them for awhile to think about the experience of reaching the summit. I could hear my friends playfully arguing about some weighty theological issue. I stayed just aware enough of their banter to know that I was not losing them. My vision was narrowed by my thoughts. I had little awareness of what was around me except for the trail directly ahead.

An hour or so down the trail, I was startled back into a keen sense of my surroundings when I heard in a quiet, but stern voice, "Don't move!" I stopped dead in my tracks, just in time to hear a rattle. I carefully surveyed the area around me. My eyes landed on a rattlesnake about a foot ahead and to my right, ready to strike. My arms and hands drew up in a defensive move as my body pulled back. All the blood drained from my face, leaving me pale and cold. I stood motionless. One of the friends behind me walked in an arc to my left so that he could get down-trail and warn other hikers to stop. The other friend, still about six or seven feet behind me, reached down to pick up several rocks. One by one, he threw the rocks to make noise in the leaves on the ground behind the snake, eventually scaring it away. Assured that the snake was gone, I finally moved. I walked back to my friend and collapsed in his arms as he hugged me. Other hikers joined us, led by the friend who had gone down-trail to warn them. The friends excitedly recounted the details of our encounter with the snake.

Speechless again, I quietly contemplated how the guys who were so far behind me saw the snake before I did. I pulled myself together and started back down the trail. We reached a calm pool in the river a few minutes later. The guys wanted to swim for awhile, so we took a break. I sat down on a rock at the river's edge and watched them, still aware of my increased pulse and shallow breathing. The sun was shining through the tops of the trees, warming me as I laid back on the rock. I took deep breaths, in and out, to calm myself. I slipped my shoes and socks off and dropped my aching feet into the icy river, slowly swinging them in circles to keep the blood flowing. The river refreshed us, and the warm sun and cool rock calmed me.

We got back on the trail. I was tired and sore. My knees ached from the strain of climbing down stairs. No longer able to escape into my thoughts, I was hypnotized by the steady rhythm of my steps. I would stop for a few minutes and start up again, trying to keep my stiffening muscles from freezing. When I felt like I couldn't take another step, I remembered our plans to stop for ice cream on the drive home. The hike ended at the shuttle bus stop with ten minutes to spare. We returned to the trailhead with our cars to meet an excited group of friends as they emerged from the trail. The drive home was energized by each one's tales of conquering fear and fatigue. Our lives were joined by a common experience, our friendships forged along the steep, rocky trail, deepened by the joint effort to get everyone up and back again safely.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First kids

Sally, Queen of the Milkers, had her babies yesterday evening. I checked on her at 8:00 p.m. She was in labor, but there were no babies. We ate dinner and went out to check on her at 8:30 and to assist if she needed help. She didn't. Baby number three dropped just as we stepped out the door. She had three beautiful baby boys. Kasey, the farm intern who started last week, is in the picture above.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saturday morning surprise

I went out to do chores yesterday morning and made my way through the usual routine: Feed the dogs, feed the cats, grab some alfalfa for the milk goats, feed the chickens, check their water and lower the perches on the roosting boxes. The goats in the back pasture saw me and announced their presence, in case I had forgotten. I looked up to see who was speaking for the group and noticed five goats and five sheep at the gate. Wait! Five sheep, there should be six. I did a quick scan of the group and noticed Lady Left-teat was missing. That's not unusual. I looked behind them to see if she was resting, but didn't see her. A quick glance over at the barn brought relief. She was there, just inside where the hay and alfalfa are kept, but I noticed something underneath her. I looked more carefully and initially thought it might be a chicken that had roamed a long way from the hen house. Then it hit me! LAMB! Lady Left-teat had had her baby.

In the time it took me to turn and run to the house, I suddenly became skeptical. Maybe I hadn't seen it right. It was morning. I wasn't awake yet. But before I could convince myself to go take a closer look first, I had announced to Lisa and to the new farm intern, Kasey, that we had a lamb. They dropped what they were doing, pulled their boots on and joined me outside. I was halfway to the barn by the time they got outside. I had to be sure there was actually a lamb there first. Didn't want them to raz me for being a dumb city girl! ;)

As I got closer, I noticed that there was not in fact A lamb. There were two! Two big, healthy boys. They're beautiful.

