March 21, 2014

Death by the Numbers: Precarious Piglet Edition

On the farm, we work out a lot of percentages to figure out when we're in the realm of acceptable and when something crazy might be happening, and piglet survival rates are at the top of our number crunching. The industry standard for piglets that survive from birth to weaning is 75% -- they expect 25% mortality. At Clawhammer, we usually get 10-15% mortality; a very respectable number that is a result of choosing good mothers, working with hardy breeds, and using a set up that works well for our hogs -- individual farrowing stalls with deep hay bedding, and a heated "creep" corner for the little piglets.

This year, of course, was different. The snow was still too deep and the ground too icy for us to feel comfortable walking the eight very pregnant sows across the hilly barnyard and into the barn, so we did the spring farrowing in the greenhouse...which really would have worked brilliantly, save for the extremely poor timing of what was hopfully our last winter storm coinciding with record rainfall and an extreme 20 degree temperature dip in two hours. All of that combined to create the ideal conditions for piglet hypothermia -- which is exactly what happened to a lot of the little guys.

Now that the numbers have stabilized and the youngest litters were over a week old, it was time for me to figure out our mortality numbers. It was pretty cringe-y (yes, that's a technical farming term), but all in all it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought: 35% of piglets born did not survive.

I was counting on a higher mortality number for this round of farrowing anyway -- it was a batch made up entirely of new mothers, and the March births are often more fraught because the weather usually throws curve balls. It was still a rough number for me to swallow. I was kvetching about it with our farmer friends a few miles away (they have a small dairy and we buy hay from them) and found out that they had lost six calves over the course of the winter -- and previously they hadn't lost a single one in years. The weather this year was hard on all of us -- most especially on the farm babies.

Now that Spring, as of yesterday, has actually officially begun (!!!!!!!!!!!), we're hoping that the weather will get the memo and start doing what it's supposed to do. Until then, there's a backlog of early spring projects piling up, waiting for the ground to thaw....

March 12, 2014

Precarious Piglets.

We have our own version of March Madness at the farm -- the spring piglet rush. Because we hold off on farrowing (birthing) during the harshest months of winter, we have to compensate with a clump in early spring. This year, I had scheduled 6 pigs to give birth in March. But, of course, nature does not align itself with my spreadsheets (almost always preferring to mock them), and we had eight pigs that ended up due.

March, despite having average temperatures that are more than amenable to birthing, is notoriously fickle, and this year...this year of deep dark winter's rule...has proved no exception.

On Monday, it was 50 degrees. Now, on Wednesday night, it is 4 degrees on the hill, accompanied by whipping snow and 40 mile gusts that seemingly bluster at will from all directions. In between Monday and now, the ground thawed, rivulets of water began running down the hillside of the farm, and four pigs gave birth -- adding to the two that had already popped in the first week of March.

The combination of wet and cold that this has produced is tantamount to a death warrant to very young piglets -- especially those, like ours, born outside of a barn and without the aid of heatlamps or heating pads. In March, they are usually not needed.

But now, we have six full litters -- about 60 piglets -- whose survival rate over the next two days has been severely compromised. The high tomorrow is 9. The low is under 0.

On one level, this is what farming entails more than anything else: you plan, you schedule, you work your butt off to get things set up, and most of the time it works brilliantly. And then, some small but devastating percent of the time, an ill-timed cluster of births and an unseasonable howling, malevolent, bitter weather event combine to remind you that all of your plans are balanced on the tip of a needle; that for all the hours spent planning and building and scheming, a simple wobble of the universe illuminates how quickly it can fall apart. Life is more fluid and more unpredictable than most anyone wants to admit. [Metaphorical] candles are burning, and [literal] glasses are raised for the strength of the mamas and piglets facing down the storm tonight. So say we all.


March 2, 2014

Take the Polar Vortex; Fill it Up with Lambs

It was with nothing so much as mute horror that I observed a ewe going into labor on January 17th.  I had been watching the ewes blow up like blimps, or flying saucers, or basketball smugglers, for a couple weeks, and had thought to myself that it was insane that they already looked so large, when spring was still so far off. You see, I was under the impression – gleaned from my readings of several New Zealand-based sheep forums, of which I could admittedly only understand 70% of what was said due to a surprisingly vast language gulf – that lambs were born in the spring, on lush grass, under warm sun, with songbirds and flowers scattered about to complete the picture of gentle verdency.... This assumption despite the fact that, had I been paying appropriate attention to the fourth dimension last spring when we bought the sheep herd in March, I would have noticed that by then more than half the lambs had already been born.

