Morning wakes me with the sound of a dogs feet tapping on the wooden floor, and sunlight spreading across sheets, dust moats floating down and into my eyes.
In the kitchen I am greeted by line of red hooded, beady eyed faces, peering in through the glass in shock and surprise I haven’t fed them yet. These ever hungry, insatiable Chickens, remind me so much of the Penguin in Wallace and Grommets, The Wrong Trousers. I begin to understand that life on a farm revolves around eating and feeding.
So, I feed the chickens and ducks first, twelve sets of feet flap and clack on the ground as they race each other in break beak urgency. The chickens are the most comically serious creatures I have ever seen. Like tiny Jurassic Park, Velociraptor dinosaurs, with scaled feet they pace the farm hunting worms, sharp beaks leading and pulling their bodies on the demands of their stomachs.
Each time I open a door and step outside they charge after me in a flutter of wings and clucks.
When I feed the rabbit and guinea pigs, they swam around the hutch, peck at my bum and legs as I throw in the salad – I have the distinct feeling that if I fell over and lay still for a mere moment, they’d eat me in a frenzy of pecking! Every door becomes a barricade, every day is a siege.
I feed Sasha (dog) and Bell (cat) and myself (human) last. And with that pecking order established – by way of the most urgent and cute eyes, I begin the day.
And so the second of my requests to the Universe is for-filled. Space, somewhere to write, by a tree where I can go insane to the tap-tap-tapping of the keyboard… My request could not have been created more perfectly. I have been taken in by a wonderful family of three boys, aged 6, 9 and 11 and their fantastic Mother, who is also is a Writer, Bell the Cat, Shasha the Labrador, (you’ve already met) Alice the sheep, Tricks and Patsy the ducks, a rabbit, two Guinea pigs and of course, the ten hungry hens. After a week to settle in, of treasure hunts, Pirate games and sliding down hills on make shift, handmade skateboards, I have the place to myself.
Whilst they are away on holiday, I am renovating a cabin on the farm for me to live and write in. Knocking down walls with a spade and painting walls white. And in that whiteness, rolled on with each brush of my hand, I am rolled further inside memory-land and my own imagination scape. The walls become a canvass, blank, inviting with possible patterns to create there.
Some days I cut the grass, riding on a green sit-on mower, wonky lines and daisy free patches marking my passage. And one day, I see Alice coming to see me, white woolly body clambering down the hills, that are so green as to seem like a Telly-tubby dream set.
(Have you ever felt like you’re own version of the Truman Show?)
I have a flash back to being a little boy, playing on my green carpeted bedroom floor with a farmyard set, white sheep and green tractor in hands. A feeling not unlike de ja vu spins me around, upside down and inside out… for a moment, it is as though I am in the imagination of my five year old self.
It’s such a pleasure to experience life so intimately with animals, be close to nature. Each time of day has its own rhythm. In the morning, the cows call from the middle distance, roaming the fields before the heat of the day bakes the grass they chew, driving them to shady spots by the creeks or under willow branches. The birdsong is boisterous and low to the ground as birds catch the mornings insects, darting between the shrubs and long grass. There is an optimistic feeling to the land. Simply breathing feels like your first and last breath at once, feels original, and utterly precious. In the evening, the bird song is equally loud, but comes from higher up, as the birds get ready to roost the night away, they climb up to see the Sun for as long as possible.
Each morning and night, Me and Sasha go for a run and climb around the perimeter of the farmland. Through the gate and long grass, down the slope and past the bee’s boxes. Sasha runs and jumps into the pond, sending ripples and muck racing the ducks the length of water. I stoop under branches, hop over fences, race along a worn track that leads into the hills arms, past the T-tree circle, and up onto a ridge-line decorated with old pines.
I sit there then, catching my breath and taking it all in. Beyond is an expanse of green folding hills, falling away into a valley of dark evergreen forest which climbs away again, merges into white caped, jagged mountains. In another direction, Hobbit-habited like hills, give way to the sky and jade sea. Between, distant herds of brown and caramel colored cows graze. Clouds, smooth bellied, epic and monstrous in size and stillness hang like floating Antarctic mountains. All is so completely still that only the chorus of a thousand tiny birds remind me this is not a painting I am standing in.
With snow topped mountains behind and eyes fastened on the distant ocean, I sense a presence of a life around me, un-recorded, un-prescribed, uncatalogued or caged, yet completely present, knowing and forgiving and at once completely welcoming. And I know I am meant to be here right now. I feel it when I see the dew drops, shimmering silver on wild grass seed, or drip-dropping in their own time from T-tree broom like branches. I feel an expanding, love like feeling with every eye blink, as I think of all the miles I crossed to get here. Window views over white cloud journeys above the earth, long traveling times on Indian railway lines, heart-deep eyes looking out from dark corners, standing in queues for illegal booze on Monsoon evenings. Lightning struck palm trees falling behind our ride that time, missing us but only just. The glitter and gentle wash of surf on a hundred beaches. The laughter caused, the sorrow shared, shoulders leaned on when the world got scary and of all the helpfulness gifted to me, a stranger on the road, So many cherished friends found. The world is full of kindness and I am so very grateful.
