Eight below this morning, which is just about cold enough that it’s pretty much impossible to forget you’re alive. Not that I’m prone to forgetting, but still… a little reminder never hurt no one none. It was my morning to milk, so I bundled up real good and bee-lined for the barn while Penny made the rounds. I could imagine her every move; I knew that every footfall of every step she took landed in the prints I’d left the day before, which in turn had overlaid those of the day prior and the day before that and so on, going back for well more than a decade, now. Closing in on two, actually. We live a life built on repetition, to the point that we’ve actually worn paths into this piece of ground, the meandering trails of our daily practice. I can see how some might view such a thing tedious, and I occasionally wonder why it does not feel this way to us.
Last night Fin and I went down to feed out at Melvin and Janet’s, rolling a big round bale down the lane separating the rows of milkers. We’ve gotten in the habit of doing this a few times a week, me and one of the boys or both, depending. Melvin and Janet think we’re doing it to help, but the truth is we’re not that generous. We just like it. There is something about being in a barn full of cows on a winter’s evening, those lumbering long-necked creatures stretching for the night’s ration, throwing off waves of mammalian warmth and the sweet smells of hay and shit. Last night there was the littlest Jersey heifer calf I’ve ever seen, wandering the barn and nosing our legs as we fed out. It’s real hard to forget you’re alive when you’re in a barn full of cows and you’ve got a calf following you around. Real friggin’ hard.
Of late I’ve been feeling a bit less than totally secure about the future of my so-called career. I’ve got work enough for a good while – nearly a year, actually – and I know this to be more security than many self-employed people enjoy. But I sense a precariousness that’s somewhat new to me. Part of it might just be that I’m getting older, and with my aging, the understanding that perhaps I am not impervious to desiring a certain level of material security. Or at least, not as impervious as I’d like to think I am.
I’ve done what I’ve done for nearly 20 years, and it’s always just sort of happened for me. I fear this might sound arrogant, or simply disheartening for those who struggle to make a living with their writing or art or whatever, but the truth is, I’ve never really had to work at it. Or if I have, it’s been work disguised as pleasure, and I’ve never really stopped trusting in the process. For that, I am wickedly grateful. I mean, really: Two decades of bumbling my way through making a living doing something I love to do. Not everyone is nearly so fortunate.
I suspect I’ve got some bumbling left in me. I know I do. It’s not so much that I worry my writing “career” is going to dry up and blow away. It’s more that the closer I come to aligning my work with the core beliefs that define my days on this craggy hillside, the more I feel compelled to not deviate from that alignment. I wrote about it a little here. I think this is what draws me up and out early on an eight-below-zero morning, to milk with bare hands while my wife follows the beaten paths of our life with this land. I think this is why, after I finish our own evening chores, I feel drawn to Melvin’s barn, where my son and I struggle to roll a 1000-pound round bale down a dimly-lit passage, a day-old Jersey heifer following in our wake. It’s probably what I like about writing in this space: There is no distance between what I believe and feel, and what I do. That’s a beautiful thing, right there.
When you get right down to it, I think that’s where the sense of precariousness comes from. It’s not so much that I’m worried about earning my keep in the same manner I’ve earned my keep over the past 20 years. It’s wondering if I can continue closing the gap between what I believe and feel, and how I make my living. I’ve gotten a taste of it with some of my recent work. And the unflattering truth is, I want even more.