Updated: Oct 4
I woke up yesterda to an August morning in October. Sunshine and a little humidity, and if you think that stopped me from starting my morning in the fall tradition, you are mistaken.
My fault routine is getting up ridiculously early, usually around 4:15, and I am up (but not really). I make the time between 4:30-6:30AM the most selfish, softest, and necessary part of the day. It’s something I have stopped feeling guilty about, this easing. I know that the rest of the day will involve a lot of work, errands, animals, responsibilities, etc — so for the earliest part of the day I invite Friday into bed with me and she snuggles in while I make a pot of coffee and let Gibson out. At 13 (soon to be 14) Gibson is in pretty great shape for his age but he needs to go outside first thing, and Friday prefers to wait until I make her pee.
So together, Gibson and I walk downstairs and “open” the place, so to speak. I turn on some lights, let him outside and smell that odd warm October air. It’s so odd, how I know the forecast but the blast of warm air that hits me when I open the door feels like a storm is about to hit. Leaves, just changing now, fall and scatter and the lawn is covered. Gibson pees and wanders the yard and I put on the kettle for hot water to add to my giant steel French press. The kitten circles around my feet, wanting his breakfast too. I let in Gibson, Bo and Bree race out to use the fall leaves as their litter box and take in the scene.
The farm is dark still, it doesn’t even feel like morning. But this whole early to bed early to rise thing suits me. It doesn’t take long for the electric kettle to finish a quick boil and I pour the water over my grounds. When the press is ready I pour a mug and load it up with some cream and sweetener; then I either go back to my bedroom or light some candles in the early dark downstairs.
This is when I just do "the nothing". I am awake, sure, but I’m doing absolutely nothing. I can read a book, or watch a video on youtube, log into another world on a video game - stare at a wall, it doesn’t matter. The point is to sip coffee and slowly figure out the day while petting a sweet dog and maybe catching the headlines via Late Night Talk Show monologues. If something horrible happened, I’d rather hear it from Stephen Colbert than a flash notification on my phone.
And that’s how the day starts, dark, caffeinated, and quiet. Since it’s spooky season, I’ve been curling up on the daybed with the dogs and watching some wholesome horror or fall favorites till sunrise. I put on Over the Garden Wall for the 50th time and let the music and ambiance soothe me. Or rewatch Practical Magic, or a favorite documentary on British Witchcraft or something like Victorian Farm or River Cottage - these are the autumn things that start mornings gently. And these days, I need gentle.
Come sunrise I head out with the team. Two cats, two dogs, and this piece of work head outside to open coops and check on the pigs. I carry hay to the flock and horses. Sometimes I move pasture and fences. Sometimes I make a list in my head. Mostly it’s an inventory of the day on this farm: what needs repairing? What needs readjusting? What is the body language of every animal on the farm? Yesterday the pigs were still asleep in a pile of hay when I propped open the barn door. The sheep were head butting the ram lambs on the hillside (getting towards their breeding season so everyone is frisky). The mare is watching the woods like a sentinel. Merlin is eating grass under an old apple tree in the distance. The roosters crow, the haze swirls into a fog. I live on the highest mountain in Washington County (which isn’t saying much) but my hollow is a true hollow, a small gulch between folds in a mountain and fog rests here longer than most places. On my farm, in all directions, there is the embrace of the mountain. It feels so safe, being tucked in like this. Mountains always made me feel safe, even as a little kid. “They protect us from bad storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, all that….” I remember my parents telling me as I looked out my childhood kitchen window at the Appalachians beyond my little Pennsylvania town. Up there someone could be on the AT, walking all the way to Maine or Georgia. It never stopped filling me with wonder, that mountains could be shields or the danger, take your pick.
Here they feel safe. And the farm seems to be waking up well. No weasel got into the coop, no escaped pigs, the mare was just watching a doe and her elder fawn, orange as a setter in the dawn light. I hear the creek tumble and burp. I watch my dogs run and dig and play. The cats watch like gargoyles from the deck. Bo has a big dead mouse by him, so he’s ahead of me as far as meal prep goes. And all that is left to do after everyone is fed and fences are checked is to top off the water and refill my coffee. By now it’s 7AM and I have been up for three hours, had several cups of coffee, and probably watched a movie while cuddling a dog. My animals are up, the farm is open and well, and now it’s time to be a person. Okay.
I make my list. I use the same blank page sketchbook every day to make my list. It includes everything that needs to be done on the farm, for freelance, for business, for promotion, and a daily income goal. I make a goal of $200 in sales. That means selling one logo job, or 4 pet portraits, or finishing and getting a script approved. The only one I can control outside wishing and promotion is the script, so I dive into research for an hour or two. I write mostly summaries of ancient history or current science news, which is never boring. On this morning I am researching new discoveries in archeology this year and I take notes and work on my draft. If I can get the entire thing done today, fantastic. But even if I only move the ball down the field; it’s work I can do here at home that will 100% end up with income generation, always great.
