Author's Note: My apologies to anyone who reads these posts as soon as I post them, because they are unedited, raw, and ridiculous the first few hours and then I whittle them down as I reread in horror. Anyway, being a memoirist is embarrassing. Enjoy your Sunday.
I think yesterday was the hardest day in this farm’s history. Sometimes all it takes is the perfect convergence of stress, circumstance, and bad luck to hit like a perfect storm. Last night was that storm.
It started around 3PM when I pulled into my driveway after driving my regular loop around my neighborhood looking for hawks. Trapping has been really slow this year. There aren’t any birds yet, and I think it’s because the abnormally wet and warm weather (and possibly the wildfires up north) have affected the migration of passage birds. I think there will be red tails passing through when the weather gets colder, but as of right now most of my area is still mostly green leaves and thunderstorms, not brisk mornings with coffee beside the wood stove. Anyway, I was coming home from another fruitless attempt at acquiring this year's falconry bird when I saw all five pigs running around the horse pasture.
This isn’t good, not with this crew. Sometimes it’s okay. I have raised pigs that I could let out to roam the woods and forage without any problem at all. They never went near the road or left the property, like a house cat that likes going outside but never leaves the yard. But these guys... once they’re out they make a break for it. Which means running up and down the road where they could be a traffic threat, and running past the property and deep into the woods, where even if they don’t get lost or turned around, I do. And herding them is near impossible. It can be done, but they don’t move in groups like sheep, they take pressure like struck pool balls - breaking in every direction.
It took about an hour to bribe them back into their pen. I basically poured out most of a feed bag on a pile of fresh hay and sweetened the deal with extra yummy stuff like a full feed pan of milk from my fridge. After an hour of sweat and scratches (on me from running through briars, not on the pigs, who looked better than ever running around like wild boars having the time of their lives) I got them all comfortable back in the pen.
I found their escape hatch, a ripped piece of woven wire fencing they pulled free from the barn wall. I repaired it, piled big rocks against it. All was well and I went inside to change out of my mud-stained clothes and clean up my scratches. I changed into house clothes, the kind of stuff you can meditate or do yoga in. I lit some candles, made a cup of tea. I was so hungry, as I had not eaten all day. And right when I was deciding if I should whip up a quick pizza dough or make a fast omelet for dinner, I heard Friday barking at the glass doors and then I saw it...
All the pigs were out again. Throwing their heads up and snorting with glee and prancing like damned reindeer on a Christmas card. They simply muscled through the same exit area, ripping the fence off the barn, again, and moving the pile of 20lb-rocks with their massive bodies. Pigs are basically a bicep with a heartbeat. I had been thwarted. My heart sank and I felt the chemicals in my body swirl like someone turned on a blender.
This was the point where I started to feel everything go wrong in my body. It wasn’t even about the pigs. It was a concoction of frustration and anxiety, combined with the chemical imbalance of emotion and vulnerability I always feel before my period. I was already in this state, and starving, and exhausted, and my night was just getting started.
The fact it wouldn’t be dark for a few hours and they all just ate their fill meant bribing them back a second time would be near impossible. I had to get back into my dirty clothes and grab a hiking stick and go back out into the drizzle to keep them safely on my land. The dogs and I spent the next four hours physically chasing, shooing, herding, and luring them back on the property every time they got too far into the woods or near the road.
It was during these hours I slid into true panic. And while in my heart I knew, I KNEW, that these pigs were not an emergency. I knew that even if it took till 2AM they would return to their nest of hay in the barn and it would be okay—because they know a place they have safely slept in for months—I couldn’t help giving in entirely to the panic. My heart raced, my head pounded. Instead of talking to the dogs I was yelling. Instead of breathing and keeping calm, I had to run and pace and flail and beg these animals to stay. Adrenaline was flowing and my heartbeat was so fast I could hear it in my head and it was around that time I totally broke down.
