I have a tattoo on the inside of my wrist. It's Sanskrit, and it reads "satchitananda," which translates to "truth, consciousness, bliss." It was this text that led the philosopher Joseph Campbell to coin the phrase, "Follow your bliss." And it was this philosophy that led me here, to this farm. To the sunsets. The snuggling, baying goats. The boisterous pigs, and clucking chickens. The fresh eggs, cheese-making. Raising food to feed our community. All while looking beautiful and holding hands with my husband as we coo at each other and watch our son's eyes grow wide with wonder and discovery. It's what friends and visitors tell me all time: I'm living the dream.
But really it's this:
It's burning an iron around the budding horns of a week old baby goat while it screams for mercy. And as the smell of burning flesh and hair fills my nostrils, I hope I'm pushing the iron firm enough, for long enough, that horns don't grow anyway, making the pain that I've imposed on this fragile being all for naught. BUT... not too long that I cause brain swelling. Yep. Because that's a very real possibility. Oh, the bliss.
It's sitting in traffic on the freeway as a neighbor calls to tell me that my LGD (livestock guardian dog, emphasis on the "guardian") is "playing" with the goats a little too roughly (read: "terrorizing"). Let me tell you how dreamy that is.
It's milking goats in 100 degree temperatures, on the morning of my birthday, when I'm slightly hung over from too much wine. (When my speech slurs, "blitzed" kinda sounds like "bliss," right?).
It's shit. So. Much. Shit. That has to be mucked, and hauled, and moved. Has to be dealt with. It just keeps on coming. Hm... the picture of bliss.
It's $1600 in feed and hay every 2 months. That arrives on a pallet and has to be unloaded. Literally, one-point-two-five tons. One 50-lb. bag at a time. Oh, the bliss. Dreams really do come true.
It's scheduling life around the sunrise and sunset because this is what dictates when AM and PM milking and chores must be done. That blissful sunset that I thought I'd enjoy whilst sitting on my patio with a glass of chardonnay? It escapes me as I wield flakes of hay and top off water buckets and tuck in pigs for the evening. (Also, it's hay in my bra. Just, all the time).
It's the coyote that shredded the hocks of my favorite goat, my first goat, when my glasses were still rose-tinted and I was still green and unprepared, taking her to the brink of death and charging me (who also recruited my husband) with the responsibility of bringing her back. It's white knuckles and clammy hands. Sleep deprivation, sore muscles, and shot nerves that make the most mundane tasks seem impossible.
The countless hours on Google, forums, and chat rooms, trying to diagnose a chicken. Only to realize that every chicken ailment has basically the same symptoms. And despite every intervention (cha-ching!), they make it or they don't. And often they don't.
The hour-long commute to work each way.
Drawing the grim line between animals that are pets, and therefore family, and those that are stock. Livestock. And need to prove a return on their investment.
A water line breaking, 15 minutes before you need to leave for the airport to catch a flight, thanks to a goat who decided to use it as a scratching post,
It's never seeing a water bill less than $200.
It's inspectors who take an average of 1 month to reply to an email.
Now, don't read me wrong. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I realize that I CHOSE this, and there are people out there far worse off, with far less control over their circumstances.
That being said, it's the realization that this choice is not, and never will be, my husband's dream or passion in the same way that it is mine. I'ts learning to wrap my heart around the understanding that he does it, though, because he loves me. That he's stepped so far outside of his comfort zone, he can't even see the way back. And that this is far more romantic than the image of our lives that I'd created in my head.
It's also not to be taken for granted.
It's the battle to get my 5-year-old to leave his Legos and join me on the farm. The farm that I built, in part, because I wanted to create a life for him where he could roam a little more freely, learn to care tenderly for living, vulnerable creatures, and appreciate the value of hard work. At least that's what I told myself.
The truth is, I built this farm selfishly.
For me. Because it feeds my soul. And with that I shoulder the responsibility of dragging my family along for the ride.
Yes, the honeymoon period has ended on the farm. There are some days when I wonder why we do this. This is not a blissful dream. In many moments, it's the opposite of bliss. Lately, as the temperatures climb above 110 degrees, it feels like hell. But as a friend reminded me recently, there aren't goats in hell. And in that, with a wink and a smirk, I seek solace.
This past Spring, as I finished up the semester in my "real world" job and rounded out a very big off-farm project, I yearned for the Summer to begin, imagining all the "free" time I'd have to focus on the farm, work on various DIY house renovations, and enjoy some real "down time;" the bliss (and #firstworldproblems) that was surely awaiting me, just around the corner of time and to-do lists.
Instead, my head continues to spin as I balance the needs of my own child, family, and household, as well as that of the animals, the customers, the land. The accounting, the marketing, the inventory.
As that spinning leads to dizziness, and tunnel vision, and darkness... the light focuses on what's important. The Farm Kid (my son) has been spending every day with me on the farm this summer. He's taken on some very real responsibilities. He's spending less time whining or running around wielding a pretend sword, and more time finding pleasure (yes, I said pleasure) in bottling the milk and helping me with some basic tasks, like dismantling and washing the smaller pieces of equipment. My son has impressed me with how quickly he learned these new duties. Even more so, I give pause to the genuine pleasure he expresses when working alongside me, early in the morning, when it's hotter than it should be for that time of day: "This is pretty fun, Mommy." He's negotiated a wage (I offered a quarter, which I explained equals 25 cents, and he countered with, "I want 100!" I explained that is $1, or four quarters. We agreed on 50 cents a day, but that if he continued to do a good job, he might earn a raise. He's saving for Lego sets, and it's quite motivating). I love that he is 5, yet already beginning to understand the value of a hard-earned dollar. It's in these moments that I want to dwell. Where time becomes irrelevant. When the rush of life takes a back seat.
These are the moments that best approximate bliss, and this is where I learn. Truth: life is hard. Consciousness: we know that it is hard. Bliss: we learn to cultivate those parts of it that bring us the most joy. Bliss is not a state of being or existence. It's a constant struggle toward a goal. "Bliss" is quite elusive, not just in farming, but in life. We choose it anyway.
I've chosen this path in earnest.
Tonight, I drove through canyons to deliver eggs and milk, the essentials of a household kitchen, to families in my community. Families who have chosen to commit to another season of local, healthy, humanely-raised basic ingredients. And I realized a few things:
I'm doing it. I'm a farmer.
There are many kinds of dreams. Some (few?) are blissful. This one... It's exhilarating.
And with that thought, I pressed my foot into deeper into the accelerator.
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
* * *
Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. The word "Sat" means being. "Chit" means consciousness. "Ananda" means bliss or rapture. I thought, "I don't know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don't know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being." I think it worked.
-- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, pp. 113, 120