Bad Days and Good Dogs
January 17, 2011



Today I had one of those days where nothing went right. Well, almost nothing.

There's a sense amongst urban folks (and I used to be one of them) that life on the farm is easy. Pleasant. Relaxed. Lemonade under a shady tree, baby animals bouncing around green pastures (perfectly fenced and clipped), and laser-straight rows of corn, tasseling out under a perfect July sky. While that occassionally happens, there are also days when the weather is terrible, the animals have gotten out, the crops aren't doing well for whatever reason and that alarm clock goes off way too early (or the day stretches way too late). Happily, most days on the farm are somewhere in between those two extremes. But today I spent most of the day towards the "this is not a good day" end of the spectrum.

First of all, the weather has been lousy lately. Rain, and then wind, and then more rain, oh now we're getting snow, then wind, then rain. These storm cycles are nothing new, and we know this time of year can be challenging. Still, it's really discouraging to stand out in the rain and see all the things that you really wanted to get done before the rain started to fall. That roof on the chicken house leaks. That walkway got muddy before we could put down landscape fabric and substrate. That spare watering tank didn't get cleaned and tipped over and put away last fall, and now it's fully of gunky mossy icy cold water. It's pouring again, I'm only halfway through chores, my hands are cold, my feet are cold, my hat is already soaked through and this hay got wet at some point so I can't feed it out. Back to the hay shed (slogging through that mud again) for another bale.

During such days, it's easy to question what we do and why. Most of my friends have office-type jobs. Right about now they're at their desks, nice and warm and dry, maybe with a cuppa of their favorite caffeinated beverage in their hands. They're not getting rained on, they're not splattering mud with every step, and they sure as heck don't have to wade through a mob of impatient chickens hungry for breakfast. During moments like this, I wonder why I ever left that environment. Thankfully I don't wonder for very long.

I try to remember what it was like to get up early enough to beat traffic. To get dressed not to meet my own needs but to win the approval of others. To hustle off to work because of someone else's schedule. To attend meetings where I may not say a word and even if I did, my experience and ideas and skillsets had to compete against the prevailing office political structure. I could have invented the very best mousetrap ever conceived by Humanity. But Compliance has to sign off on it, Testing staff won't have time to look at it for at least six weeks, Manufacturing is having a dispute with their suppliers and rollout has been postponed. Plus it doesn't fit in well with Marketing's advertising campaign. While in Corporate America, I often found myself feeling like a cog that didn't fit very well into the machine.

So I come back to my current situation, standing in the rain and gazing out at this rattletrap farm I've put together. Yes, we have mud, but not a lot. Not as much as previous years and each year we get better at predicting it, avoiding it and minimizing it once it occurs. The chickens have a leak in their roof but they're eating well, laying well, and just as perky as they should be. All the four-legged critters are healthy and in good flesh, here on the far side of Christmas with springtime still a ways away. The garden beds are dormant now, but they're ready for when spring does roll around. On my little farm, I dress for my own needs, get up to meet my schedule, and the only politics I have to worry about are which hen is pecking whom, and which goat is headbutting whom.

My reverie broke when I glanced up on the hill and noticed one of my livestock guardian dogs watching me. Cougar came to us as a broken individual, his spirit crushed by a string of well intentioned owners who didn't know how to work with his proud race. He also spent a fair amount of time as a stray, wandering the landscape trying to find a place to fit in. Much like I wandered the landscape of office work, wondering where I was supposed to fit in. As I watched him watching me, I realized we'd both found our forever homes - him guarding a farm just as his ancestors have done for millenia, and me managing the farm just as my ancestors have done for millenia. Not every day will be perfect. But most days will be good enough to justify keeping our respective jobs. I walked up the hill and gave him some friendly pets. He thumped his tail a few times but then gave me a look like "sorry, Mom, but I gotta go back to work now. It's important." Yea, buddy, I understand. Your job is important and you do it well. I guess I should remember that mine is important too. Sometimes I'm not sure I do my job as well as he does his, but it's a good job to have. Despite the occassional bad day.