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  • Writer's pictureJenna

My New Book!

I am working on writing a new book, and excited to share what has been going on behind the blog all these years on this farm. This book is the story behind everything you read or know about me, going back to my childhood and to this very moment in time on Cold Antler Farm.

The book's themes all surround vulnerability, isolation, self awareness and the growth that comes from those things over time on one small farm. As vague as that sounds - basically it is a book about how I had to come out as a farmer before I could come out as gay. And, that happiness isn't something you obtain through acquisition, enlightenment, travel, or relationships. It happens through self acceptance and understanding you can not control life. At all.

The following is a work in progress. Feel free to respond with constructive criticism or thoughts. Would you read this book? If you would, please let me know. If you wouldn't, please go to your local bookstore and support someone who writes books you will read. See? Easy.


Possum Luck

I believe in the Karmic Gifting Cycle of the American Opossum. That kindness, freely given to these snarling, hissing, awkward monsters is rewarded by systems in the Universe I am not privy to— but I have decoded. I will share with you what I have observed.

Simply put: if you go out of your way to be kind to these critters by following a general live-and-let-live policy paired with occasional gifts; you’ll be rewarded beyond measure.

Admittedly, my sample size is small—but I have been practicing this for a decade and have harvested the rewards. I have my own pony and once had a girlfriend that liked to play boardgames; so that’s proof positive enough for me to stamp this as canon. I may be this practice's only adherent, but as far as spirituality goes, you can do worse.

Like us, possums are opportunistic omnivores. Also like us, they are braver and stupider when they’re young. The desire to eat anything the world will offer them takes them close to human living spaces. They’ll happily take a bite right out of the best tomato in the garden (but they’d probably prefer the slugs). If they can get their fleshy phalanges on a hen’s egg in the coop they’ll take it, but are just as thrilled to eat pizza crusts and other savory remnants in poorly-rinsed tin cans. This is why we’ve collectively disregarded them as trash animals. It’s also why there isn’t a farmer around here that would flinch if I told them I shot possums as soon as I saw them near my gardens or trash bins. I subscribe to neither ambush. A trash can is a great place for prayer.

Which is exactly how I met my local possum community; a baby rummaging through my recycling bin in my unfinished mudroom. He was rattling bottles of hard cider and lost in the heavenly bliss of his small vertical cavern of booze.

“Jesus Christ!” I was surprised to see him! He didn’t care for my invoking of the Christian Deity I no longer kept as a housepet the way some Americans do, and regarded me with unblinking black eyes and an open mouth of sharp teeth. He followed this up with a dry hiss that sounded faintly of zydeco. Then he went rigid and still and laid back amongst the bottles like the happy corpse he wasn’t. I was in love.

Possums are not traditionally attractive. Their ears are pinned and cut. Their eyes are small and black. Most resemble a wig with a serrated knife jutting out of it. But despite their grotesque outward appearance they’re elegant creatures. I’ve watched young possums dance up iron railings. Seen them masterfully use their prehensile tails to wrap around bars and hold their weight upside down until they gracefully land one of their four perfect hands down to balance. Possums do not scurry. They do not crawl. They pour.

Now, I am not the kind of woman to be nervous around wildlife. I’m a farmer, a backpacker, and a falconer. Wildlife is often my roommate. But this was years ago and I was unsure. How would this little guy react to a large primate looming over him while half drunk? I put on the heavy leather gloves used for handling logs inside the wood stove, and reached into the bin to extract the small marsupial. I don’t know if his blood sugar reacted or instinct, but he let out a pathetic attempt at another hiss and flopped back to dead in my hands. My heart.

I looked around the mudroom of my farmhouse. He had obviously made his way in through the dirt crawl space behind the broken washing machine. This room mostly belongs to my cats and now it was clear to me he had been pilfering dry cat food for weeks. I’d been refilling their bowl every morning wondering how they could go through so much, so fast. I knew it wasn’t mice or rats because the traps were ignored and there were no tell-tale feces around the food bowl? So it was this Little Guy (now his proper name) and here he was, barely breathing, with his eyes closed in my hand. Not much larger than my palm.

I brought him outside and set him on the cord wood pile beside the house. The wood pile had a roof over it, wind protection, and seemed as good a place as any to spend a night. Since he’d already been feasting off the food inside my home it seemed moot to not send him off without a little something. So I put a half eaten chicken wing beside him from the compost bowl in the fridge and watched him come to. He ignored my lavish gift and dissolved into the stack of piled hardwood.

In the morning the chicken wing was gone and that day I made enough money in farm sales to make a late mortgage payment. Instead of being three months behind, I was now two. Which may not seem worth much celebration, but if you’ve been living right up against it like I have, you know that 90 days is the marker for possible foreclosure by your bank. I’d been dancing on that taut rope for years, balancing between catching up and falling behind. And that small reprieve from the edge was enough to be truly grateful. I had four more weeks on my farm for certain. Another month in my mountain home, the one place in the entire world I was equally terrified of and madly in love with. I gave credit to the possum. I made a silent vow to never harm one again.

