My daughters will be forced to take shop class.

Stress (Noun): The mental state caused by having too many bunnies in too small a space.

They’re fine in the hutch with Mom while they’re still tiny and cute like these little two week olds.  But the litters of baby bunnies hit 4 weeks, and then 5, and my guilt meter at having them all crammed inside there was exploding off the top of the Richter scale.  They needed a new enclosure.  There were too many babies this time to all fit inside the one pen we used with the last litter.  With Alice gone it was up to me to build a duplicate pen so that each set of babies could have its own 6 by 6 foot space to run around in and eat grass.  I moved Snuggles and her nine(!!) offspring out to the one run, and set about building a second for Margot and her six.

In this first picture, you see the state of affairs as I gathered my supplies and examined my model to copy.   I used the table saw in the barn to cut the boards to (approximate) length.

This is how far I got during my first attempt at building:

You’ll notice that not much has changed in comparison with the first picture.  This took me some serious time, and my results were minimal: I got about three 2×4’s shakily screwed together before the drill ran out of batteries and I ran out of long-enough, unstripped screws.  I learned a couple things, though, through trial and error.

A few days later, stress level mounting, I resolved to devote another evening toward bunny construction.  We had gotten firewood delivered to the yurt that day, so after my 9-hour workday I went home to help Jen (my new roomie) move a cord and a half of split logs.   Somehow, after all that, through sheer force of will I decided to continue on in my Carhartts and do the building that I’d planned on instead of changing into jammies and going immediately to sleep.  I brought two drills plus extra batteries, a full set of the kind of bits that drill holes, a magentized-extendo-Phillips-head screwdriver drill bit thingy, a couple clamps, more screws, and the staple gun from the barn out to the yurt.  I resolved to get the bunny house done tonight.  I had my headlamp at the ready.

It was so much easier with my little bit of extra preparedness.  I kept two different bits in the two drills so that I could alternately make holes and sink screws without switching the bits all the damn time.  I used the clamps to hold things up since I do only have two hands, and propping things on my head wasn’t working.  The pieces felt like they were fitting together more solidly and using the drill felt a bit more natural.  It still took time though…. and with it being September 21st and all, it got dark out by the time I even reached this point:

And then I went to put the chicken wire around the outside and discovered that the staple gun was out of staples. But oh well.  I cut the wire to size and made all the other finishing touches.  Sinking screws through the sheet metal roof and attaching the hinged top door were both extremely gratifying tasks.  It felt like building with Legos or K’Nex like we did when we were kids, the way the pieces and attachments just fit together effortlessly.  I was having fun and thinking about future construction projects!

I went to bed.  Then I woke up to this:

Looking out at that breathtaking sunrise gave me a feeling of happiness in my heart.  Similar to the feeling I get when I look out at this:

The completed rabbit enclosure, with Margie and her babies (they’re teenagers at this point, really…) enjoying a newfound ability to stretch and scamper around and eat grass and veggies.

I wouldn’t want to build bridges over the Grand Canyon or anything whose structural integrity was important to the well-being of myself or others.  But if I need to build an animal enclosure or a greenhouse or a wash table on my future farm, I feel like I am on the way to being able to do so competently.   I am learning on the fly.  But I still wish I had seen the value in that woodshop class back in middle school.

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Where did the time go? A little September update.

Ummm, so yeah!  How has it been over a month since I last wrote?  I fell off the blog train pretty hard there during August and September.  Not too surprising, I suppose, as they are the busiest months on the farm with too much to do overriding blog writing.  But also disappointing, since these are the busiest months on the farm with every day jam-packed with interesting things to write about.

August was a blur of new vegetables coming into harvest.  Lemon and pickling cucumbers, heirloom and cherry tomatoes, dragon’s tongue beans, zucchini, zucchini, zucchini, and finally potatoes, apples, and onions got added to the list of things that were filling out our CSA boxes and market stall every week.  The work days got longer and the days off got filled with more and more summertime activities.  Swimming in the river was the perfect end to a hot August day’s work.

