Sunday, November 4, 2012

Birthday Boots

Mr.  Bee surprised me with a nice pair of rubber boots for my birthday. They are blue with a slight red trim,  and a gray lining that keeps my toes from getting too chilled while completing morning and evening outside chores. Oh, did I mention they are waterproof too? An important feature for any work boot in the rainy pacific northwest.

Something strange happens each time I put them on though.

Within moments of stepping outside, my head is lifted high and my steps are determined. I feel my body call my muscles into action and coordinate each task with a foreign deliberateness. I muck out the duck house, milk the goat, collect the eggs, and stack the wood...and notice something different.

I lack the self-consciousness I've grown accustomed to. In my new boots, I stomp out the idea that I'm a homesteading imposter, and trudge past the belief that I'll never be good enough at life on our mini farm. I wiggle my toes and trust the experience I've gained, and the generations of strong women who have filled this role before me. I firmly plant my small feet in the tall grasses, the sticky mud, the fresh straw, the mound of gravel or the backdoor of our house for it makes no difference where I stand. I even wore them to the grocery store in a country dress and felt more like an accomplished lady than I've ever been in heels, nylons, and enough hairspray to support the beauty industry for a year. 

Call it a placebo-effect if you are scientifically minded, or the Emporer's New Clothes if you draw your knowledge from folktales. Tell me that you gave your six-year-old daughter a cape and told her she could now ride her bike without training wheels or that your son swore his blankie gave him the power to go to bed each night without bad dreams until he was nine. Whatever you say, I won't be persuaded out of my practice. All I know is that it works.

New Kids on the Block

"So, I heard you got goats yesterday."

The voice on the other end of the receiver wasn't asking a question so much as stating a fact she already knew.

"Yeah, yeah we did. It's pretty exciting," I eeked out the words, a little bit taken aback by the rate at which news travel in this news community. We might have spotty reception, but word still gets around I guess. Gossip chains aren't a favorite societal function of mine--however it's a price you pay when your community is small. Mrs. D was one of J&E's friends. She and her partner live a few minutes away. They have a dog that likes to chase sticks and are expecting a little one in a few months. She and J see each other almost daily. I shouldn't be surprised that J&E already told her.

"That's so great! Was it Lula Mae that I heard?"

I paused. Maybe the community gossip chain wasn't that strong after all. I cringed. "Does that mean you...could hear her from your house?"

She laughed, a kind and gentle laugh mixed with no hint of annoyance.

"She was, er, a little upset by her relocation. I think it's settling down now?" This last statement was less of an educated guess and more of a desperate hope. Lula Mae had been making awful, heart-wrenching noises--multi-tonal, throaty bleats that felt more like screams than anything else. Mid-bleat she'd drop her bottom jaw and stick out her tongue to further prove her point.

"Lula Mae's a..sensitive goat," she said, choosing her words carefully. "I'm sure she'll settle down soon. It just takes her some getting used to."  You see, Mrs. D used to help milk Lula Mae in exchange for the milk, and was ifact the neighbor that helped us make the move to becoming her new owner.  She'd probably know. "Anyhow, do you think I could come by some time and visit them?"

"Of course! How does Tuesday sound?"

"Great! See you then!"

I hung up the phone and beamed with pride in our new goats mixed with a feeling that I could finally contribute to the community I've gained so much from.  Integrating into a community is tricky business for the inexperienced. When the natural community of childhood fades away with life changes like relocation and radical personal transformation, it becomes much more difficult to find a friend group, a neighborhood of connections, a "tribe," or any other name you call a community. Social institutions like school and faith groups are great facilitators, but where does that leave those of us without such ties? Homesteading can be an isolating lifestyle by default, so it takes intentionality to avoid that fate.

As we find ourselves with an abundance of eggs and goat milk, we want to share our good fortunes with others. It's simply a fine line between feeling like you are "paying  your way' into a community and finding a way to give back after you've benefited. Community may contain elements of bartering, however, it's hard to remember that transferring goods isn't the only transaction that counts. As individuals in Western Society, it can be challenging not to judge your sense of community worthiness and belonging by what you bring to the table instead of who you are. Well, it is for me at least.

As for Chloe, she is still small and cute and surprisingly calm for such a transition. The day we got her, I gathered a bribe of over-ripe blackberries in my palm, hoping she'd forgive us for uprooting her from her known world and transplanting her into this foreign patch of land overrun with brambles if I made an early offering of peace. She pressed her muzzle into my hand and snatched up the gushy fruit. Ah if you can feed a being, it will know it's loved. Red staining juice lingered where the berries had been, and Chloe cleaned it up with her velvet tongue. Yes, you're home now. Welcome to our family. Welcome to our community.