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  • Writer's pictureJenna

Summer Girls

Updated: May 20, 2021

Yesterday morning was glorious. The sun shone through our window, filling the bedroom with dappled morning light. We’ve been getting up earlier and earlier as we head towards the Solstice. We're greedy for daylight, still trying to play catch up from the darkness of winter. Recent memories of soaking our feet in epson salts by the wood stove (just to feel warm) send shivers cold enough to bring our body temperature down a few degrees, so waking up to sunbeams and birdsong feels like paradise.

The day called for full sun in the high seventies and we had a lot of work ahead. It’s amazing how much has been accomplished this spring with a second person here. How much farther a piece of land can be taken with a second set of hands and clever mind. So much of the past has been my scrambling to do just enough as scrappy as possible. I am proud of the farm I carried alone for ten years, through ten winters and so many changes and lessons - but now living with an artist passionate about the property and the ways we can use it is like a shot of adrenaline. Her first summer full time on the farm feels like my first summer did here. I didn't know love could lead to time travel.

Morning chores are lovely this time of year, a happy routine. We wake up and split the feeding and bucket chores. Some times I start out with the sheep and goat, pouring grain in their pans and patting heads. We've been watching them close, noticing how they all react to new grazing areas, the bugs, etc. Shannon heads to the coops and lets out our flock of over 20 layers and 4 roosters, plus the current cycle of meat birds. All the birds are ranged free all day, even the fat little meaties (they do not wander far from the coop’s feeders though!) So far we’ve had amazing predator luck. No losses to the wild beasts since I can remember. And all the birds we raised here all grew to be beautiful home-brewed Antlerborns, mostly a mix of Silkie, Ameraucana, and Wyandotte. They have striking colors and some have the silkie's goofy head feathers.

Our chickens have fields, wetland, forests, and lawn to explore and do so in the little groups they’ve formed. These cliques are why each rooster has it’s own personal set of groupies, keeping the peace and the noise down. Every bird has a name, most given by Shannon. So sentences like “Oh look, Catherine O'Hara just surprised Veronica* while he was bothering Olivia!” Aren’t uncommon and I know exactly which chickens she is talking about.

I’ve always said chickens are what turn a home into a homestead. Their scratching and clucking about a home inject such life into the place. Like the house has a moving series of little veins punching up the lawn with life and stories. And getting into falconry and birding has only helped me appreciate chickens even more.

We check everyone’s water and top off/replace where necessary. The gardens get watered too, with buckets lugged to their plots pure into watering cans. (this farm still doesn't have an outdoor hose set up.) The horses get their supplemental hay in their nets, the pigs their feed in pans, the geese walk about bitching and thinking they’re better than everyone else while picking at the grass clippings from the recently mowed lawn. The rabbits and their bunnies get morning check-ins and feeders/water bottles filled. The frozen water bottles have been a great AC for the mama's, they rest their furry bodies beside them sprawled out on hot days.

Once done with chores the dogs come inside for their kibble, the three cats get theirs. Then we end the morning with two large cups of coffee in the hammock chairs watching the birds on the lawn or venture to our secret hammock spot by the stream. It is down a small ridge hidden from the rest of the world. In a large double hammock we sway under a canopy of maples, hanging solar lights charging, the stream winding around us. We sip, talk about the plan for the day, watch birds. It is lovely. I never took time to be still like this in the mornings before, not unless I was in a zen monastery. She is teaching me to be calmer.

Following the farm chores and coffee break we get on with the business of the day. I make my list of freelance work and soap making tasks. I make it a rule that three clients, minimum, need to be addressed every single weekday regardless of the farm work to do. Most days I am juggling 5-10 different logo updates, pet portraits, and random design jobs in various stages of progress. I make an income goal, usually a dreamy $200 in sales I rarely reach, but will always try for. Then I get my run in before the heat of the day sets in. Yesterday I ran four miles, and came home to a frittata in the kitchen. I can't tell you how amazing that was, walking through the threshold of a cool house to the smell of a warm breakfast waiting for me. Shannon was already outside starting her plot plotting. It had a quarter missing in the cast iron pan and I helped myself to my own quarter. It had fried sweet potato, spinach, our hens' eggs, and some smoked gouda. I’m a very lucky gal.

After this morning routine we sink into our various jobs. Mine by my to-do list and Shannon’s from her client’s needs with her remote design gig. She at her station, me at my own. Yesterday I had two illustrations to complete, soap to make, packages to fill, and website updates to work on. I finally got this new website signed up with Google and SEO implemented.

Also, this new book I am working on is really coming together and the updated outline and 12,000+ words for the proposal are the most care and heart I have ever put into anything I have ever written. It’s the most personal, vulnerable, and cared for. I can’t wait for you to read it. It will be published if I have to do it myself, you have my word. I am hoping though that my agent sells it without much trouble and I'll feel like an author again. Not someone who used to be an author, which is how I feel sometimes.