Sally, Queen of the Milkers, is due to give birth tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring is bustin' out all over

It’s cold here this morning. A cold front moved in yesterday, dropping the temperature about 40 degrees over a few hours. I was deeply aware of the cold front’s progress. I went to a gathering in Oklahoma City yesterday and didn’t take my coat. Each trip outside during the day and on our return to Tulsa, it felt like the temp had dropped another 10 degrees. Right now, I’m sitting on the couch next to the woodstove, wrapped up in a blanket trying to warm up on this cold, cold morning. It’s 31 degrees, by most standards not a bitterly cold morning, but after several days of waking up to 50s and 60s, it feels pretty chilly.

The Farm is full of new life already. Lisa has been growing vegetable plants to sell at herb fests next month. The greenhouse is filling up with beautiful pepper plants and tomato plants that have germinated and are now starting to get their true leaves. Trees all around us are blooming and budding. Green grass is beginning to appear amidst the straw-like dead cover on the ground. The first of goats is due to give birth on Monday, and we still await the arrival of new lambs. There’s no describing how much excitement I feel watching the new life around me blossom.

In many ways the new life springing up on the farm mirrors for me the new life emerging in me. The sense of rebirth that started three years ago (yes, THREE years ago!) continues. I’m grateful everyday for all that the transformation has brought me, most recently the beauty of a new and amazing love. I’m so glad to be alive!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Morning chores

It was a balancing act walking out the back door this morning. My arms were weighted down with a variety of plastic containers holding scraps of food perfect for hungry chickens. The screen door slammed behind me and I stopped briefly just to take in the sunrise and fresh air. It’s warm today, a nice southerly wind sweeping over the dead grass, drying out the air and leaving me with a longing to be outside, instead of sitting at my desk doing the tasks that call to me with greater urgency.

I stopped just outside the chicken coop and dropped the containers. One by one I emptied them over the fence and watched as the chickens scrambled to feast on the scraps. A familiar bird call rang out from overhead. I looked up to see a beautiful red-winged blackbird sitting on the telephone wire above. I’ve heard him several days over the past few weeks, but this is the first time I’ve seen him. I greeted him and watched him fly away, then collected the empty containers and headed to the garage to carry on with the rest of the chores. Hungry cats raced to their bowls as Lisa poured cat food for them to eat. I walked past her to the corner of the garage where the hay is kept. I took two flakes of alfalfa and headed to the milk barn. Seven glowing pregnant ladies greeted me with appetites for the sweet goodness of the dense grainy alfalfa. I gave them all a pat on the head and walked back to the chickens.

Morning chores are a meditation, a practice that calls me to leave behind the swirling anxious or excited thoughts that clutter my mind and focus my attention on my present surroundings. However routine the chores may seem, they involve the care of animals, care that requires more than the completion of tasks. Attention is needed to be aware of their health and safety. And at every corner I am reminded that I may be responsible, but I am not in control, an awareness that calls me out of my head into my surroundings, alert and ready to give attention to the details of my environment.

When I returned to the chicken coop, I stood at the fence and opened the barrel to throw them a little scratch to go with the scraps. When I looked up to fling the grain and seed, my eyes caught a glimpse of Ginger, the Great Pyrenes farm dog, inside the coop, but she didn’t belong there and in the morning, pre-second-cup-of-coffee fog, it didn’t stick with me…dog, BIG dog, inside the chicken coop, inside the high fenced walls of the coop, eating scraps of food alongside chickens who appeared less than concerned by her presence, and when it finally registered, I stood there for a moment, jaw dropped and breath held wondering how on earth she’d gotten in. I still don’t know. It was such a quick and trail-less entry that I’m wondering if she’s discovered the secret of teleportation. Either way, the illusion of control that fences and locked gates and things as they should be offers quickly dissolved with the sight of her white furry presence amidst the cackling hens and crowing roosters.

I opened the gate and scolded her. She turned to look at me, head down, dejected, frozen in her position inside the coop. I held the gate open and stepped out of her path, calling her to come. She walked slowly toward me, tail tucked and head down, and reluctantly left the coop. She stopped just outside the gate, looking with longing inside at the scraps on the ground. I gave her an understanding pat. Though frustrated with her, I admire her will.

I checked the water cans in the coop and found that between the dry air and the thirsty chickens, they’d emptied the two cans I filled the day before. I filled them again and walked back to the garage to get another can to help ensure that they have enough.

The goats and sheep in the back pasture were waiting at the gate for me when I got there. Pascal the llama stood amongst them, his watchful eye guarding their safety. I counted the sheep and noticed one was missing. My heart raced. We’ve been waiting for the two ewes to give birth. Unsure of the exact day when they were bred, we’ve known for awhile now that it could be any day. Last night I told Lisa I hoped I walked out to find a lamb. She smiled and said, “Not tomorrow! I have to leave for work at 7:30. I won’t have time to get things ready for mama and baby.”