I work on it until the laptop screen makes my eyes squint. It’s time to switch things up. I go outside for some air and check on everyone again, mostly just to stretch my legs. I come inside and package two soap orders, a 20 bar and 6 bar. Once they are taped up and addressed, they get set on the game chest near the front door for errands later. I cross the two packages off my list and feel accomplished. As the morning goes on like that I work on three logo clients’ updates. I work more on the script. I post to social media. I write a blog update. I make more snowflake soap bars. I do the dishes. I sweep. I try to make this place and me look presentable because anyone could drop by and I’m too old to be answering the door in my yoga pants at 10AM on a Tuesday. I find that if I work in lounge clothes, I work like I’m lounging. So I’m dressed baby. I have on eyebrow pencil and foundation over my red spots. I have my hair back, hard pants, and while I wouldn’t want an ex girlfriend to show up I would not be embarrassed if a neighbor dropped by for eggs. We all set our bars where we have to.
I work for hours like this. Around noon I realize my back hurts and my freelance list is all checked. I decide to walk the stream. It feels like summer outside, now almost 80 degrees, and I am going to treat it like such. I grab my rod and net and walk down my road to the stream I fish brook trout. It’s all mine, it always is. No one else will be fishing on a tiny private stream on a weekday like this. The sun breaks through the trees, the fog's long since been lifted. My chacos splash through the clear creek water lined with red and yellow leaves while locust petals fall around me like yellow confetti. I take a moment and look around at this lunch break on a Tuesday. An amateur fly caster out during the annual leaf hatch, staring at the October blue sky.
I pull trout after trout out of the stream! Some are as small as my center palm, some put up a fight. I laugh and splash and thank the gods for moments like this. Moments where dark soil and dead leaves and soft light burns off fog and the sun feels warm and sky so bright and there’s air in my lungs and healthy fish and today, just right in this moment, I forget everything that keeps me up at night. I look at the swirling tiger patterns on the back of the last brookie I catch and am mesmerized at the beautiful secret thing I found. I release all the fish I catch today. We’re playing tag.
I walk home and meet the guy who just bought a place on the mountain. We exchange some polite chatter and I walk rod in hand, with wet sandals, and decide it’s time to run some errands. Before I leave I make sure no pig has dumped their water pail or horse has stepped over their fence. I take Gibson with me, put him in the back seat of the Subaru and we deliver orders at the post office, get 150lbs of feed from the granary, grab some groceries for the long weekend with company. It’s so hot for October and I don’t see a single red tail or kestrel in the midday heat. I know all the birds I want to trap were up snatching meals right when the fog lifted.
In the past I would put off all my responsibilities and just go trap, the hawk being the only goal I could see. Now I want to trap only when my clients are happy and I feel I earned it. So I won’t trap at all until my list says I have a window, around 4-6PM, after afternoon farm rounds and feeding. I text my hay guy about a delivery. I text the slate guy about roof repairs. I make a note about researching Kabah ruins in Mexico.
I get interest from a small company in Los Angeles about a logo design. It’s enough hope to change the day a little. I drive home from the granary with my old sweet dog, orders shipped, and a station wagon full of feed for the pigs that nearly killed me and the horses that already saved me.
On the way home, I pass right by a hawk with a dark tail, just off the side of my mountain road! I race up the mountain, drop off the dog, grab the trap and head back down mountain and throw it. The tail lands right on it! It’s 3PM and I could be spending my first night with a new hawk!! My heart is pounding, the bird is BIG. My dream is to train a large female red tail. I always catch and work with mid to lower weight birds, and I want a HORKER. So I watch this girl foot the trap and when I think she’s caught I run out of the truck with my glove, ready to scoop the baby up and see her fly off, two red tail feathers clearly molted in from last year’s baby feathers. Drat. This bird wasn’t even one I could legally keep, too mature. But still, exciting. You give me a day with a trout on my fly, a hawk on my trap, and hope for a sale and there isn’t a human being on this planet that can match that level of satisfaction. I am beaming with delight. I drive home grinning.
I finish up chores. I eat a quick dinner. I decide to spend the evening doing something new. I take my old kindle fire tablet, which has a Netflix app, and I downloaded a spooky program and I digest my meal outside in the hammock chair, curled up with a non alcoholic beer and a light blanket. It’s just chilly enough to need a hoodie or blanket. I tuck in and watch it, swaying gently. I can see Mabel in the distance, eating grass on the far pasture. I hear the hens and roosters scratching in the barnyard. Everyone looks so good, every bird and mare and lamb. I hear the horses sigh and the pigs grunt and hens coo and there’s work in progress and orders out and I am still here, making a living from my own personal paradise. And there’s wood here to stack and feed overflowing from the bins and hay being delivered this weekend and while it is scrappy and hard—and my life feels so behind so many others—it also feels so so sooo far ahead. I had a dream, I made it happen, I shared it, I am keeping it. What else can a woman ask for? What else could she need?
There’s a pride in getting to this place, not just the hammock at the end of the day but also the goodness. I can’t believe how much it has changed since I came out.
Yesterday, while making dinner. I was listening to a queer podcast explaining how so many gay people’s lives can’t even really start until they come out. That everything before is just running from yourself, distracting yourself, stunting yourself. I felt like my real life started when I kissed a woman for the first time. And everything since then has been healing and growing and honest repairs and starting life all over.
I did that, I am doing that. And while I don’t expect to date again soon or find my person, I do expect to continue to heal and grow. I expect things to get better. That now feels like the more believable story than failure or foreclosure. And I think feeling like that, deep inside, is the greatest gift this farm has taught me. Keep going. Don’t give up. Because even if it never gets easier, it will always fill you with meaning and hope.
The day ended like that. All that was left was hot chocolate and more Over the Garden Wall and then asleep early to try all over again. Just like every other farm out there doing their level best.
I hope we all get another day.