So, there was a tiny wet lamb, defying my assumptions, bleating and miserable on the floor of the greenhouse, on January 17th, when it was 5 degrees. She was followed by twins who had the ill luck to be born on the 21st, when the overnight low was in the negative teens, and then followed again over the next few weeks by 16 other snowy-white, spindly-legged, almond-eyed beings.

My horror was quite understandable. Our sheep herd is outside, with only a greenhouse to break some of the wind and keep the snow off them. Lambs are born nothing more than skin and bones, plopped wet onto the ground, their survival left to the wiles of the mother sheep – the sheep being an animal not much known for keen smarts. I had visions of needing to bring them all inside next to the wood stove, setting up lamb play pens, being up at all hours nursing them each with a bottle.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried at all. What sheep may lack in problem solving skills and critical thinking, they make up for in spades with instinct. As soon as a lamb is born, its mother goes to work licking it clean, pawing at it gently if it isn’t getting up, nickering quietly and smelling the lamb from nose to tail. Within five minutes the lamb is teetering about on its long legs, trying to nurse all over the underbelly of the ewe (the front armpits are a spot they especially gravitate to at first), who gently nudges it back toward her udder. Within an hour or so, the ewe and lamb have learned each others smell and baa – so that they can call to each other individually, and smell out who belongs to them (it is endlessly amazing for me to hear one ewe among the forty “baaa” and have only one lamb – hers – answer the “baa” from across the yard, bound over to her and start nursing). All I had to do when I did chores was stick my finger into the mouths of the napping lambs – if their noses were warm and they sucked my finger, I knew they were doing ok.

We’re in a lamb-lull now; most of the very due ewes have gone, and a good number of the yearlings, and the lambs are off to a strong and vigorous start. Only one needed pulled by me – my first assisted lamb birth! – and that was a breeze. I had been studying pictures of malpresented lambs online, and had been rather skeptical of the drawings, which seemed to imply that the lamb was in a roomy bubble just inches inside the ewe, with plenty of room to maneuver legs about…but in fact that is just what it was like. The little guy was coming out nose first, with its front legs back, so I needed to push it back into the uterus and get its legs forward, which was easily done (once I got the ewe to hold still), then two gentle pulls and he was out – a huge twin, and still quite alive despite being stuck with his nose out for who knows how long before I found him during evening chores. Pulling lambs is happily quite a different experience than helping piglets; where you have tricky angles, narrow passages between hipbones, and two separate five foot long uterine horns to contend with.

Seeing as it is now March, a month when high temperatures should be in the low 40s, with lows in the high 20s, we should be out of the woods with birthing – both for lambs and piglets, the first batch of which arrived like clockwork on March 1st. However, this winter is apparently not yet ready to abandon its hold on the Clawhammer hill and vale. Tomorrow is set to be -20 overnight…we are not out of the woods yet, much as we long to be.

January 23, 2014

The Death of the Summer King

It is quite time to declare that this year, Winter is formidable.  The unheard of periods of subzero freezing and regular blusters of snow and ice were only harbingers of the true sign: the death of the Summer King.

For two years, we have had two roosters: Bernard, Third of his Name, The King of Summer, and Fozzy, First of his Name, The King of Winter. Bernard, like his father and grandfather before him, had a beautiful golden mane. He was tall, and had emerald tail feathers that trailed behind him like a kingly cape. Fozzy is white and emerald, smaller than Bernard, with shorter tail feathers. He is given to fits of asthma and allergies – a few times a year his crows devolve into hoarse little whispers.  He also murmurs to himself often: “wokka wokka,” he’ll grumble, as he runs away from the tractor. The hens always seemed to prefer Bernard.

And yet, when the Speckled Hen hatched this year’s brood in early autumn, the chicks were equally split, it seemed, between those of golden head and those of white head. But -- as the days shortened and winter approached, all the goldens disappeared. Fozzy was ascendant.

One suspects that, with the power of the impending deep freeze coursing through his veins, Fozzy was clouded by ambition and power. Having secured succession of the Winter Line, he began to make his move.

One morning, Bernard was sick. There were no signs of physical injury, but he was off balance and had developed a hunchback. It seemed likely that he had been poisoned – I mused that one of the black hens, having cast her lot with Fozzy, slipped something into Bernard’s royal breakfast.