“Well, can we have a baby on Friday?”

“Yes, Friday or Saturday or Sunday. But Monday’s not good, and neither is tomorrow!”

I looked past the sheep and goats and noticed the older ewe on the ground several yards behind the crowd at the gate. I walked over to her and realized she was just resting. She’s old and tired and frequently separates from the crowd now. There was no baby, and I breathed a sigh of relief and walked toward the barn to feed everyone. She jumped up to follow me.

This is still new to me, but today I felt like a farmer, awake to and aware of the world in my care if even for only a few minutes this morning. I’ve raced around every morning this week, scrambling to get out the door and off to an early meeting at work. I felt the same tension in my chest when I woke up, but with the first deep breath of the fresh air when I walked outside, I let the work of morning chores slow me down and call me into full awareness of my presence in this world. It’s a life I could get used to. It’s a life I’m learning to love.

Monday, February 02, 2009

25 Things

Denise invited me to post 25 random things about me on my blog. I've had the same invitation from several people on Facebook, so it seems like it's time to get it done. So, here goes:

1. I was trained as a minister in a Southern Baptist seminary, but I'm not ordained, in spite of a couple of attempts to move in that direction. Years ago, I thought I'd never be anything else but a minister. Now, I'm not so sure.
2. I preached my first sermon drag. I was nine years old, playing a part in a production put on my by girls' missionary study group. I picked the verses and wrote the sermon myself, but I'd never seen a woman pastor before, so I thought I had to pretend to be a man to preach it.
3. I grew up in the greater Kansas City area, but haven't lived there in over 20 years. Since then, I've lived in three states and one other country, South Korea.
4. I'm profoundly grateful that I'm not satisfied with easy answers and that my questions have led me through some amazing spiritual territory.
5. I once completely disassembled my brand new alto saxophone (that my mom worked summer school to buy for me) and correctly reassembled it on the first try.
6. I have never been able to successfully stop biting my fingernails for more than a couple of days at a time.
7. I think the color of the sky just before the sun breaks across the horizon in the morning is the color of hope, and the sound of birds chirping is the music with which hope is most convincingly sung.
8. I've had molatov cocktails fly over my head on the way to work before.
9. I am an introvert who prefers work often better suited for extroverts.
10. One of the most satisfying things I've done in the past year is help construct the bungalow that I now live in.
11. I believe milking goats is an amazing spiritual discipline.
12. I can recite the last names of all the US Presidents in order and have been able to do so since I was in third grade. How's that for random?!
13. My favorite vegetables are asparagus, brussels sprouts, and artichokes.
14. I believe that there's a thin veil between us and what transcends us and is moving in and through all of creation to connect us, but I'm regularly amazed at how easily I miss its presence in the world around me.
15. I have considered giving up on church many times, and have taken breaks from it at different points in my life, but I can never seem to grow and change spiritually without the help of other people, whether I agree with them or not, who are seeking to grow as well.
16. Reconnecting with old friends and influential people from my past the last few months has demonstrated to me that there is a great deal more grace and acceptance in this life than I had ever dared to hope.
17. I'm the youngest of seven kids, in a blended family. But I swear I am not spoiled! :)
18. Very little warms me like scratching a goat or a cat or a dog behind the ears.
19. If you need someone to draw you a picture or decorate your room, I am not your woman.
20. I am freakishly good at remembering names.
21. I never thought that I was the kind of woman who would drive a pick-up truck. Turns out I was wrong.
22. I hate being wrong, but I'm pretty good about admitting it when I am.
23. I am most at home when I'm outside doing just about anything.
24. If Wii fitness is an accurate measurement, I missed my calling when I didn't become a ski jumper.
25. I think learning 25 random things about other people is far more interesting than learning where they went to school or what their political views are.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Holiday on the farm: Part 2, Llama herding

It's been more than a week since my holiday break, and I'm slowly finding my way back to a routine. Truth be told, the old routine has been interrupted for awhile now. Regular trips to the farm have led to greater changes even than just finding a new routine. My friends, I will be buying a pick-up truck later this week. If I've left doubts in anyone's mind that I'm truly gay, this should clinch it for them. I'm beside myself with excitement. Can't you just see me driving down the road in my cute little white Toyota Tacoma truck?

