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  • Writer's pictureJenna

Sunburn and Sore Arms

Yesterday was one of those days. One of those good, hard, beautiful and body-exhausting days. It really hit me around 4PM when I finally took a moment away from the work, heat, and beating UV rays to walk on the paths in our woods. Or to be more specific—it didn’t hit me walking down a path in the woods—It hit me at the destination of the path: the stream. And to be precise: it hit me exactly when I rested my butt into the cold stream water that runs through the farm. I sank a few inches in and let my sandaled feet do the same. I took the blessed cold water and splashed my face, felt it roll down the back of my neck. It stung. It stung where it met the chaffing from my sports bra and where bug spray and dirt collected in odd little creases. It was a good sting. And there in the stream, in the shade, in the dappled light of a summer afternoon - it hit me.

This life is so damn hard and so damn worth it.

We woke up tired after a few hours of sleep. The night before Shannon took us out, a trip to the local Drive-In to see A Quiet Place 2. We brought our picnic blanket and a card game called Flux that we love. We ate french fries from the concession stand and as it grew darker out, we watched the movie in the back of her hatchback, my little emergency radio on our laps tuned into the Drive-In’s radio station. It was so much fun watching a thriller under the stars like that. The weather, the sky, the fireflies, the food - all of it perfect. We never stay out that late, and in the morning we knew we’d be up and working hard, but sometimes you need to take a night off. No regrets.

But by 9AM Monday morning we were standing at the base of a hay elevator at Livingston Brook Farm. This was hours after waking up, after our own farm’s needs had been met. After hauling 5-gallon buckets all over the property for horses, pigs, sheep, the goat. After making sure the rabbits were cooled off and eating breakfast in their pen before moving them out to their tractor. Before feeding the ravenous meat birds, the silly dogs and cats, and all the morning routines of cleaning up, coffee, dishes, etc. We’d woken up early, taken care of our own, and were standing ready to move a large wagon-load of hay into our friends barn.

I am dealing with an injury. I over-extended my shoulder trying too hard in a yoga zoom class, which is laughable if it wasn’t partnered with the growing tendonitis/tennis elbow/demons in my right arm. I remember people in their 40s/50s, warning me earlier in my farming career, that too much hard work of the body with poor form will wear you down. Well, you told me so and here I am - having trouble lifting a coffee pot unassisted with my right hand while waiting to help unload about 140 50lb bales into a barn.

When you’re hurt you adjust, you don’t stop. I mean, I should stop. But when physical labor is a part of everyday life you can’t stop. You need to work smarter for your situation, though. So instead of stacking bales inside the barn it was my job to help by crawling 20 feet up into the hay wagon (which really isn’t a “wagon” as much as a giant cage that looks more like a circus train tiger enclosure from a box of animal crackers) and pushed and moved the bales down to where someone could load them onto the conveyer belt. A team of five of us got it done in about an hour. But afterwards both Shannon (who was stacking inside the threshing barn) and I were beat, but hey, the day was just getting started!

We headed home and the temperatures were now in the high eighties. Later in the day they would be in the mid nineties, and a heat advisory had been issued. I was aware and kept drinking fluids. But I have to admit, even in the coming heat I was excited about the work ahead: it was time to mow the lawn!

For the first time in my life I was about to use a brand-new lawn mower. it was a bare bones gas-powered Troybuilt I bought it at the local hardware store. I finally had to bite the bullet and get one. For the entire history of this farm I had bought used mowers off the side of the road, at tag sales, or on craigslist. But the last one nearly killed me back last September by nearly blowing up, and no youtube repair gurus could help anymore. So I went and got a non-propelled, basic, gas push mower. The cheapest one I could buy that was still made in America. I love it. I have named it Harold.

Harold and I zoomed around the yard, but mowing a farm isn’t just grass. It’s all the lawn areas as well as the paths through the woods, the area around the campfire, all the edges of fences and gardens too. And what you can’t mow you hit with the weed whacker and when you’re trying to tame the better part of 2+ acres that aren't fenced pasture or woods, it takes a few hours.