Sasha pants at my shoulder, resting slobbery chops on my neck, tail wagging butterflies and dandelion orbs into flight. I take my notepad to record the moment, and the Sun, for a fraction of time, slips behind a cloud and the world turns pink – as though Nature is blushing at my appreciation and attention.
And as my Soul gives expression to the sensation, I sense the borrowed smile of another moving in my face. And sometimes, I sing or talk out loud, just to hear a voice, give sound to what I feel you say inside.
I get up and we run further along the path, sheep rush away and down the slope. Two new pairs of little white bums run with their Mother and Father, who bleat us away from the newborn lambs. Past the hollow that dips and rises, made soft with pine leaves, where wool clings to sticks in the shade, and the dirt marks the shape where the sheep sleep at night. Is this where the mother breathed through her pain, birthed new life into this magical place?
Further on, Alice comes to say hello, brushing her head against my hip as I rub the spot above her eyes and ears, Sasha licks her nose and bum with gusto – later he will like my face with the same woolly tongue. Hand reared she misses the company of people, bleats whenever I leave, in farewell or pleading I haven’t yet decided, depends mostly on how I am feeling.
Heading back down the hill, I have a view of a sinister sight. The chickens are on the move. Lining the road like a “Saving Private Ryan” Patrol, spaced out in checkerboard formation, they appear to be searching the farm, for food, or for me?
My favorite part of the day is late afternoon. When the duality of life plays out in nature, light and dark merge, day holds hands with the shadows. The Sun, while lower is still high, bright and shy enough to need a hand to look through at, and its warmth is mellow, comfortable with none of its burning. Half the trees leafs slide into shade, a ripple of color, camouflage like, glisten green with ponds of silver cupped depths. The extremities become hazy, golden-lined halos of vibrating, beat-breathing, sparkling edges. Busy picking at grubs and daisies, the Hens bottom’s pointing high, become translucent, aureate cloaks of feathered red glory. Each leaf becomes a treasure map, each spider web a silver string on the gardens harp, every individual birdsong blends into a symphony of orchestral grandeur and organic passion.
A breeze awakens, comes sliding slow from the hill, rustles the long grass and purple meadow flowers, stills the shifting bees. Lifts tree branch filtered sunbeams. The air is infused with watery, honey-like light, hazy and scented with the free growing buttercup flowers, no longer termed weeds. Lemons pull down on their branches, heavy, going slow, green to yellow over the herb garden, where a chicken heats an egg newly laid.
By the pond is blossom, pollen and Pampass Grass drifting seed, that hangs and twirls in the space between earth and sky, it becomes a hundred fairies that fly and dance goodbye to the day, welcome the night, like sprites and spirits to the eye. And I stand in it, that breeze with the fairies flying in, hands open, arms wide, a childish grin of delight on my face, I smile your smile, feel you here, if only for a moment.
As evening sets in, with the Sun shut out by the ring of hills that enfold the farm, the sky recedes into ponds of deepening blue, while the clouds, dark with rain, rove swift overhead, like continents on the map.
The rhythm of night begins, I collect the day’s apples and eggs, take them inside. I close the windows, pull the curtains closed, stock the wood pile and light a fire. Lastly, I close the door on the day, shut the world out slowly.
Inside, sitting down to write I find pleasure in the small details of my life at this time. Enjoy tea given long enough to brew. The purr and fuss of Bell in the crook of my arm, the crackle and hiss of the newly lit fire, the sound of Sasha rolling belly upwards using the carpet as a brush. If the mood takes me, ill stick on some music, dance around with my shadow and the jealous reflection in the windows, perform to a crowd of my imagining, and play it loud enough to drown out my practicing piano playing and braying.
Later, when the world is reduced to the flicker of shadows on the walls, twisting in the elemental flow of the log fire and the glow of the laptop screen, I see my reflection in the patio doors looking back at me, see the hollows and bones of my face where my eyes should be.
I let Sasha out to water the plants, climb up and sit on the decking outside, look into a night sky, clear and bright with starlight, and I think about you, I do, knowing it will probably be daytime where you are, and hoping they’ll be sunshine for you there. I go inside, slip into bed, turn out the lights, look out at the moon through the skylight.
And I think about what a friend told me recently, that Farming is the noblest of professions, they feed the world, are the custodians of the land. Having this experience, I see how disenfranchised most of us are from the earth, from what we eat, have responsibility for. Being here, with dirty fingernails and the chicken shit-smells, I see how we are connected to the earth far stronger. See that we are part of the puzzle not a single piece. We have domesticated animals to an extent that they depend on us, our rhythms and patterns, yet we depend on them too, have a responsibility to protect and respect them also. I am very grateful for this experience.
And then Bell will come and settle in next to me, tunneling into the covers, purring softly, chin resting on my ribs. Yet I wake up in the night, hear purring as the cat settles in beside me on the other side again.
In the morning I am greeted awake by two disgruntled green eyes, Bell turns away from me. I realize there is another cat lying there beside me – Sophia, the neighbors cat, as it turns out.
I protest my innocence to Bell, but she has none of it, stretches her long feline legs, licks her own neck, looks sultrily back at me over a grey fur shoulder, hops off the bed and disappears.
I get up, hearing Sasha’s paws on the wooden floors. In the kitchen a troop of red-hooded heads and beady eyes peer in at me through the glass door.
It’s feeding time again.