I don't know why, but I find I'm happiest when I'm standing out in some drafty, cold, manure-scented barn with a bunch of people garbed in dirty barn boots and red-and-white checked woolen jackets, listening to a vet tell us the best way to untangle triplet lambs before they're born or how to cut the tails off lambs or what to do when a ewe decides she wants to raise one of her adorable twins but not the other one.
It might seem odd that I enjoy this, given the number of years I spent getting a high-powered education in science. But there's something about farming that strikes me as real and connected with peoples thoughout the world and throughout the ages as well.
I like the idea that I know how to raise an animal, how to butcher it for meat, and how to use its wool to produce clothing. I know how to set taps in trees and gather the sap that drips out in the spring and boil it down into maple syrup. I once learned how to milk a cow, and I know how to make butter and cheese from the milk. I hope I never have to rely on these skills to survive. I'm not that good at it. But I like knowing how the whole process works.
I can look at a picture of a herdsman in Mongolia leading a flock of sheep and feel a kinship. I can read an account of ancient times and understand something of those people whose lives revolved around caring for animals and spinning their fibers into yarn.
I like the realistic, accepting way most farmers look at life. They know they're never going to get rich. When the weather cooperates and you get a good crop, the prices fall. When the weather is bad and prices go up, you don't have much to sell. A 10-minute hailstorm can wipe out an apple crop you've worked all year to produce. A contagious disease can devastate your flock. You can toil 16 hours a day, 7 days a week and end up with almost as much as you'd get by flipping burgers. They're not in this for the money. They're in it because they love their land and they love their animals and they love this way of life.
Farmers also love their independence. As one man said, dairy farming is a hard life but, "I'd get up every morning and do the milking, come in for breakfast and think, 'What shall I do today?' I'd hate to have anyone else telling me what I should be doing all day."
I'm not a "real" farmer because I don't earn the bulk of my income from farming. That would be nigh unto impossible on the steep, rocky, side-hill place that I own. But one year, when editing work was sparse, it was the income from the farm that paid the taxes and the utility bills and even kept me fed.
I love my ramshackle farm. And yes, cranberries really do grow on my hillside in the boggy area around my spring. I wish everyone could live like this, but I know not everyone would take to it as I have. Sometimes when I see a line of brand-new SUVs from the city passing my house on their way to the nearby recreation areas, loaded down with brand-new expensive skis, or snowmobiles, or canoes, all things I can't afford, I wonder if they feel sorry for the woman they see using an ancient pitchfork to shovel manure out of a dilapidated old barn on a steep hillside as they roar by on their way to high-tech games. Oddly, I feel sorry for them.