I spend a lot of time complaining to my husband that he never leaves the farm. When I was dating him I thought it was charming that he talked about how “city traffic is exhausting” when he was driving in Madison, WI.
When I moved to the farm I grew increasingly annoyed that that I had to do all the driving because he always had a good reason that he had to stay home.
“Farmers don’t leave their farms,” is what everyone told me. I chalked that up to ignorance. But then he left me home one night and told me he took care of all the chores except the chickens. “All you have to do is lock them up,” he told me.
I forgot. I’m sure you’re wondering how that could happen. I even set an alarm. But there is a lot to think about. Or something. I don’t know why I forgot. But I got them in the barn. But by that time, it was pretty late and two of the chickens had already found a new place to sleep. And the raccoons found them there and ate them.
I guess that’s why farmers don’t leave non-farmers home to take care of the farm.
So I started going everywhere without my husband.
But just when I got used to the idea that farmers don’t leave the farm, he had an emergency and had to leave in the morning. Totally unplanned.
He said, “I rushed to get chores done. I left the kids’ chores for them to do, so all you guys need to remember is to collect eggs and feed the goats.”
I said, “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.”
Then he said, “Oh. What about the fire?”
I jumped at the opportunity: “I can do it!”
The house is heated with a wood burning furnace. It’s away from the house and it heats water. Here’s an explanation of how it works, but the most important thing to know is that you need an incredible amount of wood to get through the winter, and you have to take care of the fire pretty much every two hours, and the whole operation is pretty stressful.
For my husband. Not for me. I never think about it except when the house is cold, because he gets so upset when I complain about the heat, that I just turn on the oven and open the door when he’s not looking.
It’s almost never cold in the house, though. In fact, we wear summer clothes in the house most of the winter because heat from wood is much warmer than heat from oil. I have no idea why this is, but I hear farm people say that all the time, so I say that, too.
Last winter was really cold. At one point, the wood pile looked like this:
And my husband was freaking out.
“The pile looks great to me,” I told him.
“How long do you think that’ll last?” he asked.
It turns out that was a week’s worth of wood; and in the middle of winter we were down to the last of the wood.
So all four of us went to the forest to collect wood. I felt so hard-core that day. My husband chopped the dead trees and we rode to the forest in an empty trailer and came back with a new wood pile.
The kids loved the job. It was really hard work, and though they slacked off, turning skinny branches into guns, they definitely understood that we all needed to contribute labor to the effort of keeping the house warm.
After that I thought a lot about whether or not I could run the farm on my own. What if my husband dies? What if something happens to him and he can’t work?
So when my husband left this morning, I felt like it was an opportunity to see if I could run everything myself. I want to feel self-sufficient on the farm. I want to know I could manage everything on my own.
I know he adds wood to the fire every two hours. I waited two hours but I guess it was more like three, maybe, because the fire was out. There were little embers on the bottom of the furnace.
I channeled everything I learned at Girl Scout camp and started looking for kindling. But a farm is not a great place for kindling. I mean, it’s not like we have dead tree branches all over the hay fields. And the forest is too far away to walk to in the cold.
I tell myself I am a Pilgrim trying to get through the first winter in Jamestown and I must figure out how to build the fire.
I take two boxes from Amazon out of the garbage. They catch fire on the embers, and the fire is so fast and big that I forget to put a log on the flames and it dies.
I consider cutting canes off my rose bushes to use as kindling but (theoretically) they are still alive. I look around for something else and I remember the kids made a big pile of little sticks to mark the place they buried their cat. I have already used my kid’s own money to pay them from the Tooth Fairy, so this does not seem so bad. Anyway, I take a small enough amount that they won’t notice.
Back at the furnace, there is no flame at all. I go inside and get matches and the kids ask me, “What’s taking so long with the fire?”
I ignore them. As I trek back to the furnace I pick up some dead leaves. I think I remember using those, too, in Girl Scouts.
I put leaves under the sticks and bigger sticks on top of little sticks and it’s a little layered tee pee and I light it.
The match does not catch. I light another. It catches, but in my excitement I spill the matches on the ground. I collect them and toss them all in as luxury kindling.
Things are going well. I spend another half-hour building a great fire. My eyes sting. My clothes smell. And I can’t believe I have to do it every two hours all day long.
I don’t think it matters that I could build a fire because I want to live with someone who will build a fire for me. I don’t mind helping. It’s like building the wood pile: Fun. For one day. Not more.
There would be no point in my husband marrying someone who is excited to be self-sufficient on the farm. Why would she need him? It’s better to be married and work as a team. So neither person is self-sufficient. After all, my husband has no patience for going to music lessons or dinosaur digs.
It’s so hard to see this truth in the city. So often both parents want to be the breadwinners and both parents want to be the hands-on parent. But I’m not so sure that’s what self-sufficiency is. I think self-sufficiency might mean, instead, that you can be a good teammate with someone who does what you don’t do, and you provide support to each other so that being a team makes sense.