Friday, February 6, 2015

This Awful, Beautiful Life

I live in a beautiful place, making a living by doing meaningful work that I truly enjoy with the man I love and we get positive feedback on a regular basis.

Is it any wonder that countless folks have told us that we have the perfect life?

Honestly, I’ve lost track of the people who have said that over the years.  Along with those who have pointed out that our lifestyle must be exciting, fun, or awesome…or some equally positive superlative.  There are those who say we’re living their dream.  Then, there are those who say that anyone can farm…that well, if all else fails…that’s what they’ll do. Most of these folks seem to think farm life is always sunshine and blue skies, healthy animals and abundant crops…without any real effort on our part…things just fall into place in our perfect life.


The other night, sometime after midnight, I was lying face down in the middle of the barn floor, my face inches from the sheep’s behind and even closer to the ground, with blood, birth goo and sheep poo clinging to my clothes (and quite possibly in my hair), the beam from my headlamp dimming with each passing moment, my arm deep inside the ewe, enduring the strong contractions of labor, while trying to envision just what was going on inside her, in a vain attempt to salvage something of a lambing that had gone so very wrong…I distinctly remember saying to the Boss…”don’t you wonder what all those folks would think now?  You think they’d want to do THIS?”

Honestly, I think about “those folks” frequently, but particularly during lambing season.

Lambing season is the single most intense event here on the hill. And, when I say this is my favorite time…or that I love it…most folks smile knowingly, imagining the sight of fluffy little lambs frolicking in the sunshine while they nibble sweetly at the lush green grass. It must be so fun! The reality is that our lambing season occurs when green grass is but a distant memory, it’s cold (and often dark as lambs tend to be born at night or early morning) and that on occasion it can be an all-out battle between life and death and it takes a lot of hard work, tough decisions and adrenaline (and copious amounts of caffeine) to come out victorious. And, while it is rewarding and satisfying to be successful, I don’t think I’d ever use the word FUN.

I thought of “those folks” again when the Boss and I exchanged knowing glances when it became obvious that the lamb was huge and dead and impossible to remove and there was no way the ewe could survive.  After a short discussion, the Boss put her down.

I wondered how many folks would understand (let alone attempt) what I was doing as I went to the house for a knife to perform a post-mortem cesarean. That was my last-ditch effort to salvage any lambs, although I was fairly certain it was a lost cause.  (we have done this in the past with success, I might add) If nothing else, it would give me peace of mind that I had indeed done everything humanly possible. And, know what was in there. (by sense of feel alone, some rather disturbing images came to mind)  There were three enormous lambs inside! I certainly didn’t expect that.  They were all mis-presented (one slightly malformed)…and all dead. At least one had been dead for some time. (that caused the entire environment to go toxic and the ewe  wouldn’t have survived much longer anyway)  What a disappointment after spending a week tirelessly attending the downed ewe! But, we did have a solution and some sort of closure.ī

When morning came, the Boss and I packed the dead ewe and her equally dead (and somewhat frozen) lambs into the tractor bucket so he could dispose of them properly.  As I watched him leave the barn yard, I thought about the harsh realities that we had just faced and wondered how many folks understand or remotely appreciate life on the farm. Or for that matter, even want to. There certainly weren’t any blue skies and sense of a perfect life at that moment, I can assure you.

Sometimes, all the effort in the world won’t get you a fairytale ending.  While it may come as a disillusion to some, farm life is not one of constant Hallmark moments and Hollywood special effects.  If you just look at one particular moment, farm life can appear more than a little awful. Farmers look hard and unfeeling in their actions.   …and this was most definitely one of “those” times.

These situations no longer reduce me to a heap of blubbering self-doubt and angst. I used to find myself questioning nearly everything I thought I knew and reviewing my actions endlessly.  But, I’ve seen enough of these things over the years to have learned to accept that sometimes we just don’t win. We try to learn from the situation and move on.  In this particular case, we had given it our all…physically, mentally and emotionally (no doubt about it---I have the bruises to prove it) and it just wasn’t meant to be. 

(Oddly, at the same time, another ewe gave birth to triplets as well…with absolutely NO human intervention. They are very small, but seem to be thriving. Proof positive that life goes on.)

Some folks would be repulsed by that harsh experience. Perhaps others are disturbed by my recitation of the story. A lot of folks only want to imagine the pristine beauty and happy times that they perceive the bucolic life to be.  But, to truly understand and appreciate what we do, you must see our life in its entirety. If you just focus on the good times…the beautiful scenery…the abundance and bounty…and never fully seeing the darker side of things, you actually miss a great deal.  Life becomes so much richer by seeing the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet, the pleasure and the pain…

I found myself thinking of the Darryl Worley song:

…my life is like a rollercoaster ride…
The ups and downs and crazy turns along the way
It will throw you off if you don’t hold on tight!
You can’t really smile until you’ve shed some tears…
I might die today or I might go on for years.

I love this crazy, tragic
Sometimes almost magic…
Awful, beautiful life.

Quite honestly, the good times, successes and triumphs far outweigh the bad.  So, I can say with utter sincerity…

I love this life!
It is a beautiful life!

...even when it is awful.

Lyrics from Awful, Beautiful Life – Darryl Worley 2004 – Watch here.


  1. I agree completely. You can't enjoy the sweet without the bitter. Contrast is what makes the joys in life so achingly beautiful. I have an acre just outside of a small town, and I have 12 chickens. I also have a bee hive. People look at us and say, how cute! Chickens and bees! They don't EVER want to hear about how I've had to wring necks in the shed right next to the coop because a chicken's reproductive system went haywire and she started laying internally, or because she had something like wry neck but not reversible. They definitely don't want to hear about how sad and awful it is to open a dead beehive after a hard winter, to find moldy frames of comb and thousands of dead bees. But those are the experiences that give depth and richness to the scene when things are good. Good post.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
      I visited your site, it looks like you and your family are going to have quite the homesteading adventures! I think I could live in that chicken coop. It's beautiful.
      You're so right about giving depth and richness...this IS a beautiful life!
      Best to you.

  2. Barbara - this is a beautiful, heart-warming - and at the same time tragic - story, which more or less sums up all farm life. When we got Foot and Mouth here on the farm ten years ago we lost our whole herd of cattle (milk cows) and about a hundred sheep. Some of the cows were almost pets and for days we felt bereft. But in farming you pick yourself up and you get on with things - that;s how it is. This post should get a wider audience than just us other bloggers reading it -

  3. Thank you so much, Pat!
    When I saw the coverage of the Foot and Mouth outbreak on the news years back, I felt like crying for all those farmers affected. What a tragedy! I am so sorry that y'all had to endure that.
    However, endure you did and like you said, you pick yourself up and go on with things. 'cause that's just the way it is. Hard times certainly make you appreciate the good times!
    Hope you have a lovely weekend.