I learned, quick, why people pay more for propelled mowers because this farm is on a slant and every other pass was uphill at some angle. But I didn’t care. I had 4 ibuprofen in me and pushing the mower didn’t hurt my arm (it’s lifting from a bent elbow that hurts). So I carried on and did so with pride. I’ve never owned a shiny new mower before. Something with an owners manual, something that I was the first one to put gas into for the first time. Is this how people feel in new cars off the lot?! I can assure you I

I'll never know that feeling, but this was enough. I was proud of being able to save and buy it. I’d been borrowing my neighbor’s lawn mower all spring. They were amazingly kind but it was time to get our own. Soon I'll draw them up a thank you card with a gas card in it and drop it in their mailbox. They're the same neighbors that trade us sourdough bread for eggs weekly, bless them.

Anyway, I mowed a long while. I took some breaks, mostly to do other farm work. I mucked around the horse pasture, moving poop to assigned piles. I cleaned out the rabbit pen. I changed the sheeps' water because too much pollen was resting on the top layer and left unchanged it might breed a fungus the next few days with all this humidity. It was all the kind of pedantic farm work that just keeps building up when you are on a tear. A half hour cutting back brush with loppers. Another half hour repairing a bit of fence. And as the hours piled on and the temperatures rose - I felt my mood shifting.

I think I went through all seven stages of grief yesterday in the heat outside. Shock and deal at how hot it was, how thirsty I was, how much work I was starting. Then came the pain - the physical wear of the body. Then I started to get stupidly angry, knowing that a few years ago I was earning money sitting still in air conditioning. Yet here I am knowing I had PAID money to do all this hot work. Paid for the mower, the mortgage, the weedwhacker. I was not sitting down earning any money at all while I puttered around sweating this chubby body about. Which made me feel a little depressed, knowing I wasn't in the same place my peers were - the ones that stayed in office jobs. But it doesn't take long to sit in the shade, with a bit of cold water, to gain some perspective. That time in the creek cooling off gave me some serious perspective, and love for the farm again. And walking out onto the manicured and lovely lawn, our well-cared for gardens and animals... Hope comes back.

Shannon works freelance and her boss had recently given her a lot of work to do, so she was inside taking care of what she had to prioritize. Somedays I am the one indoors, designing or sketching or making soap while she is out building fences or feeding pigs. But today I was all out, she was all in, and were a slowly moving engine uphill towards our dreams. Not much more you can ask from a partnership.

The day continued on at a waltz. The heat stayed but my activity slowed to a puttering stop. I jumped into a cold shower, changed into a clean romper, and Shannon made us a dinner of cowboy style baked beans, pulled pork, blueberry cornbread and greens from our gardens. It was a lovely meal, perfect, ours. It was the first real thing I ate all day and it felt like filling the tank back up.

We end the day with a cold drink and our hammocks. I was drinking a non-alcoholic stout out of a can (I haven't had a drink since 2020) and she a nice seltzer and whiskey with mint leaves from the farm muddled in. The day was long. The work was hard. We were tired. We were glad. This time the night before we were getting excited for the Drive in. That night we were just as excited about sleep.

I don't know exactly what I am supposed to want in life? Because everything I am told I will want as I get older - money, possessions, passport stamps, and like that - none of it has grown more appealing to me. I like having enough money to not worry. Slowly I want to start building real savings, but right now I am not there. All my work goes towards paying my share of the bills, feed, utilities, and groceries. But this past year - I have been less and less behind. I am starting to earn what I need for the month I am living in, while living on this land, in this life. How insanely wealthy that feels?! To own this farm and keep it a decade later. To cool off in my own little stream. To be handed a meal I raised with the woman I love. To fall asleep beside her. To wake up ready to buckle into another day on the same rollercoaster again...

I guess that is what I want in life. What I always wanted, and was so afraid of having. And here I am, a few weeks from my last year in my 30s, and only excited about what I'll experience and feel in my 40s if I get to make it another decade. And to feel all of that, on a regular Monday, that's a life worth sunburn and sore arms.

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