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Branching out: Oh, my god, the shoveling?

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

It’s been 15 years since I’ve lived in a natural setting, and wow. Overnight. Lifestyle. Change.  

At a slower rate, I’ve been shuttling for three weeks, moving to our new digs. Every time I pass Sunfire, the mouth of the canyon whispers, This is serious stuff. The winds whip; snow gusts. Too sharp a curve: cliff on one side, river down below…

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When I dress, it’s not for meetings or the coffee shop-office anymore. It’s for hauling and shoveling and building. 

No leggings or edgy shoes. It’s Carhartts, Gore Tex, Sorels. Hats and gloves are racked by the front door, where four or five pairs cycle from soggy to dry and warm again. 

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Oriented to different chores, the sight of them triggers. Life on farms, ranches, acreages. Stewarding the land; outside all day. A world away from distractions and conveniences, the latest this or that. 

Life gets distilled. 

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I need another coop, so I’ve been collecting materials online. I failed to beat the snow though, so luckily, I inherited an Erin’s Acres coop (thank you, sister). Well-built, but small, it might work for the winter — tighter, warmer quarters. I needed a partner in crime to haul it, though. With guy friends in their ‘60s, though, I was stumped for two weeks. Thank you, Mike, ye of youth, strength, tools and kindness. 

Squat, lift, walk, repeat; we gurnied its density all the way around the greenhouse to his truck parked out front. I really had to focus (or kill myself). Spine straight, tail tucked and knees out, I marveled at my obvious aging. It’s truly happening to me, I observed, no matter how strong or resilient I may have been. Penny was calling, but we did it.

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In boots up to my knees, I had to shovel out a chicken yard three days running to just reassemble the coop. I was half in, half out, backside grinding against frozen chicken poop and straw, legs gripping the backside of the nest boxes for leverage. 

Cold, gloved fingers fumbled drill bits and screws in my headlamp beam. The longed-for snow came so fast, it buried my tools as I used them. 

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Of course I loved it. Weather fills ordinary chores with Life. I’d sleep well because of this. 

Mornings, I luxuriate in the silence; blessed freaking silence. It apparently infuses the early hours with things like serenity. I stretch into all four corners under linen covers, listening to the house, to the outside, to my body. Will it be windy, an easy day, a harder day? I raise the shades, eager to know: what’s the weather going to do? How much snow? What’s the sky like? (What time is it?)

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We’ve had to shovel out for days in a row, the snow banks scaling all features. For every six or ten inches we got, town got one or two.

Heading into town, a coyote hunted Bailey’s pasture, its coat thick and fluffy; a reassurance the wildlife are okay. I pulled over and lowered my window, wanting nothing between us. And then, pulling up to the bridge, I was startled by the sight of hundreds of geese in the sun-dazzled snow field. The neck of each goose arched forward in the same head-down position, creamy necks glowing gold in the morning light. A hunter friend explained they were preserving energy, eating while keeping their feet warm. The pattern of repetition on such a grand scale was stunning. 

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Catching up with a friend — you can fall off the planet, moving — we walked up White Hill, both struck by the turkeys in the pastor’s back yard. 

A rafter (flock) of them ranges the Nieslanik compound, but neither of us had ever seen them in the pasture, so it was a treat. As are wild turkeys grazing with Fale’s cattle, especially with deer, too, or horses: diversity is collective harmony. 

It took months to accept leaving our walk/bike lifestyle. But I remember now what kept me outdoors all those years ago. Extensive time outside reminds me what it means to feel alive. Not just “be” alive, but to feel the fullness of Life.

The housing crisis is very real. I’m in a pinch-me state at the quality of life we’ve achieved when, for months, we had no promise of a landing place. I accepted the risk for a better life, because when we don’t take risks, when we don’t make mistakes, we don’t keep learning. We don’t have hope for a different reality, and we don’t grow.

Growth is where it’s at. Obstacles help us shed old skin and renew. Wherever you live, whatever you do, happy new year.

Tags: #Branching Out #Geneviéve Villamizar
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