Updated: Mar 24
You know that feeling of turning off your car when you're home, but having no recollection of the drive? The commute fades into liminal space—a blur of headlights and traffic signs you navigated on autopilot, but somehow you’re parked in front of your house again—that's what this winter was for me. Liminal space.
I’ve been more isolated this winter than I was during quarantine. Ironically, at the peak of pandemic caution, back in 2020, I had the most human contact I’d ever experienced in my life. After a decades of living alone and closeted, I met someone. We started dating right before lockdown and I spent that winter, spring, and summer falling in what I thought was love and enjoying the first real relationship of my life. Despite the death tolls and terrifying headlines all around us, I was so happy.
For the first time in my life, I felt worthy of love. Turns out, that was the fix I’d been jonesing for my whole life. I see people online constantly chasing feelings of contentment through their credit cards, passports, and skin-care routines but all any of us really want is to feel worth the space we take up. When you have that—even if it’s just a few months in your life—it resets your instrumentation. It can turn a plane right around.
Last winter, the one that happened right after my November 2021 break up, I was not prepared for being alone again. There’s a different viscosity to loneliness after learning what it is like to be in a relationship. It’s not something you can swim in anymore, not long. If you let yourself stay there you’ll drown from exhaustion. I get it now, why people stay in relationships that no longer serve them. You may be miserable but at least you have company. Someone to split the bills with, come home to. I think for a lot of people their life’s real work is coming to terms with that compromise. I used to think that was something to pity. Now it's something I envy.
So, I spent that winter after she left in survival mode, treading water in an oil spill. Going through the hard months the only way I know how: ignore all the holidays. Watch other people prep for Christmas parties and ski trips like David Attenborough is narrating their wildly-different experience on the planet to me. Focus on the farm, the animals, the electric bill, direct needs and lives I can actually make a difference in. It’s hard enough just staying warm and keeping everyone fed. So I forget about romance and travel and achieving less wrinkles/smaller pores. Farm, do it well, and eventually you'll feel sunlight again. June always comes back.
It did. That summer had so much light.
Winter came back too, and this was very much a repeat of the one before. Only this time I self-isolated to the extreme of not wanting company at all. Friends understood, they stayed away. No one bothered me around Thanksgiving or Christmas. I can count on one hand the times I left the house that wasn't for the post office, getting groceries or buying feed or fuel. I'd go weeks only talking to strangers on Instagram or dating apps (both wildly unsatisfying, but a passable simulacrum of a social life if you're good at lying to yourself).
Turns out I am very good at being alone. Like any skillset, the more you practice the better you are. I have my routines, a disciplined order to my days. I wake up early, earlier than ever before in my life. I like being up when everything is dark and all the animals are still resting, not even expecting hay or grain yet. I let the dogs out, turn on the electric kettle, and start the little space heater in the bathroom. Then there’s the shambling morning routine of preparing the day’s fire. You'll find me in my concrete-floored mudroom with a maul trying to cut kindling without imbedding the blade in my shin. (So far so good, but it's anyone's horse race.) I collect all the foraged ingredients for a fire and strike a match. Hope for the day starts. Hope starts with warmth, did you know that? That once you feel warm again you can focus on loftier things, like income and kitchen floor repairs and saving the $20 cash back from the pharmacy in a mug for piglets.
Lots of personal setbacks this winter. The kind that make every step you take, indoors and out, feel like the ground beneath you isn’t sturdy. I'll catch you up:
The falconry bird I trapped and trained flew away the second time I went hunting with him. That was my fault. I wasn't focused this year and the manning period on the glove was taking so long I felt guilty. Birds aren't supposed to hop to gloves in living rooms, they're supposed to fly. I lost patience, thought all my years of experience would make up for the hawk's inexperience. Guess what? It did not. And I lost my favorite winter sport, hunting with a bird.
I needed another root canal; the consequences of 20 years of sporadic bulimia that destroyed my teeths' enamel back in my teens and twenties and made them crumble apart by my mid thirties. I think that was my 8th root canal? I need more, I’m sure. Honestly I’m proud there’s any teeth in my mouth at all. Anyway, also my fault. The book I’d been writing for years was rejected by my agent. It wasn’t personal, she simply doesn’t sell memoirs anymore. The market for what I do is so competitive, and since none of my previous titles were NY Times Best Sellers; it’s nearly impossible to sell a book that isn’t a fresh author’s voice or a proven hitmaker. Publishers want to know their making a good investment, not a lateral, slow return. Over 60,000 words on my life story collecting dust now. All that prose about growing up queer and disappointing, coming out, finding who I am on this mountain and all the lonely years of hawks and horses that adding up to that stupid book. I really thought it would save the farm. Make me an author again. Prove to my family, the women that didn’t want me, hell, prove to myself - that I had some intrinsic worth outside these 6.5 acres. I even tried promoting it on social media but that’s like screaming out a window in a snowstorm. I haven’t touched it in months. This is the most writing I’ve done about myself since. I can’t hike. I can't run. I can't even walk very far. Honestly, that's been the worst of it. Going to the woods, even a day hike on my local section of the AT, was as exiting to me as your upcoming vacation to whatever beach you’ll be on. But I think the sprain from last summer was more serious than I could imagine, and I can’t even walk the dogs down the mountain road three days in a row without it aching to the point of limping. I didn’t have dependable health insurance when it happened because the state made a mistake when I applied, and couldn’t be sure I could afford treatment. I figured all they would do is tell me to rest and let it heal, impossible as flight.
