The past year has been one of so many surprises. Some of which have brought me to my knees in tears, bellowing my rage to the wind or doubled over in gut wrenching peals of laughter. Through it all has been the constant note of newness that has plagued (sic) my life. I can never seem to get a line going for long enough that the newness wears off. There is always so much more to learn, so much that I am only discovering again for the first time. The unexpected gifts have been a source of many of the greatest changes over the past year. Some might not see them as gifts exactly, but I do. And I know that I am not alone in my feelings. Not many days ago I heard a story on NPR about Gary Jones, 76 years old, going back up to see the ashes of his house above The Rock Store near Malibu, CA after the Woolsey Fire destroyed most everything. He commented on how exciting it was that the place was utterly gone. The reporter seemed incredulous that someone could be excited in the face of what most see as great tragedy. He described it this way.
JONES: All by probably – you know, storage containers are full of decisions that haven’t been made yet. And when you finally clear out the container, it has a feeling of cleansing. And that’s kind of what I feel like. I’ve been cleansed. All the problems I had are gone.
I feel as though a portion of my life has experienced its own mini version of the Woolsey Fire. And I’m not just referring to the loss of my barn and its inhabitants and contents. When I walked away from Public Safety a few years ago, I was left to fall back on the skills I had developed over the decades working in the Trades. The only problem was that I no longer felt the sense of wonder and excitement about pounding nails in the sun as I once did. That and the grind of not knowing where the next job will come from ate at me much more intently as a 46 y/o (then) than when I was in my late 20s early 30s. Just always that gnawing, “how am I going to pay my bills?” There never seemed to be enough extra to fix the car or expand the goat herd or the chicken flock. So I took a soul crushing job of cleaning floors (most of last year), which paid the bills but left me with no time to do anything at all. Working 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week most of the time led to some nice paychecks but they were mostly gobbled up in gas money for the car. I didn’t complain about it then but I really wasn’t happy doing that work. It was tedious and never ending and always felt like the same old thing over and over. I was slowly dying, and not just because of the cleaning chemicals I was bathing in every day. I felt hollow.
All of that changed when Will told me that his yard was hiring again and that I should submit another application to see if Asplundh would hire me. Rather than getting picked up by his boss, I was snatched up by a different General Foreman who was headed from Greenville, PA to Jefferson OH for the year. The job started with working in the Christmas-time blizzard of last year out in Mentor, OH, trudging an average of 10 miles a day with great armloads of brush that had been cut from the trees behind the houses on the roads along Lake Erie. Will had warned me that winters with Asplundh are something to be endured. I see them as an anvil, testing the metal of those who seek to pursue the trade. Trimming trees in a plastic bucket 40′ in the air with a 25 mph wind at 15 deg F is nothing to take lightly. Not an endeavor for the faint of heart. But one that I seem to have taken to with gusto.
Only a few months into the new year we were visited by a tragedy that I hope to never repeat. The barn fire has been written about fairly extensively at this point so I won’t rehash it here. Except to say that its gift was one that has taken me a while to fully appreciate. And one that will keep unfolding for years to come. The new barn and new flocks will be what define the years to come. More on that in a bit.
Following the fire, I tipped back a great big glass of workahol and set about becoming a tree trimmer. Justin G, Chris P, Chris H, Clayton H, and Randy P have taught me how to defend The Grid. Swinging a chainsaw around power lines, whether suspended in that plastic bucket or tied to the tree itself, has proven to be extremely satisfying. Working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week for the past few months has proven to be exhausting while at the same time thrilling. It’s gotten to the point that my dreams are filled with the grasping branches of the Black Gum and the hideously sharp barbs of the Osage Orange.
This is crunch time. What with contracts coming to an end, the work has to get done, so speed is of the essence. Rotating the boom into a line of trees, making a few decisive cuts and rotating back out is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Driving back down a line of trees recently trimmed comes with a visceral sense of accomplishment that few things in life have ever given me. Getting a compliment from the Forester on my trimming is deeply humbling and gratifying. The changes to my body have been apparent and ongoing. I’ve stopped losing weight but my clothes keep getting looser and I’ve had to take my belt in at least 3 holes since I’ve started. Granted, sleeping on my right side is a bit painful and my forearms feel like they are on fire occasionally. But this is only temporary (I hope). This work feels honest to me. I don’t feel like I’m pretending anymore. Retouching the chain with a file, watching the saw slide through hard Maple, moving the truck down the road at a steady pace that grinds my ground-men down, all feel like this is work that I was meant to do. Many of those same ground men don’t like me. Mainly because I won’t tolerate sloth or malingering. If they don’t like it, Speedway is hiring.
Enough of that for now though. Today is a is a blessed day. Tremendous progress has occurred out back. A short while ago we tried to put up the chicken coop. Things didn’t really work out so well.
The initial plan was to build it from the top down, the way it’s normally done. This usually involves bin jacks. I figured that we could get it done without the expense. As it turns out, we couldn’t. The roof and the first ring are assembled and sitting there but getting them off the ground has proven more challenging than I at first assumed. I’ve got some time off between the holidays and will have another go at it.
With building from the top down off the table, this left us with building from the bottom up.
Because the goat barn would have a hay loft in it, the primary problem of how to assemble the roof “all the way up there” was pretty well solved before we even started.
We just stood on the loft floor. For the loft, we suspended the old drying floor on a grid-work that we made out of heavy angle iron.
This gave us a stable platform for building the roof. Let me tell you, putting in the last few bolts once the entire roof was assembled and inaccessible from underneath, was a bit terrifying, but we got it done. That left building out stalls, the milking parlor, and the doors. This came on in a bit of a rush around Thanksgiving. The kids, Hector and Andromache (Nubian goats) had to get out of where they were living and had to do it very quickly. It wouldn’t have been an issue if we had been able to start on the barn during the summer, but things came down as they did.
Maly and Elsie are pretty happy about the new guests as well.
Especially Maly. Keeping him out of the barn is a constant endeavor again. All the work was done on the one day a week that I wan’t trimming trees and the few additional days that I was able to squeeze in here and there.
And today, FINALLY, I was able to build and place the doors onto the structure.
There’s no milking stand yet, but we won’t really need to worry about that for a few more months. For now though, I’ve got 50 bales of Teff grass (https://www.feedipedia.org/node/22033) stowed in the loft and we are ready for winter to embrace us. Just tonight I went and interviewed a couple of new kids over at the Moores Family Farm to see about adding them to the flock.