Bernard began to eschew the barn. He stood, hunched, outside, increasingly ragged and despondent, like an unraveling King Lear. On very cold nights I would scoop him up and place him on the hay bales. On other nights I let him stand among the starlight.

Then, two days ago, Fozzy decided to end it. I came into the barn to find him on top of Bernard, attempting to blind him. I chased him off and took Bernard up to the greenhouse in the garden, and got him set up with food and water.

But it was too late.  Bernard was already gone.

When I go into the barn now, I look around warily for Fozzy. He casually picks about, but I know he is watching me. I hope that Bernard, like a good wronged Shakespearean king, will return to haunt the barn.

December 4, 2013

November is a Completely Legitimate Excuse

You may notice that I did not write a single blog post in November. There is a very good reason for this.

The reason is that November is a horrible month to be a farmer. Although one of Clawhammer's favorite poets named April the cruelest month, and while April is indeed not a pleasant time on the farm or several other places besides, we here submit that November is actually the cruelest month.

First, we have been going full tilt since May. Mind, body, and spirit are tired. Second, the weather. It gets cold. The animals are not used to it, and are grumpy. Farmers are not used to it, and cannot find their winter work gloves, and are grumpy. This is the time of the year when any animal who was not in peak condition starts looking sick. For us that's generally 3-5% -- not much, but having seven bedraggled pigs among the herd is demoralizing. Despite the cold, it still gets warm enough every couple days to keep the ground coated in a thick, slick layer of mud. The freezing and thawing means that the water lines start to go down. Hoses split and connections break. Leaks spring up everywhere.

On top of this, all of which was to be expected and suffered through proudly, things inexplicably began breaking. The front axle of the farm truck. The tailgate of the farm truck. The tractor forks split and needed welded. The barn well stopped working and had to be dug up and almost entirely replaced (in the interim, we had to stretch a series of increasingly failing hoses from the basement of the house, across the road, and into the barn, three times a day). The tractor hydraulics broke. Some wiring in the barn started sparking. The internet connection went down for four days. The main breaker of the house began tripping every time we turned on the dishwasher. We got the tractor stuck in the mud four times, and the truck stuck twice. We are not yet sure which god we angered.

Thankfully, by the time we limped into December, we had somehow managed to pull things together. The grower herd was moved inside the day before a long, cold, series of ice storms. The breeder herd and the sheep were moved into their winter housing the day before 4 inches of snow fell. The tractor was unstuck and moved onto pavement. The well was capped and no underground lines froze. Thank [whichever] god [we had previously angered].

We’re not quite ready for the Great Hunkering Down of 2013. Temp fencing must be collected and stored, pens in the pasture disassembled and stacked, more hay brought in. But we’re at least out of the madness of Disaster Control. Now, when I wake up to a newly white valley or whipping wind, I can sigh and roll over, confident that the animals are happy doing likewise, and we can all wait a little longer to see if the sun will come out.

October 31, 2013

Hamspot's Piglets and Poorly-metered Haiku

One pig piles the hay

breathes deeply

new mouths search for food

I’ve talked a bit before about the upcoming onslaught of piglets, brought on by a blip in our summer breeding schedule, which has mashed five months of piglet births into 1.5 months of piglet insanity.

As of October 18th, that time is upon us.

There are two types of Very Pregnant Sows. Those who look only moderately pregnant, until suddenly they fill up like a dairy cow, their belly drops to their knees, and they begin maniacally piling whatever they can get their mouth on into a nest.

Missy stalks back and forth

building a nest outside

farmers panic

Little Missy, the matriarch of the Harbinger Spots, was one such. She was not looking close, until I almost drove off the road staring at her nesting in the pasture one day. We moved her inside, and bam. Piglets by morning.

Hamspot was of the other variety – those that linger, riding full and low and grouchy, for weeks. I had her on Watch for almost two weeks before I noticed her piling hay taller than usual. Four hours later she had seven piglets on the ground and was still going strong.

There was, of course, a rumple, as there sometimes is in this sort of process. When I first peeked in I noticed with annoyance that she had positioned her hindparts right against a wall. It’s hard enough for those tinies who have never used, nor really thought of, legs, to walk at first; it’s harder still if they are born pushed between a giant and a wall.

I climbed in and tried to assess how jammed against the wall she was. As I was poking and prodding, trying to get her to move, she shifted a little and I could see that she was swollen – very, very swollen – in a place where one would likely prefer not like to be swollen when in the middle of delivering piglets.