I can't bring myself to watch my favorite backpacking youtubers anymore. Everything they do feels like gloating. It isn't, but when you're broken it feels like it. So this winter I dealt with loss. The loss of holidays, a bird, a book, a working foot, and other things. Mostly, the predictable loss of warmth. I knew if I was going to get through winter I would have to be for myself what I so desperately wanted to be for someone else: a caretaker.
So I took that seriously, very seriously. I made sure every day that I had specific goals and they all had to be completed by 4PM, because after sunset I was no longer able to function as a person. That’s when things were dark and I got scared, and so I turned this farmhouse into what I needed - which was a synthetic summer.
After dark the house is finally warm, it takes all day - feeding the fire and waiting - but by sundown the living room was well over 70 degrees and if I made any sort of sale I could feel a little reprieve from my anxiety. I let myself have that. I’d fill the house with candlelight and a gentle playlist. I'd practice my yoga and drink ginger-peach tea with honey and allow my body to just be what it is.
I started a doing yoga regularly with my ex. After they left I kept doing it. Now, years into a daily practice my body is learning to be something different. I am a very flexible badger now. And when yoga is done and the house smells like herbs and candles and soft feminine things I try to watch something funny or encouraging or something that feels like me at its core. I'm basic as hell, so.... Gilmore Girls, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, Ted Lasso, Buffy, rep stadium tour, Paddington 2. I fall asleep with those friends' voices. Sleep usually lasts a few hours and then I’m up by 2-3AM. I give up trying to fall asleep and go downstairs by 5AM to light the fire.
So it goes.
I tried to do normal social human stuff. I went on first dates with some lovely women, but all of them deserve an apology and possibly financial compensation for their troubles, because dating was not something I should've been doing. I should have been writing. The upside of this winter? The time alone, never leaving the farm, saved me money. With inflation being what it is, it has never been harder to make a sale and it’s amazing how one trip into town can cost $100 after you get a few gallons of gas, a bag of dog food, and some basic groceries these days. So I don’t leave. I don’t even allow an ounce of gas to burn unless it’s 1000% necessary. There are no drives to the brewery for music and a kombucha anymore. No more take out dinners. I can’t remember the last time I sat in a restaurant? I think it was when my ex took me to Burlington, summer 2021?
Anyway, I eat a lot less than I did before, which saves money but makes me feel cold, the downside to being warm blooded like the mammal chumps we are. Hunger left this winter, too. That hit sometime around mid February. That sounds drastic, but I promise you I'm the same thick piece of work.
Most of the time I think about warmth. I think about summer. Floating down the Battenkill, thunderstorms in the hammock under the maple, horses grazing on the mountain while I sit in the tall grass at sunset. I got a heated throw blanket this winter. The cheap kind, polyester with a device the size of an 1990s remote to turn it on, but the first time I used it was a revelation. When I covered my body with it and felt that warmth without weight, it reminded me of sunlight. And I broke down and cried harder than I ever had, not in sadness but relief. I didn’t know what it felt like to experience warmth without all that extra weight. That’s what sunshine feels like. That's what being in love feels like.
Okay, some good news:
Winter is over. The Spring Equinox came and the day was mild and sunny as an answered prayer. There's a small (but growing!) community of co-religionists around here and we're creating dependable gatherings for the Wheel of the Year. For Ostara, just this past Tuesday, I was outside by a campfire in a pair of sunglasses, playing music with friends and eating good food we raised on our farms. There were kids laughing, talk of lambs and goslings, And my sucker's drug of choice: hope, starting to course through me again.
All the pork shares for this past season were picked up by lovely customers, old and new. The butcher bill was the same cost as a root canal, but the promise was fulfilled. I already talked with a local breeder about this year's pigs and have my harvest appointment made for next January. I also have all the usual spring appointments made: farrier, sheep shearing, chipped-tooth repair. I just got a text moments ago about some possible feeder lambs. Sometimes at night I sketch out new gardens, where I'll make a new stone wall. All I've got will go into making this place beautiful.
I got a part-time job script writing, of all things. It's cents on the word, and I am only on my fourth project with my new boss, but I can do it from the farm. Right now the gig takes hours of research, but I figure if I stick with it, it will get easier and faster and possibly lead to more opportunities. I'm proud of myself for asking for that gig and landing it. It'll be exciting to see what I wrote all produced.
