They’re Here!

by Laura Parker Roerdenblackandwhitekarina.jpb

(Sept. 26, 2015) Last night we drove west into a setting sun through rolling pasture-land to pick up our lambs in Scotland. Connecticut, that is. Just take a left at the Cliffs of Dover, I expected the GPS to instruct. The beautiful sheep farms and UK-influenced place names everywhere helped to create a sense of removal from time and place that felt appropriate to the occasion. It was not unlike a journey into a fairyland.

I remember when a lovely British woman I knew whose husband of fifty years died, she made the decision to sell their family home on Cape Cod and buy a thatched roof home named “Lavender Cottage on Pudding Hill Lane” in England. She chose to make the journey back to her native England via ship, explaining at the time, “Such a big life change shouldn’t be made over a five hour flight.”

I was thinking of her and the merits of the slow road, as we ambled our way along back roads to our destination. When my GPS told me to take a left on Pudding Hill Rd as the final turn to the farm, I was not entirely surprised. These sorts of things happen when you take the business of dream-making seriously.

The sheep farmer Keri was late for our meeting because she had to pick up her son. She offered us chocolate. I knew she and I would be fast friends as she introduced us to our sheep, explaining how Juliette had been bottle fed even though she didn’t need to be. “She has quite the personality, that one.”

“You’ll want to shear them right away,” Keri told us as she ran her hands through five inches of wool and outlined the merits of each animals fleece with technical language. This woman was a pro: a spinner, rare breeder, vet tech, bad ass animal loving, totally together woman farmer. I noticed syringes in the drawer of her desk as she fumbled for a pen.

“Oh, gosh,” I said. “I was hoping we could wait to shear until spring.” (Since we don’t know how to do that yet. Will they need sweaters then for winter? And isn’t that ironic? What have we done? Why don’t you just keep them and we can visit them. Or can you come live with us? all running through my head simultaneously.)

As she haltered the two lambs to help bring them into our truck, she leaned down and kissed each of them, taking her time to say goodbye. “You were my favorite Juliette,” she whispered to her, as she nuzzled her and kissed her face several times.

“You can call me with questions or anything you need,” she offered. She was catching on that we were going to need a lot of support. She handed me the registration papers, explaining exactly what to do to file them properly. Then off I drove, commandeering a pickup with two lambs, two children, a teenager and myself.

The quilt we had wrapped around the animal carriers came off during the first leg of our journey. We didn’t realize the animals were exposed until we were already at a drive-through. It was nearly 8:00 pm and we hadn’t eaten, so we had stopped. The two lambs were bleating in the background as we gave our order over the intercom. The teenager who gave us our food made a double take when he noticed our precious live cargo.

“I bet you’ve seen stranger things,” I said.

“Oh, yeah. That’s nothing!” he said. “I live on a farm.”

Say no more, I thought. “Yes, you have,” I answered.

Settling the lambs into our barn in the dark did not dampen our spirits as six of us surrounded their pen and coo’d in that sweet voice reserved for small children and baby animals.

This morning, I got to the barn just in time to hear bleating coming from the barn and answers of moo-ing from the other side of the wall. The cows and lambs were having a conversation! I can only imagine its content.

LAMBS (1)
Meet Juniper (left) and Juliette.

They had a lot to say to 9-year old Ben and me as well, though they were a little camera shy when we tried to capture it.

“Good Morning,” from Juniper and Juliette.

We love you already.

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For the Love of Work

by Laura Parker Roerden

Work is love made visible. – Kahil Gibran

 

My father chose to be a farmer. By doing so, he was following in his own father’s footsteps and making good use of 62-acres of established farmland. But it was what some might call a cynical decision.

You see, my dad had been offered a spot on a minor league baseball team coming right out of high school. Farm boys were better conditioned than a lot of other athletes in those days before advances in weight training and sports nutrition. My father could send a baseball from center field to home plate like a bullet fired from a gun, his muscles trigger ready from coming of age chucking hay bales and carrying grain and water for hours on end.  He talked to the scouts about his real odds of making it to the majors. He considered the farm that awaited him. He chose the farm.

We hear a lot nowadays about how we should pursue our dreams; do work we love. I suspect that my father would have said (even then) he loved to farm. But I doubt he loved farming more than playing baseball or that his dream of making it to the big leagues was easily dismissed when he was given the opportunity to take the next step towards realizing it. And yet, he chose to farm and said he never looked back.

So what does it really mean to follow your passion or to do the work you love? Does it mean your work is an endless party? Or simply that you find it meaningful at the end of the day? Do you know you’ve found work you love because you can do it for hours on end? Or is it when you feel that passion is your internal driver, rather than money? Or does a childhood dream become your guide for a passionate life?

I suspect my father would have said loving your work is about none of the above.

A few years ago, I hosted a neighborhood reunion at the farmhouse. All five children from the Goff clan, our neighbors up the street while we were all growing up, were home for Thanksgiving from far flung places like Minnesota and Pennsylvania. We drank too much wine in front of a fire, grabbed flashlights and climbed through the cobwebs in the barn, all the while doubled over in laughter as we shared stories about our adventures on the farm.

