I know I’m lucky. Not everyone with a yearning to grow vegetables and raise animals gets to do it. I have access to land, a lot of infrastructure like irrigation and garden beds and a small barn already in place. Not to mention a house to live in! I am so fortunate that my circumstances match my passion.
It doesn’t mean I don’t also have to work. I work a lot. I have to work a job at an office away from the homestead in order to keep the lights on. And on the weekends I work on the property, rehabbing barns and coops, prepping the garden, shoveling horse manure. The Fella and I haven’t had a vacation away from the place of more than two days in years.
You can be lucky and hard-working at the same time. You can be fortunate and also dedicated. You can have privilege and still have to get up in the morning and get it done.
This post was supposed to be about six chickens. And I guess it still is.
On Sunday the Fella drove about an hour up the mountain to meet someone from the local agriculture email group who was giving away chickens. Our layer flock was decimated by predators and was eventually whittled down to one solitary hen. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of starting over with chicks at the same time as I start a meat-bird flock, because the meat chicks grow about three times as fast as layer chicks, and I didn’t want to have to deal with separate brooders and timelines and the long wait for eggs. So when a gal from the ag group said she wanted to divest herself of six perfectly good three-year-old layer hens, I was on it like pitch on pine.
Now the hens are back in the coop. They’re healthy and friendly, and there hasn’t been a single wayward peck or squabble between the new ladies and our old hen. Chicken people will understand what a miracle that is. We already got an egg, even! Did we just win the lottery or what?
And yet, this weekend was also a lot of hard work. The barn rehabbing, manure shoveling, and so on. We did it even though the Fella’s back was hurting and I had a cold. We did it even though it was the weekend and we’d worked our jobs all week and would be back at them again on Monday. Luck and sacrifice, privilege and responsibility.
I wouldn’t be able to live the life I get to live if my great-grandparents – people I never met – hadn’t had the means to buy a chunk of land they themselves never lived on full-time. It was a second home for them. Now, by ‘home,’ I mean a literal shack, where the water had to be carried in buckets from a hand-pump well down a steep gully, the meals cooked on a wood-fired stove, personal business done in an outhouse, and no electricity for any of it. They worked hard to be here. My great-grandmother hand-built a huge rock wall, still standing today, with rocks big enough give a lumberjack a back-ache. That was hard, hard work. But it was still a second home. A luxury.
My grandfather became a professional musician. He went through World War II in the U.S. Orchestra. He supported a family of seven from his salary at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Just try and tell me that becoming a violinist with enough chops to play with the LA Phil didn’t involve hard work. He kept the property as a vacation place for the family, and my dad and his siblings and cousins spent summers here hunting and hiking and also carrying buckets of water up the steep hill. The cabin was still just a shack. The outhouse just as stinky.
My dad was able to go to the University of California. He also got drafted during Vietnam. He built houses for a living before going to graduate school. It was he, along with my mother and their college friends, who finally moved to the property full time. They built their own houses, using recycled materials and whatever else they could afford. They still carried buckets of water. But they had this land. They worked hard, and they were lucky.
Now there’s me. Sitting on top of so much hard work, and so much luck. My family has been affluent enough to pass land down through generations. Not everyone gets to have that. I happened to be born white, to college graduates, who inherited a piece of land down a dirt road in California. I won the lottery the day I came into this world. I am not self-made. Yes, I work hard, even when I’m tired. I shovel manure on my weekends and feel like the luckiest woman alive.