But back to the regular trips to the farm.... I've spent a good bit of time there lately. And in the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell you, I'm going out there often because I'm in love. It's true. Madly in love....

....with Pascal the llama, long-necked guardian of the sheep and goats. His soft brown eyes search for understanding and draw me in with a curiosity and empathy I don't quite understand. A bit standoffish at first, he's slowly warming up to me. No doubt, the handful of feed grain I give him occasionally helps. His love for the grain knows no bounds, and by extension, the love he feels for anyone who offers it to him follows.

Pascal stays close by when I go out to the back barn to feed the animals. He watches closely, hoping that I'll open the can with the feed grain. When I fill the red bucket to pour grain into the feed trough, he follows me, hoping he'll get some to enjoy. He used to get some on a regular basis, but he's gained too much weight, so he's been put on a diet, one free of feed grain, except for the occasional handful he gets from anyone who pities him.

A couple of weeks ago, I stood at the fence along the front of the barn, about six feet away from Pascal, my chin resting on my arms in a studious pose, staring into his eyes. Neither of us moved for the longest time. His lips were slightly parted as though he were about to speak. I wondered what he would say if he could talk.

Days earlier Pascal and I had an adventure. During morning chores, I wheeled a bale of alfalfa out to the back barn. Pascal and the herd were standing at the gate when I got there. The goats and the sheep greeted me loudly, letting me know they were hungry. Their insistent pleading betrayed the fact that I had fed them grain and prairie hay the evening before. I opened the gate carefully and backed up to push the wheel barrow through, but the gate opened wider and Pascal took advantage. He darted out the gate and headed for the street.

My heart jumped into my throat. Of all the scenarios I'd considered I might encounter on the farm, an escaped llama was not one of them. There had been no drill ahead of time, no lessons on llama herding in all of the instruction I'd been given to prepare me to take care of the farm.

My mind raced. Getting the gate closed was the first priority to prevent the goats and sheep from following Pascal. I dropped the wheel barrow with the alfalfa and ran for the gate. Sadie, a beautiful black dog who was created to run like an Oklahoma wind sweeping across the prairie
, met me at the gate and passed through chasing after Pascal before I got it closed. She came flying from the back of the pasture, and her presence increased my anxiety. She's beautiful and fast and adores me, and I love her for all of those things, but she's a bully. She plays hard with the animals and causes chaos. I feared she would create more of a problem with the loose llama.

I closed the gate and turned to see where Pascal had gone. He took a right out of the gate and headed for the garden area. The fence on the front of the garden was open, a passageway for the truck to get to the back pasture. Instinctively Pascal headed for the opening, but Sadie caught up to him. I had no idea what to expect to happen next. I stood frozen, fearful, but I couldn't think of a single thing to do. Sadie raced past Pascal and headed for the opening. She stood in front of it waiting for him to come to her. As he drew closer she charged him, forcing him into the fenced part of the garden. And every time he inched back toward the opening, she ran for his feet, herding him back. Defeated, Pascal looked toward the garden and searched out the patches of green grass sprouting up around the edges of the furrowed ground.

I was amazed. With Sadie safely herding Pascal away from the street into a contained area, I closed two areas of the fence that were open and ran to the chicken coop to get some scratch, hoping to lure Pascal back to the pasture. I knew it wasn't the stuff he loves, but I was afraid to take the time to walk to the back barn and get the feed grain. With a can of scratch in hand, I walked closer to Pascal. He jumped back and darted away from me. Each time I approached him, he ran. I couldn't get him interested in the scratch for anything.

I stood in the middle of the garden watching him graze, wondering what to do. I kept glancing over at the barn, knowing that the grain was surely the key. I looked around the garden and saw Sadie a safe distance from Pascal, but close enough that she could spring into action if he headed toward the one remaining opening in the fence.

I ran to the barn, grabbed the red bucket and dropped a can full of feed grain in the bottom, then ran back to the garden. Slowly, I walked toward Pascal, and as I got closer he got more curious. Then, in a flash a knowing gaze took over his face and he started moving purposefully toward the red bucket. I let him stick his head in and get a mouthful, then pulled it away and started backing up toward the gate. He followed me, eyes fixed on the bucket, neck and head bobbing for it as he walked. In no time, I had him inside the gate, safe and sound.

Something happened to me that day. I've yet to put words to it. There's something very moving about working with a dog who instinctively helped herd an escaped llama. I was pulled by the universe to trust something I'm used to controlling, to step back and let her do what she knew to do without ever being taught. I felt connected to the world in a new way, aware of the profound interconnectedness of beings. I participated in something ancient and mysterious, something that pulled me beyond myself to a force greater than my own. I was left feeling humbled and grateful.