Marty, the oldest Goff, shared a memory he had of my dad that I had never before known about. My father had only recently died, so hearing Marty’s story was like finding a lost chapter of a well-loved book that had previously pained me every time I had reread the last printed word.

Marty was only 11 when he joined the other neighborhood boys his age in working at our dairy. As the story goes, he arrived that first day and my dad asked him to shovel manure. Hours later, sweating and slightly sick from the smell, my dad checked on him and asked how he liked the job he had been given.

“I didn’t like it, Mr. Parker.” Marty confessed. “It smelled real bad, and I was up to my knees in poop.” But it was quitting time and Marty went home for supper, where his grandmother hosed him down and washed his clothes.

Marty came back the same time the next day, where he again was given the job of shoveling manure.  Three hours later, my father again asked, “So, how did you like the job I gave you today?”

And Marty answered, “I didn’t really like it. It’s too smelly, Mr. Parker. And I don’t like standing in poop.”

On the third day, before he started work, my Dad said, “Well, Marty, do you still want to work here?”

And Marty said, “Yes.”

Still concerned, my dad asked, “But what about the smell?”

Now understanding what my father was trying to teach him, Marty answered. “What smell?”

My father gave him a new job.

I laugh upon hearing this story until tears gently roll down my face. This gift from Marty has such deep resonance to it; I can not tell if it is joy or sorrow I am feeling. But like most days I spent with my father when he was still alive, on the back of a tractor or helping muck myself, there is always the sense that the small pieces flutter into wholeness and meaning when we bring ourselves fully to a task.

Marty is now a labor leader for hotel unions in Minneapolis and tells this story of the farmer who lived up the street when he speaks at conferences. I, too, often think of my father’s quiet wisdom, usually when I myself am standing in manure. Life may not (yet) allow us to do what we love. But there is always the option to do the work we now do with great love—even the unsavory parts.

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Stranger Things

November 22, 2013

By Laura Parker Roerdenheadshot

I look up and silhouetted in the dusky light is someone wearing a stripped rugby style scarf and a hooded black robe. He is carrying a white bird.

I am making supper in the farmhouse, the sounds of sizzling competing with thwaps of driving rain hitting the hard mud outside.

stormy-535491_1280

I look up and silhouetted in the dusky light is someone coming up the road wearing a stripped rugby style scarf and a hooded black robe. He is carrying a white bird and is about to enter our barn.

It looks like Harry Potter has brought Hedwig to visit.

snowy-owl-449986_1280I blink. And go outside.

“Excuse me,” (magical fictional character). What are you doing?”

The figure is now past my sight line, but he calls back:

“Returning your chicken.”

Oh, dear. I don’t think I’ve ever put on my barn boots faster.

“I found him in my backyard,” he explains, lowering the now rain-soaked black hood on his long robe and presenting me with the wet chicken. I recognize him—he is an eleven-year old boy who lives over a mile away across a very busy highway.

I know this particular boy because I had been friends with his mother, who had recently died from leukemia. Just last Wednesday a babysitter had brought him and his younger brother and sister to the farm to visit the animals. It had been the first time I had seen the children since their mother had passed away. I had hugged each of the three children and let them collect the eggs. The youngest boy, who is autistic and only 7, had pointed at me and said, “Mom.” I tried to hide that I had started to cry.

Now the eleven year old boy has walked the entire way from his house alone in the dark and the rain to return a chicken.

“That’s impossible,” I say to him. “Chickens don’t roam over a mile in the rain,” I explain. “It must be someone else’s chicken that lives closer to you.”

But sure enough, it is Mucky, the only white silkie chicken we own. Mucky was so named because of her penchant for falling into mud; and this chicken has the same distinctive brown ringlets around her legs.

“This is the chicken I was holding when I visited last week,” the boy explained. “So I recognized her.”

Yes, he had held that chicken for nearly the entire visit.

Chickens don’t wander, except to cross the road (famously) to go from our barn’s pasture to our lawn. To my knowledge, we’ve never had one of our chickens leave the farm; no-less travel a full mile down our road and then cross a dangerous busy main road to travel several houses down another street, choosing the exact backyard of a boy who had held him a few days before.

I offer to drive the boy back home, but we are both quiet the entire ride. I can’t resist wondering what this watery journey means and who here has rescued whom. If it had indeed been Harry Potter, what would the message from Hedwig have been?

The boy makes me promise I won’t tell his dad he had come to the farm alone. I make him promise not to do it again.

Back home now, I go to the barn to close up the chickens and check on the poor silkie, which I notice is now shivering.

“This won’t do,” I say to the chicken as I tenderly take her off the perch and fold her into my jacket to bring her back to the farmhouse, where the kids can towel dry her and warm her up.

“Mom, can we use your blow dryer?” my 9-year old son asks.

“Yup,” I answer. “Stranger things have happened.”

mucky

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