And I think last night I might have experienced angina? Something changed in my body. There was a moment when I felt a pain and pause I can only describe as a tear inside. You can only feel that amped and run on fumes for so long without it doing real damage. I firmly believe stress is more deadly than cancer. People beat cancer every day, but stress is poison. And in the moment there was no calm or clarity. I couldn't visualize the flood of memories this farm has given me, the forest paths on horseback, the hawks landing on my fist, the mornings Gibson was just a puppy and I was younger and stronger. I couldn't remember anything good.
When the pigs finally did trot back into the barn it was well after dark. (This time, the rest of the bag of feed was dumped in the pan and coated with maple syrup) I rigged up a real slipshod electric fence barrier in the rain. I didn’t have a charger and grounding rod to spare, so I just ran the "new" pig fence back to the horse’s charger with some step-in posts. I worked by headlamp. The sweat and blood mixed with rain and when everyone was contained, I went inside. I trudged muddy prints like a ghost. I washed myself in the sink and collapsed into bed.
I slept from 8:30 to 1AM like a rock. From then on it was a sore and fitful circus of hot covers and goosebumps and the kind of faux-flu symptoms anxiety can do to a woman. After a few hours I fell back asleep, Gus the kitten purring beside me, both dogs on their beds beside my own, and didn’t wake up till 6:30. And when I did finally walk down the stairs in fresh daylight to let out the dogs, I was so relived. There's something so calming about cool air and gray skies. I felt the comfort women of a certain demeanor give themselves permission to feel on Sundays like this. The kind of Sunday where you don’t leave the couch. Recovery Day, I thought. I put on the kettle for coffee and went outside.
My body was sore. I was still so tired and just wanted to go back to sleep. Last night anxiety and five pigs possibly tore my heart and I felt like I needed a morning without checking emails or trying to promote logos or pork and just rot.
I went out and did the usual morning chores first, of course. Merlin and Mable were enjoying some fresh pasture I opened for them last night. I watched them swish their tails on the hill, unbothered while ripping into the last of the summer's green growth. The sheep (and Cade the goat) were doing the same. The chickens spilled out of their coop, happy to hunt for bugs and cooing and bitching like champs. All the pigs seemed happy to see the woman who spent the previous night chaperoning them around the theme park, what a gal. Friday trotted about. Gibson limped beside me, his legs aren’t what they used to be. Neither are mine, as my ankle took on the equivalent of a 5k last night, I’m sure. So we both limped back inside together.
No one got lost. Everyone is safe and back. No cars hit any pigs. No property was damaged. No pig got a single scratch. Only I looked battle weary.
The reason I am sharing this is because of how I felt this morning. After all that, the fear and anxiety, the panic and heart scare… After the blood, sweat, screaming and 4+ hours of a pounding head… I was still happy to wake up here. I was happy to see the animals, to walk around the calm of falling yellow leaves and hear the creek rumble. And even after all of that, after all the horrible things, I was still happy to be here. Uncertain of the future and covered in scars.
If you can find yourself praying to old gods to help you keep a place that does this to you, you stay. You accept that it’s hard. You accept that it’s crazy. And you stay. You figure out the next hay delivery if it means looking around the house for something to sell. You repair broken things with the help of friends. You never stop doing everything you can because this life, despite the hardship, is the best thing that's ever happened to you. And. You. Stay.
I feel like the work of my forties will not be finding a partner or family or belonging to people, but learning the magic of turning loneliness into a grateful solitude.
There is nothing happening in this life that I didn’t choose, or cause, or fight to keep. It has cost me everything and I’m still a sucker in love. And when I saw the pigs this morning, I smiled. They did nothing wrong. They are perfect. And next summer I want to be able to buy enough electric potable fencing to allow the next sounder I raise to woods-explore safely, because seeing a pig root for acorns on a mountain night was as lovely as it was wrenching. Maybe next time I won’t feel that horrible fight for control and just accept I have none, and breathe through the rain and shit and mud and get them back without the tears. Maybe. But for this morning, with a farm once again contained and whole, I feel like this is the place I belong perfectly. I feel like I know myself, finally, perfectly. What a thing.
There are people that live their whole lives with love and family and money and wake up every morning knowing exactly how their bills will be paid for the next ten years and they don’t have that. Some never will.
I want to keep farming and writing as long as I can. They're the only two things I am good at.