The last six weeks on the farm have been primarily consumed with cleaning up someone else’s mess. I’m pretty well-versed in that department, but this mess wasn’t created by a blood relation so it packs more of a sting. There was some of this to be expected: we bought a farm that, as it turns out, hadn’t been lived on for the last 15-20 years. The mailbox was full of wasps, the phone box full of water, the chimney full of bats. The aging owners only came out occasionally. They had owned it since the mid-eighties, and from what I have gathered, they inherited a bit of a mess from the owners before them. And so our current tally is 20-yard dumpsters: 1, 30-yard dumpsters: 3, metal recycling loads: 4. We’ve also sold two vehicles and a RV that were left behind. Currently, the 3-car carport is empty, pressure-washed, and awaiting fresh rock that arrives in the morning. The 3-car shop has been emptied of a barricade of disgusting things as tall as E. It’s also been pressure-washed, painted, electrified, and E replaced the shop’s south wall (it had been literally torn off by blackberries). We found a few windows in the barn and E framed them into that south wall to let in a little light and to be able to enjoy the view.
It’s impossible to even explain the kind of madness we’re dealing with here. It has not been uncommon to find a paper bag full of the following combination: one used wooden toilet paper holder, three empty candy wrappers (I swear they were empty when I found it!), a used toothbrush, a container of 10 brand new stainless screws with receipt from 1973, a map, and a hook. WTF? I mean, I am not organized by any stretch of the imagination but how the hell does one decide those things ought hang out in a paper sack together for 20 years? I am now laughing at myself because E once gave me a hard time about discovering the “Chaos Boxes” I create when I clear off the kitchen counter before company arrives. But in my defense, at least I put it in a box and I do deal with it eventually.
We’ve discovered that most of the monstrous blackberry islands around the house were probably founded upon the inability to mow over a trash pile and so the berries got the green light to try and take over the universe in that area. I decided to tackle one glaringly huge pile last week, and as I filled the truck for the third time with trash to transport to the dumpster I started to cuss humanity. I was cussing the companies that made the junk, and the person that bought the junk, and the wasteful mentality of our culture as a whole that convinced that person they needed the junk, and the audacious disregard for the natural world that causes people to think that piling all that junk in a field is a good solution. And while enjoying my strong cocktail of piss and vinegar, I thought that E and I should have gone and bought a piece of wilderness instead and started from scratch. We should have chosen a piece of bare land where no one had the chance to screw it up yet and we should have just lived in a tent, ate blackberries and poo’d in the bushes. And once I thought that, it became apparent to me that by the very act of touching the earth we are screwing it up to some degree, no matter how lightly we try to tread. I would have stolen those blackberries from a mama bear, and I would have accidently chopped some worms in half digging my poo hole.
So I decided that maybe it’s a meaningful act to deliberately choose to fix a piece that’s already been screwed up and abused and then neglected. Maybe the world needs more people fixing the broken rather than exploiting the pure spaces that remain. And so I bucked up, decided we still made a good decision to love this land, filled two more truck loads, and went in for a serious shower.
So I guess I’m saying all this because I think our culture has a romanticized view of what farming is – of what rural life is, and I’m no exception. We’re not sitting under the grape arbor looking out over our fields of perfectly-weeded veggie fields whilst the boys play merrily in a tree house. We’re hot and sweaty and physically uncomfortable in one way or another for a good part of the day but it feels good to feel – to feel the muscles I pushed too far, to feel skin that’s been in the sun a touch too long, to feel the refreshing cool of even a bit of shade. Even my first wasp sting was an excitement I hadn’t felt in a while. There have definitely been some disheartening moments, moments when I’m ready to stop cleaning up someone else’s mess and start my own creative endeavors but I have to remind myself that this is a necessary step to that end. To get paint to stick, you have to remove the rust and the dirt and the grime and uncover the solid metal underneath it. And who knows, maybe it’ll even be an alloy with some Tungsten in it.