New life comes out of darkness

hits a wall

can't I go back in?

This made me nervous, as she was clearly still in the middle of delivery, and I wasn’t sure if the swelling would make it hard for piglets to get out. Some cautious feeling about did in fact reveal a piglet stuck just inside. I pulled it and got it settled away from the wall near her teats, where the other seven were already feeding.

With that blockage gone, she was able to move the rest along, and ended up delivering THIRTEEN piglets, a huge huge number for a first time sow. She did end up losing one (not coincidentally, the one I had to pull) in the first days, but her remaining twelve are thriving and now over a week old. First time sows have a hard time producing enough milk for many more than eight piglets, but, so far, Hamspot is a real milk champion. She gets to eat as much grain as she wants for the duration, and we’re on the lookout for signs that the littles aren’t getting enough food.

That’s twenty piglets in the duplex section of the barn. Now we are waiting on Delilah, and Spotbelly, and Chillybear; the next in line.

October 16, 2013

A Eulogy for 1612

The brilliant oranges and blues that have ruled the farm for the past two weeks have now faded into solemn grays and ochres, more appropriate as a herald of the dying back that fast approaches.

The dash and fever of the summer have faded, too, giving way to a more contemplative state. There is something in the autumn air that stirs the mind; the days when clouds brood low over the hill, the crunch of leaves beneath boots, mornings and afternoons wearing wool sweaters – all this calls us to turn inward as the trees do, when they let go of the leaves that reach for the sun and content themselves with a focus on their roots, their center.


Autumn is the passage from vibrancy to dormancy, a seasonal walk from life to death. To watch nature undertake this solemn march is to learn the natural way of dying. Brilliance fades into sedate beauty, quickly tumbling clouds slow, warm soil cools.

1612 was an old ewe, our oldest, and her hold on life had been loosening since the beginning of the summer. All season she was at the back of the herd, observing from afar the rush toward the grain bucket, declining to follow the herd in their leaps over the stream. She slowed. As the nights cooled, she slowed more.

She stopped seeking the company of the herd, preferring time to herself under the apple trees in the grove, or sunning among the thistles.  One imagines that she was seeking her center, more easily found alone in the forest than among the helter skelter crowd of young lambs, new mothers, and courting rams.

This past weekend, she curled inward. We found her under the protective trunk of a long-dead tree on a painfully clear morning. Leaves sighed underfoot as we moved her out of the pasture.

She was buried, as all non-food farm animals are, in the richness of the compost pile. Her body, so heavy when lifeless, will lighten. But she will not float away into the air. Instead, she will seep into the ground, foster delicate roots, and become the grass itself.  Death leads forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it. Nothing collapses.    -ww

September 18, 2013

Where are the Piglets?


Unlike the appearing fall lambs, which must drop with fleece-dampened thuds from some celestial apple tree, or else sprout from the soil overnight like gauzy chantrelles (I have not caught a ewe giving birth yet, so the origins of lambs are still mysterious to me), we have been having some problems with our late summer pigletting.

I had devised a schedule that grouped the breeding females into teams of three or four. Ideally, each group would have sows and gilts (a female pig who has never given birth) of varying ages. Younger and older pigs do not produce as much milk as those in their prime birthing years, so it is nice to have strong producers lactating at the same time as those who might need some help if they manage to birth a large litter.

Little Red, for example, is one of our best sows. She has consistently high numbers of piglets born (9, 14, 14, 13, 12). However, she has a hard time producing enough milk for all of them. If we can manage to time her farrowing with a middle-age sow, then they can share nursing duties: her piglets have a better chance of survival, and she stays in better condition. This last farrowing, she had 12 piglets and was really struggling with them (her hair was starting to fall out in clumps and she looked so torn up about it), until Striper's litter was old enough to share moms and we put them in together. Within days Red and her hungry piglets looked much healthier. Her hair grew back in beautifully.

So, I had it all planned out. Varying ages, spaced equally throughout the year for a year-round supply of slaughter-weight pigs. Such a good, good plan.

I began to notice it going awry in mid-July, when only one of the pigs (of four) that I had scheduled to birth in early August looked pregnant. The other three were still sveltely oblivious to their scheduled duty.

Patches was the only pregnant one. And her litter was lost entirely in a very sad and messy late term miscarriage on August 7th (11 piglets -- ! .... the last few needing to be manually pieces. It ruined morale for a few days). We almost lost Patches to the infection, too...antibiotics are a complete miracle when used appropriately. So: no August piglets. By then I was just happy that Patches survived.

