I think of it as my other life. Because although it was really only twenty years ago, it seems like a lifetime ago. And I’m a different person than I was then.
That other life comes back to me at certain times. One of those times is when I’m mucking out the pole barn. Because 20 years ago, although I was married to someone else and didn’t have animals, I was mucking out another barn.
My husband at the time and I had just bought an old farmhouse with five outbuildings. One was a sheep barn. We were making that barn into a place to live while we worked on the house. One of the first things that had to be done was to dig out the two feet of old sheep manure that covered the dirt floor of the barn.
That was my job, and sometimes, now, when I’m raking up the sheep and donkey manure from our pole barn, then scooping it up in the big plastic shovel and dumping it in the manure pile, I think of when I was digging out that other sheep barn.
It was hard, dirty, boring, and joyless work. It seemed an endless, thankless task and although necessary, I couldn’t see beyond each shovelful of manure.
I feel none of that as I scrape the manure off the hard-packed dirt floor of the pole barn on Bedlam Farm.
I love keeping it clean for the sheep and donkeys so if they are laying in their own or each other’s feces it’s only for a little while. I get great pleasure and satisfaction in caring for the farm and the animals. I even like managing the manure pile. Finding people to give the manure to every spring so it doesn’t build up.
I guess that’s why those memories of the other sheep barn come back to me.
I wonder how long it took for so much manure to fill up that sheep barn and what it was like for the sheep who lived there. At the time, I never imagined having sheep of my own. Although there were whispers of sheep in my life when I took the time to visit the small neighboring farms and eventually got to know Jon and his Tunis sheep who were just up the road.
Sometimes I think of that other sheep barn as foreshadowing for my life to come. Other times I think of it as a metaphor for my own neglected life.
In the same way I couldn’t see past the endless manure in the sheep barn to the house it would become, I couldn’t imagine the life I really wanted. It took time, much longer than it took me to dig out the sheep barn, but eventually, I did come to see it wasn’t the life I was living.
When I got a glimpse of the possibility of living a life where my art was a priority, where love was generous and kind, and where there were sheep in a clean barn, I finally knew what I wanted.
And I worked to get it.
I never dread mucking out the pole barn or think of it as hard or dirty work. Its purpose is clear and gratifying to me. It’s a part of my work, part of my life. If anything, I see it as getting to clean up a little mess every day. A mess I know will help grow some beautiful flowers or fresh vegetables in the year to come.