Hardest to leave were the chickens and the goats, especially the tiny Nigerian Dwarfs (see size comparison with hens, below). Full grown, they were small enough to almost fit on my lap, where they would often try to recline. Their milk, containing 18% butterfat, tasted like melted vanilla ice cream. I loved making cheese—mozzarella during the first month after “freshening” (giving birth, in goat parlance), then an aged farmhouse cheese that I made in the press built by my conjugal carpenter. The quickest and easiest was a fresh cheese flavored with garlic, rosemary, or dill, which meant that I was never without a hostess gift in those days. Bisou grew up on the leftover whey.
Above: the hens with Alsiki, an angel in goat form. Note her excellent “dairyness”—long, feminine neck, straight back, deep barrel, and an udder to die for.
Above: Blossom and her twin doelings. To get milk, I had to breed my goats every fall, which meant that in the spring they had babies, usually twins, for whom I had to find good homes—or let my herd grow to unmanageable proportions. Parting with the little ones was the hardest aspect of the goat business.
I miss my garden, too, the nine compost-filled beds built by the conjugal carpenter, and the largest rhubarb plants in the continental U.S. I miss the four apple trees, two Liberties and two Freedoms, who (yes, they were persons to me) never needed spraying, and who rewarded my pruning and thinning with crisp, sweet fruit weighing close to a pound each. The cores went to the hens.
I even miss the summer-long frenzy of harvesting, freezing, drying, and tomato-sauce and kale-pesto making, even if it felt overwhelming most of the time. I almost forgot to say that I miss the eating. But yes, I miss that too.
Even though the little patio pond was the required 3 1/2 foot depth for gold fish to survive the Vermont winter, they never did. But the frogs and salamanders loved it.
See those lawn chairs? I never sat on them. Too busy milking and picking and blanching and….
Here are a couple of our many resident frogs. Bisou spent her youth bopping them with her nose to make them splash into the water, often falling in herself in the process.
And I miss the land, the front field and the side field, the woods behind the house that sloped down to the swamp, and the resident deer herd. In the ten years we lived there, I only once saw a mature buck. Natural selection favors males with a tendency to hide.
It was so quiet on that hill that the dogs would bark when a plane flew overhead. I used to take them out to the field in the evening, and stand there saying to myself, “I can’t believe I live here! I cannot believe I live here!”
It never occurred to me that this couldn’t last forever, that I would realize one day that the engine that kept the cycle going—manure to garden, veggies to table, leftovers to chickens, manure to garden again—namely myself, wouldn’t be able to keep up with it all, even with the conjugal carpenter’s help.
And so we left. But the rhythms of the homestead are still with me, so that as the days cool in the fall I think, the goats should be coming into heat now. On a snowy evening I think, this would be a good time to take “hot mash” to the hens for their dinner. And when the days begin to lengthen I remember how I used to run to the shed and check under my goats’ tails every few hours, looking for impending signs of labor, while up on the roof ridge the bluebird called for his mate.