No piglets in August isn't really the end of the world. We were on top of the schedule, so we knew what we should be getting, and we bought in 15 piglets from another small farmer to make up for it. We do it fairly consistently (because, as you may have noticed if you read the blog regularly, things rarely, if actually ever, proceed according to plan).

The real issue is the upcoming Giant Piglet Clump 2013. All the sows who were supposed to give birth in August are now looking pregnant. So are the sows that I had scheduled for October. And then there's an extra batch that I snuck in for an early December piglet to try to expand our herd size.

The short of it is that we have been set up to have every one of our breeders -- 15 -- give birth in the next three months. That means, potentially, that we will have 150 piglets running around! We are set up to handle, at max and with some crowding, 6 litters and 60 piglets at a time.

But -- too many is better than too few, and it is nice to see that the new boar, Harvey, has finally figured it out (I walked in on him when we first put him with the breeders trying to mount a sow backwards, which explains why it took him a few months to get some of the less communicative ladies pregnant). Life will find a way, as they say, and we'll be able to find enough nooks and crannies to stash some mamas in the barn....we'll just have a much busier fall birthing season than we had planned!

September 4, 2013

Lightning Lamb

Our first fall lamb was born this past weekend, which means that we had an incredible storm that same night. For nearly seven hours overnight, a giant thunderhead was trapped in the air currents above our valley. It seemed to be very angry about it. The wind roared. The rain hammered. Hitherto unknown leaks showed up: the bathroom ceiling, the bedroom window. Our power went out, and then back on. Through it all I lay faux-calmly in bed, attempting to count seconds between lightning and thunder. I never reached the "wa" of "one" before the astringent thunder CRACK interrupted me. It sounded like the sky was being ripped open. That's what I imagined was happening. It was an easy imagining.

Let us not forget about the tender new soul in the midst of this premordial display. I fretted on and off about the 12-hour-old lamb, somewhere in the Great Wild Pasture with, let's face it, not the most intelligent of guardians to keep him safe. What is a 7 pound foundling against the incoherent wrath of unleashed electricity?

In the midst of the thunder's oppressive monologue, it was sometimes hard to hear the incessant downpour. But at first light, after the wrath finally moved on and the sun rose, one look at the valley -- swollen creeks, large puddles meeting up with each other to make ponds, actual rapids under the fox hunting tree -- told us how much it had rained: much. And of course my occasional worry about the lamb escalated to visions of the tiny being, complacently drifting downstream toward, most likely, certain and dramatic death via a massive waterfall into the center of the earth.

Somewhat more pragmatically, I was focused on the flood-related tasks at hand. There are exactly three places where the streams cross under our electric fencing, and every time the streams flood the low wires need raised. Otherwise, they end up underwater and the fence shorts out. So, I headed down before breakfast (but of course, after a hurriedly chugged cup of coffee...I am no superhero) to wade about and raise the wires.

"Wading" very soon became a loose term as I found myself up to my elbows in strong currents and fast-moving debris, sloshing full rubber boots along when I climbed out of the deluge to inspect the back fence line. Not only the low wires were underwater; there was one 50 foot section where the entirety of the fence was under, and several posts seemed to have floated away. I tutted, but resolved that I needed to wait a few hours to solve that problem; the water was just too strong, but luckily for me, the pigs were holed up naively on high ground.

On my way back along the fence line, I disconcertingly found a place where each of the three wires of temporary fence was broken. It was a strange break -- it wasn't pulled to one side or the other like an animal had strained against it and broken through -- it was simply frayed to the point of breaking. I puzzled it over as my breadfast toasted.

That afternoon, on hour five of what I thought would be a 30 minute project, I discovered that the metal clamps we use to connect the temporary fencing to the perimeter fence had fused to the fencing.

On hour six, when my fence tester suddenly started reading -0-, I discovered that the fuse in the fence charger had earlier melted, and just finally exploded out of the side of the charger.

At that point, it seemed likely that the fence had been struck by lightning. It is a fairly common occurrence, apparently (as is livestock being struck by lightening, which I remember from my days reading the marvelous James Herriot as a kid; a rare and telling window into what seemed to many as a random life decision on my part), and the only explanation for the laundry list of oddities that was keeping me busy over a few days. By the time the water was back to its normal levels, we had replaced all the necessary fuses, clamps, charger components, and blasted fence strands.