So, till this day, I am kind to every possum I meet. I love them. I love them so damn much. They’re awkward, crafty, optimistic, and generally harmless unless fervently provoked. All traits I admire in my friends and aspire for myself. I stop when they cross the road. I stick up for them when someone degrades them. When I see a young possum hanging from a branch near the farmhouse I wave. I gently remove the silly babies from my suet bird feeder. I let the fat mothers (around the size of a diabetic Beagle) enter my crawl space and dump their young offspring to start their lives under my floorboards.

I can sense your raised eyebrows, but listen, this house has stood firm since the Civil War. It can handle a small marsupial eating some Meow Mix. I know all varieties of nature experts are pissy about this — since we all know the dangers of feeding wildlife — but this isn’t a black bear padding RV doors at a campsite. This is behind my washing machine, in my house, which as far as the bank is concerned and as far as I currently know, I still own. Trespassers will be fed.

This practice of possum kindness is not popular among my people: small farmers. Most of them would shoot a possum on sight, without question. Which isn’t an unreasonable thing to do since those rat-tailed grinning gymnasts will happily nibble on the best bits of your vegetable patch or possibly even murder a young chicken, if desperate enough. But this list of charges doesn’t warrant capital punishment from me. Especially since these are crimes I’ve also committed. None of your precious red cherry tomatoes are safe if I’m wandering through your garden. And hell, I’ve killed chickens around here just because I had a hankering for strong broth.

I understand that for some people having the occasional backroom possum is worse than a rat or spider nest, but to me it felt a lot more like Fraggle Rock. A weird, wild-haired, subterranean beast was squatting under my house and minding his own business. I let them be. This mountain was their home first. I never saw a single turd or heard a single hiss from the beasts scratching the space under the kitchen floor. It was all very civil, us mammals.

So there are more possums in my life than men now. Which as a homesteading lesbian is ideal. And all of these stowaways, regardless of gender, are named Little Guy. And if you’re heading back to the mud room to get a pork roast out of the chest freezer or need to clean out the cats’ litter box there’s a good chance anytime between Halloween and Valentines Day a possum might be there. Quietly trotting off into the unknown dark of the crawlspace, annoyed you interrupted his time napping by the wood stove.

I think these possums are insanely lucky. I think my kindness to them over the years has turned them into totems, living luck pieces. Because those first possums appeared almost a decade ago and I am still living on this farm. Living here after quitting my miserable 9-5 corporate job and turning feral, now deeply rooted to the world of animals, hard work, and hopeful vulnerability. My holy trinity.

I’ve published 4 books while living here on this farm. I’ve shared much of it online in a blog that started out as the joyful practice of an eager beginner and turned into a fucking nightmare of online trolling and stalkers. But through all that, I kept sharing my story. The struggles. The failures. The fear. The small joys that make a life of a person better whose still struggling to find herself in a world forever telling her to go to church and marry a nice boy and have children to knit possum sweaters for.

The haunting desire to be normal was carried through my entire adult life, until very recently. Until a decade alone on the side of a mountain through crippling winters, stalkers, state police visits, and a million tiny miracles of luck and kindness kept me here.

And maybe if I shot those possums on sight, like a decent farmer would, I would still be here too, out of the closet and finally living the life I was meant to? But the superstitious circuitry in my brain remains intact. I think my alliance with the trash babies led us both down a karmic loophole of happiness reimbursement. And to this day I’d sooner punch my own ribs than hurt a possum. They were there the entire time my life was falling apart and there when it sutured itself back together. You’ll see them pop up in this story from time to time. And every time it’s before hardness and heartache and followed by the sweetest moments a human life can experience.

And while not directly related to the events of this book—I do think my kindness to possums has enhanced every season on this farm and the trajectory of my life. Which has been scrappy - but good. Overwhelmingly good. Good in ways I didn’t know an average life could be that isn’t remotely anywhere near society’s definition of success, comfort, or sexual attractiveness. And with that admission I hope this book shows other determined individuals that if you keep your head down and hackles up, the other side of it all is worth the bloodshed for the beauty.

This is a memoir about falling apart in one place to find yourself. Doing so without money, or world travel, or romance, or that plucky grit you may expect from a typical farmer’s memoir. No, this is about doing a hard thing alone for a long time and trying to get better every year at it. This is about finishing the race, not winning it. Finding joy in the hard work of simply living the life you want to live. All the while trying to grant myself permission to heal, find love, and self acceptance in a society that keeps telling me I should be richer, thinner, straighter, and a parent. I’m none of those things. I’m the happiest human being I know. And you can stop reading right now if you’re just here for my secret:

Be good to possums.

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