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Dispatches from the Goat Farm
Greetings from Prudence, Princess Leia, Padme, Cookie, and Blueberry
I promised my editor David (explicitly) and you (implicitly) that I would write a column today, which goes to show that I am a bit of an idiot: after my first day of volunteering on a farm, I fell asleep at 7pm. I was really tired!!!
In fairness I was running after goats:
And weeding an overrun asparagus patch in the rain.
This unfamiliar exertion made my body demand sleep with such vigor I couldn’t manage to write more than a paragraph, which makes my earlier breezy conviction I could work just as well from this rural area as my apartment seem a bit blithe—although I hope I harden up over the next ten days.
This sort of jaunt makes me glad to have a profession (“job” seems overstated since I’m currently cobbling together freelance assignments) where I can work from anywhere, but some adjustments may need to be made.
Still and all, I’m excited to learn about goat care (especially timely, given last week’s sandwich column) and mulch the hell out of the lavender fields.
In case you’re wondering what I’m doing here: well, thanks to aforesaid remote work, I’ve been going a little nuts cooped up in my apartment, agoraphobic and restless. And since my baseline is quite nuts, this has meant a mind like a Planters factory, as it were. So, I decided to take advantage of a volunteer program I last took part in a decade ago. WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) connects would-be volunteers of all ages—though mostly bright young teenage students—with farmers around the world to exchange labor for room and board. In the past, I’ve worked on a rhubarb-and-sheep farm in Iceland, a draft-horse ranch with wheat fields in rural Virginia, and a sprawling cattle operation in northern Washington, where everyone was smoking tons of legal weed before that was common, and where I cooked the liver of a cow I’d watched die earlier that day.
Farm life, for me, has meant living close to life and death: settling guinea-hen chicks with a broody mother hen, and being content when she only pecked two to death; chopping up the carcasses of wormy lambs for guard dogs to eat; skinning rabbits. It’s meant farmhouse cooking and pulling out legions of weeds, working twelve-hour days under Iceland’s unsetting summer sun, then watching the four-hour light show that is their semi-sunset in the shadow of an active volcano. It’s meant eating tacos from trucks alongside the fruit-harvest workers of the Pacific Northwest’s vast cherry orchards, chasing chickens, herding sheep from horseback, tackling rams to mark them for mountain grazing.
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I anticipate this stint—which is in New Jersey—to be a less dramatic if no less fulfilling locale. I have charge of feeding five goats named Prudence, Princess Leia, Padme, Cookie, and Blueberry. I have eggs to fetch, and acres of garden and lavender to lay to rest before the first frost comes. These are happy things for me, and tire my brain out so it can’t run around in self-predatory circles all day, nipping its own tail, worrying its own flank.
There’s a phrase in Hebrew that has legislative meaning in the Talmud: daled amot, a measurement of four cubits, or about six feet. It’s used to demarcate a personal bubble of intimacy, relevant in some rulings about purchase, community property, etc. Its most common use, though, is idiomatic: “daled amot” is used both to denote a life lived within the bounds of propriety under Jewish law (within the daled amot of halacha), and also, more colloquially, to describe one’s own personal dominion, area of expertise, and/or comfort zone. (“This is really out of my daled amot!” “You know, I mostly stay in my daled amot.”)
Being on a farm is definitely outside my daled amot, but in a way I hope confers a much-needed jolt to my whole system, sclerotic and bilious as I’ve become. If you need me over the next week and a half, I’ll be drying lavender, or cradling a goatling, or mulching peppers, or getting to know the difference between the farm’s five gray cats.
And I hope to return to you refreshed and with new insights, or at least willing to delve into the content mines with a fuller heart, knowing that their airless confines don’t constitute the whole world.
I’ll still be writing, if a bit more haphazardly. So take care of yourselves til Friday!
With love and lavender,