Music has been here. The ukulele and the songs I learned never left my hands, helped them stay warm. I am not a good singer and I am not a good player, but there's an earnest love for it and just like with my yoga practice - it suits me. I bought a $76 concert-sized instrument (larger than normal, for sausage fingers like mine) at Yule for myself and it's been the most money I've spent on therapy in ages. Songs by Fletcher, Noah Cyrus, Gracie Abrams, and Taylor Swift fill this house at night. Even my singing grew more confident, just ask the dogs.
Speaking of Taylor, can you believe I got tickets!?
Fans with a long history of buying music and merchandise off her website got entered into a lottery for the pre-sale. I've been playing her cassettes in my truck and records on my turntables for years. I had the chance for tickets for the Boston show and the code needed to buy them. An ex (do they count as an ex if you only dated three months?) fronted me the money for tickets if I could get them and I fucking did. I sat with Ticketmaster for 5 hours in that death rattle of a queue, but I got us in, and this May I will see Taylor live for the fist time in my life. I bought myself two tickets. I thought I'd be taking a date, but per my earlier confession about my failure at that all winter - I am going with another local homesteader (and good friend!) who is also a fan and has a more reliable car for the trip to Massachusetts. (My 2009 Subaru needs some muffler welding.) Anyway, I look forward to that experience more than you can possibly imagine. It will be my one night off the farm all year. My heart's got claw marks all over it and I'm a slut for feelings. I can not wait to be in that stadium. I know every word to every song on that setlist by heart. I am ready for church.
If I can swing it, I want to do more to improve my home and small life on this farm. I want to "redo" my bedroom. By that I mean paint the walls a fresh color and take out the old dog-stained carpet, maybe get a warm new duvet an cover. Make it the bedroom of a grown woman who finally knows herself.
This whole time, over a decade, I kept the rooms in most of the house exactly the way they were when I bought the place. The same paint and carpets and wallpapers because I always thought of this farm as not really mine. I’d either lose the farm to foreclosure, or whatever woman I ended up with would want to decorate the place and make it hers. Well, I’m about to hit this farm’s 13th birthday with me and I’m still here. So this year I'm claiming it. I'll paint, and clean, remove cobwebs and support the sagging floors and fill my walls with art full of gnashing teeth and beautiful women and all the things that make me want to keep trying. Keep trying to get warm.
That said, I’m not focusing on romance. My life is what it is. I am who I am. I like me, and I'm a pretty good bet when it comes to taking care of myself. I plan on sweeping myself off my feet this summer. Just wait till you see the flowers.
I am going to plant so many flowers.
Success is a sliding scale. Not everyone needs the same things, or even wants them. To me, success meant living the life I want every day, and finding meaning and happiness doing it. My biggest fear growing up was ending up spending these few good decades we get with our bodies behind a desk. I always knew I could get a job behind a counter when my body gave out, but when I was young I wanted to FARM. I wanted to be outside, with animals, every single day. I wanted to be preparing for snowstorms in my barn, not fearing the drive home in an office. And while I haven't made any of the milestones my peers have, I feel successful as hell for being here a decade. It's scrappy, but it's mine.
I feel so wealthy on some levels, like embarrassingly so. I own my own farm, for Christ's sake. I have this land with a forest path lit by lantern light. A pond to watch the newts and frogs scuttle around in. I have two amazing dogs, a pair of good horses (Merlin is very much retired now, over 30 years old, and looks more like Steven Tyler everyday, but otherwise good), more importantly I have something to fight for, which is to simply remain. And all these people I watch on Instagram, with their proposals in front of the Eiffel Tower or whatever bullshit I’m supposed to be impressed by - none of that feels motivational to me. I just want to be able to farm this land, observe the Wheel, and feel warm on occasion. While you dream of Paris, I dream of solvency. Because someday, mark my words, I won't wake up afraid of my mailbox anymore. Worrying that a foreclosure letter is lying in wait. (One is currently on my mail table. I try to treat it like a first base coach and not a threat.)
It's a real mindfuck not knowing what is going to happen to you at 40. I'm terrified and excited, because whatever second-act problems I am having with my life the ending will at least be interesting.
I feel like I could have just told you to get in your car alone at night, crank the heat and roll down the windows and drive in that liminal space. Turn up the speakers high as they will go and listen to Labyrinth; That was the last six months. This winter was driving in a snowstorm listening to that fever-dream of a song. And I know no one listens to Taylor Swift until they're ready, and none of you will either, but if you're looking for emotional efficiency, she's beat me by about ten minutes. My goal is to have a summer that sounds like Daylight, Live in Paris. I need a new song, I'll tell you that much for free.
Listen, all I want is to be able to stay here. Stay in this place that has taken care of me by allowing me to take care of it. I want the gardens. I want the path. I want the animals. I want a chance with another hawk, dammit. I want to practice my music and archery and yoga and slowly heal all these broken things inside and out so I can walk up a mountain again. I don't need sheets with a thread-count, or take out, or world travel, or a partner, or some amazing book deal.
I just need to write, feel safe again, and find a little sunlight. Being warm will be enough.
Anyway, you're all caught up.