But when I look in Pascal's eyes now, I wonder what they are revealing to me in the depths of his soul. Maybe all I see is the deep longing of my own soul, the desire to be free, the struggle to trust those closest to me, and yet, the profound gratitude that what I love nourishes me and keeps me safe.
The photos were taken by my good friend Jill when we took care of the farm a year and a half ago.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Holiday on the farm: Part 1, Dead possum kicking

I should be running this morning, but I'm not, so I decided to try to kick start the blog again. I've got to get past the voice in my head that says, "Don't post unless it's stellar writing," and get back in the habit of writing regularly without the editor's voice shutting me down.

I have some great stories to tell. I spent the better part of ten days taking care of the farm for my good friend Lisa who went to Seattle to be with her family for the holidays. In spite of the fact that the goats are dried up, conserving their energy to give birth in a few months, I managed to have some adventures with the animals.

For example, there was the evening when I returned to the farm at sunset to find a possum lying on the ground outside the chicken coop, curled up looking rather dead. I'm no farmer, but I quickly sized up the scenario. One possum, however dead he might appear, just feet away from the open gate to the chicken coop would likely not lead to a good outcome if I left it alone. So, I texted Lisa and asked her what to do with the possum. She called me back right away and the conversation went something like this....

Linda: I know possums play dead, and that's it not a good thing that he's so close to the coop, but I have no idea how to get him to leave. Should I poke him with a stick or something to see if he's actually dead?
Lisa: Well, um, poking him with a stick won't help. To tell if a possum's dead, you have to kick it. And by kicking, I don't mean pushing it around a little with your foot. I mean, you'll have to kick it like a football. Go back about 25 feet, run up and kick it up into the air. If it lands on its feet and runs away, it's not dead.
[Silence while I look for the Candid Camera]
Linda: Okay. So, I'm going to kick it like a football. If it runs away it's not dead. It will run away, right? It won't charge me and put those gnarly teeth in my leg, will it?
Lisa: No. But it will probably hiss at you when it lands.
Linda: OhhKAY!
Lisa: Good. Call me after you take care of it. I want to know how it turns out.
Linda: Yeah. I'll do that.

So, I hung up the phone and put it in my pocket, then stared at the curled up critter, its gnarly teeth showing as it laid in a ball on the cold ground in front of me. I debated the merits of the kick. I wondered if there was another way. Then quickly decided I just needed to get it done. I can handle this, I thought. I was the top female finisher in the Punt, Pass, and Kick competition in my hometown when I was 11 years old. Clearly, God was preparing me for this moment years before.

I stepped back and ran forward and kicked with all of my tentative might and managed to scoot the animal about six inches forward. No launching it into the air. No movement from the animal whatsoever. So I stepped back again and ran forward with greater confidence. I shifted my weight to my left leg and reached back to give that critter the best football kick I could muster. With my eyes closed, I kicked forward. Toe pointed, leg straight, I reached down first, to make sure I got under the possum to launch it into the air, and kicked forward with all of my strength. And in a split second I screamed in agony. When I looked down I saw that I'd missed the animal by a good six inches and had, in fact, kicked the cold, hard ground with my full force. My foot was throbbing. I danced around in pain, crying out for whomever could offer me sympathy. Sadie, the beautiful black dog who races around the farm at break neck speed, treeing squirrels and causing chaos, came over to check on things. Instead of offering proper sympathy, she ran over to the possum, took one sniff and dashed off to find something more interesting to investigate.

After the throbbing stopped, I stepped back again and ran forward to kick the possum, this time launching it about four feet into the air. It landed with a thud on its side. I assumed at first that it was dead, but I wondered, "Maybe this is a hearty possum, able to keep up the charade of death in spite of my best punt. Perhaps it's best to try this one more time, just to be sure." So, once more, I launched it four feet into the air. Thud, again.

Concluding that it was dead, I stood over it for a long while, gathering my courage to pick it up. Those gnarly teeth looked rather formidable. But, I reached down and grasped the tip of its tail between my thumb and forefinger, then quickly dropped it into and empty feed bag, folded the top of the bag over several times and ran to drop it in the trash.

The next morning I checked the trash to make sure it was still in there, still dead. Fortunately, it was. I have no idea what I would have done if it hadn't been.

Next up, Part 2, Llama herding.