When a few hours of computer/writing work are set aside it’s time for the farm’s project list. So we got to work on our own tasks. I got each of the horses out to groom, tack, and ride for a few paces to get them used to regular saddle time again - something we all get used to after a winter off and a spring too busy to ride much. But now that gardens are planted, sheep shorn, broilers to the butcher, new piglets established there is more time for an hour of riding around the mountain. Shannon wants to learn to ride and feels a lot more comfortable getting on the horses when they are used to regular tacking up and not full of spring grass and beans. I can’t tell you how good it felt to hear the drumming of a canter under my feet again. Merlin’s still got it.

While I worked the horses Shannon planned out and laid out the posts for the Three Sisters and pumpkin gardens. These are smaller plots we tilled, fenced, and planted together through the afternoon. A pile of sweet corn, buttercup squash and rattlesnake beans in one plot - cider jack pumpkins in the other. All that is left to plant is mangles and potatoes.

We used High Mowing seeds, ordered in the end of winter when we needed to order seeds and pursue catalogs with pictures of green things just to believe spring would come. Very excited about some new varieties! Names like SUPERSONIC SQUASH and Nutterbutters and Black Magic Zucchini (that last one a gift from our neighbor Linda, who found out we forgot to order zucchini seeds when she and her husband were over filing. Wheelbarrow with some of our compost for their planters.) Everything but some tomatoes, herbs, and peppers has been planted from seeds so it’ll be a while until we’re in real business, but the edge of the new garden has pots of mammoth sunflowers and marigolds and in a few weeks it will be glorious as this morning light, same sun’s energy gifted to us from our work and sweat. Some luck we make ourselves.

After the gardens were set it was near 3PM and Shannon had a zoom call and I had soap to make so we returned inside at the hottest part of the day. Our Yin Yoga class (online - donation based) was at 4:15 and I did my best to focus on slow stretches for my hips. I have ran over 50 miles since May 1st and my hips needed it! I am learning my body needs a lot more flexibility and a lot less strain. 40 is just around the corner, folks.

After yoga was evening chores, a repeat of the morning without watering gardens or opening coops. We can’t close the coops till the sun goes down and everyone returns to their roosts, but that’s fine because it’s time for dinner. Our favorite meal is a large bowl filled with veggies, some sort of protein, and a base of rice, noodles, or salad greens. One of our favorite recent bowls we had was pork chops diced and grilled up in a cast iron pan with adobo and other taco-seasoning spices. It is set on top of a bowl of greens, pinto, black, or kidney beans, salsa, sour cream, and diced onion and tomatoes. You mix it all together and we eat them with such gusto. Between the eggs and the meat in the freezer most of our two daily meals (we skip lunch often) comes from the farm, at least the protein. When the garden explodes it will be amazing what we’ll accomplish in the kitchen.

Our evening! Here is where it gets good! After dinner I lit a fire in the camp on our land, a small area with a carpet of lush green grass behind the barnyard. An ancient apple tree with the old altar and god poles watch over us in the firelight, the ring of yet-to-bloom locusts reach towards the stars and moon. From this camp area we can see into the lit chicken coop and the barn door. Occasionally a pig snort or fluffle of chicken business joins the sounds of crickets, night frogs, and owls. It feels like the sounds of home. We set out a blanket and toasted marshmallows from a bag as we listened to a few chapters of S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire, the first novel in a favorite farming/apocalypse/adventure series of mine she has never heard before and like all things around here - experiencing things her first time is a hoot. We’re at the part where Juniper meets her coven mates at her land in the Cascade foothills. Just the sounds of a fire, a farm going to bed, a good story - perfect. We stayed out past 9:30PM, late for us, and then headed to bed with the dogs after the fire was doused.

And that was how yesterday ended. Today will be different. While I was typing the beginning of this post (post chores and hammock coffee) Shannon played some fantastic nineties hits which turned into an imprint dance party. When was the last time you rocked out to LFO’s "Summer Girls"? Oh, you’re asking me? This morning.

Today I have some logo comps for 2 clients, soap to pack, and potatoes to plant. The taters aren’t getting a pretty garden plot, being nightshades with leaves even the groundhogs won’t eat - they will be planted in a part of the horse pasture fenced off due to overgrazing, in piles of good compost created by those same horses over the past 3 years. Excited, since it seems everything loves to grow in 3-year-old horse poop broken down into black soil.

OKay, off to design and get planting. No run this morning for me, perhaps just a mile this afternoon in the heat. Nearly 80 degrees today and that is very welcome news around here. I’d rather be dripping in sweat than bundled up by a wood stove, any day. And if any exciting adventures do pile up today I will certainly share them with you lot, like I always have.

*Veronica is a White Silkie rooster I thought, in his earlier days, was a hen. We kept the name.

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