I must have walked 15 miles back and forth along the fence -- up to the barn to get unexpected tools, back along a different line of fence, time to sally forth and eat something, etc. Every time I passed through the sheep I kept my eyes out for the new lamb. He was always doing exactly what he was supposed to do: He laid quietly in the tall grass while mama grazed. He made loud, pathetic baaas when he didn't know where she was, as happened when he accidentally grabbed another ewe's skirt, so to say, and followed her across the field before realizing that she was not Abernathy, Ewe 1616. Likewise, Ms. Abernathy, Ewe 1616, did exactly what she was supposed to do: She baaa-ed back loudly when he was lost, slowly but demurely escalating her panic until she found him. She nudged him toward her udder when he was standing aimlessly near her like the Jewish/Italian/Any grandmother we all had who love enforcing seconds. She kept slightly apart from the herd and in the heart of their grazing land while she browsed for grass.

That's generally how the sheep go with us: they are hands off, until they are hands on. Hands on happens in a scheduled fashion twice a year, when we move them in or out of winter housing, trim hooves, and give them their vaccinations or boosters. Hands on also happens at random intervals with individuals as we notice, for example, a ewe with diarrhea, at which point we force feed the offending sheep pepto bismol, straight from the bottle, until it clears up. The pink stains on my pants even got an eyebrow raise at the feed store.

Of course, they also reproduce; that's the whole goal. Right now we've got at least nine ewes smuggling lamb-sized basketballs on their sides. We do a head count every time we go into the pasture to make sure no one has disappeared into the bushes to deal with a hard labor; otherwise, they are on their own. Hopefully they will keep the hands off birthing trend going. Also, hopefully they will decide to discontinue the lightning storm celebration of a successful lambing. I have too much on my plate to deal with nine more storms this month, and not enough dry boots.

August 22, 2013

On Unpredictability and Rope Swings

Farming is a particularly strange endeavor, for literally hundreds of reasons. To give just one example: on any given morning in the last month, I was equally likely to be eating a breakfast of fresh, free range eggs and antibiotic-free, pastured, heritage breed, hand mixed, small batch pork sausage on top of a bed of lightly wilted, organic, open pollinated, heirloom russian kale while being mildly annoyed by Maureen Dowd's latest op-ed, and laying in a mud puddle with my arm up a sow, fishing for a stuck piglet.

In other words, farming is chronically unpredictable.

Despite spreadsheets and charts of projected piglet groupings, sometimes apparently none of the sows get pregnant until the same time two month period, which results in the possibility of ALL FIFTEEN of them giving birth in October and November of this year. I wish I was joking; we need to build more stalls.

Similarly, despite sticking to a rigid routine of training every batch of weaner pigs to the electric fence, sometimes one red grower decides that he would rather hang out with the sheep, and abandons the glorious Pig Paradise to spend time napping with the ewes near the weaner pig pen. Oh but don't worry -- when he gets hungry he just sprints back through the electric fence into the pig area to nosh. And then, full and sassy, blitzes out again when he deigns to have some ovine company.

And, despite our best efforts to streamline chores and farm maintenance so we can spend at least one day a week (just one day! just one! out of an amazing seven opportunities!!) with the whole team working on the dozen or so major house/barn renovation projects, sometimes on a Work Day Tuesday you notice a 50 pound pig in the 10 acre grower pasture/swamp with a prolapse (you probably shouldn't google image search that without adequate warning. So just know that it's something that needs dealt with ASAP), and everyone is required to march down the hill to catch and wrestle said pig out of the swamp, into the pickup, up to the barn, find the rings/zipties/pliers (I told you not to search it....) for the task at hand, and then get the lady all cozy in a private bunk at the expense of two hours of renovating.

And then you end up working on the house until 8:00, because the farm kept interfering and the to-do list was not getting shorter in a sufficiently satisfying fashion.

And then you do that for several nights in a row.

This inevitably leads to "the wall," wherein the desire to blow off steam moves from being a mere niggling at the back of your head to a desire that cannot be ignored.

At those times, sometimes the best thing to do is pack a bag of beer and find a rope swing.

And thus, among warmish and fizzy cans of beer, astoundingly red apples foraged from a wild apple tree, and the slight terror of a precipitous drop into cold water of unknown depths, the rote building and demo tasks, with the attendant tiring farm interruptions, seem like less of a pointless, exhausting bother and more a necessary part of the way life itself actually is: a particularly strange endeavor -- but a moving forward, all the same.

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