And then — without warning it seemed — it was time.  Time for Alice to leave for Michigan.  Mid-August saw a flurry of going-away events for Miss VanderHaak.  She had spent two years on the farm and had made friends with pretty much everyone around.  We had a big old goodbye party a.k.a. HOOTENANNY for her at the yurt.  The preceding day we had harvested our batch of rabbits so we cooked some really special braised rabbit for our guests to share that night.

The same week that Alice left the farm, I was also gone on vacation — home in Michigan for my sister’s wedding.  When I got back to the farm, it was amazing how clearly a transition had happened.  It was still hot out, but I could feel that we were over the hump of summer.  I arrived home to an empty yurt, the river level low and sluggish, the greenhouse empty of new plant starts, and the beginning of the Fall Feeling in the air.

I love autumn; it’s my birthday season, and the crisp chill always stirs a good feeling of excitement in my bones.  But it’s also a sad time of year in farming when the realization hits that the days are getting shorter, no more new successions of lettuce are going in, and the bountiful summer crops that it seems like we just started harvesting are already starting on their decline.  You begin to be able to feel winter coming down the pike.  And although that slow season is a relief from the summer’s hard physical labor, it’s still not really something to look forward to.

It’s a time of reflection, for sure.  A time to think about how my life has changed and what I’ve learned this year.  I have had some growing pains these last few weeks since Alice’s departure, having to take care of the yurt systems by myself.  A strange convergence happened the other day where both propane tanks ran empty and the solar-charged batteries straight-up DIED, leaving me without lights or running water, and no little Alice to solve the problems for me 🙂  I grumbled about it a bit, but really, it’s pretty great that now I know I can fix these things.  I’ve learned how to drive the tractor, fill the tanks, recharge the batteries, manage the composting toilet, and keep the fire going.  All these pieces that seemed foreign and daunting at first are now a manageable, if slightly time-consuming, part of daily life.

Same with the rabbits.  The bunnies were Alice and my project together — actually it was really her doing in the beginning: she drove the procurement of two bred does and a hutch for them to live in.  When the first kits were born, she was the one to reach in the nests and make sure they were all alive; she was the one that built the larger pen where the babies would grow up.  Our harvest (a prettier word for slaughter) of these buns was a powerful, memorable experience for the two of us.  I had decided to raise a second round of babies by myself after Alice moved, so new litters were born to the mamas just days before we harvested the three-month-olds.  Now I’m a single bunny parent, doing the feeding and cleaning and building by myself that Alice and I had previously shared.  It’s the same for me as with driving the tractor — back in April I had no idea how to do these things and, thinking back on it now, I remember that I seriously felt scared by the prospect of taking them on.  I guess I’ll just have to accept as fact that I get nervous about trying new things and continue trying new things anyway, even without Alice around to give me that extra shove 🙂

My parents were just here for a week-long visit, and having them and my aunts and uncle out to the farm & yurt was GREAT and a good reminder for me that this lifestyle I’m getting used to is not forever.  It was fun to show everyone around and share a bit of the farm life with them.  But having them here and watching their impressed reactions to me driving the tractor and taking care of the bunnies reminded me that my sense of normalcy has shifted.  Soon, so very soon as time seems to be flying these days, I won’t be falling asleep to the sound of bullfrogs in an off-the-grid yurt looking out over a squash field and the Cascade mountains.  I won’t be able to just pop a squat and pee in the wide-open privacy of my front yard.  On the other hand, I won’t have to keep a fire going all night or haul water out to my abode on a tractor once a month, either.  Pros and cons.

It’s been a great several weeks since I last wrote, and I have been taking pictures which I will post to flickr as soon as I find time in life to do so.  I love my life here farming — it hits me forcibly quite frequently how rich the life is and how lucky I am to have discovered it.  I may not always show it, or find time to write about it, but almost every day I have these moments of joy and gratitude where I feel I am in the right place doing the right things and that I couldn’t be any happier with life than I am at this moment.

The end!  Hopefully I will write again sooner than a month and a half from now 🙂

~ B