Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Countdown to... something

12: piglets born today
10.5: volts running through electric fence
8: bee stings sustained after stepping in a ground nest
6: bruises on right leg
3: eggs gathered this morning
2: roosters who have chased me recently

How strange to be so far from home and yet feel, once again, that life is somehow as it should be. I've been wading back into the rhythm of waking at dawn and working for 10 or so hours until dusk begins to detract from your productivity and time is better spent at the house, enjoying a meal and a hot shower and the prospect of a down quilt. There is something so incredibly satisfying about the time and effort and sweat and blood spent and spilled outside, working with animals. Pigs. Such frustrating creatures with their stubborn destructiveness, those long eyelashes, their sweet and alarming grunts and huffs and snorts...

It was one thing to go to Italy to chase pigs around a farm. People understand Italy, with its wine and arts and food and vistas. Pigs, livestock, farming... all of it was an afterthought to them as it was to me two years ago when I applied for the internship at Spannocchia. I wanted to work with animals because I like animals, but even that was a flippant generality as I had no idea about these animals, what it takes to care for them and how that job might take over one's life. I used to wake up in the middle of the night from dreams of broken electric fences, that telltale snapping that meant hours of time fixing once again what those damned pigs had broken and then putting those pigs back where they were supposed to be all along.

But what I discovered when I left was that I really missed it. The only time in four months abroad that I felt homesick happened 2 days after I left the farm. I woke up in Cinque Terre to the sound of hens clucking across the narrow street from my bedroom window, and I was overcome with a sense of loss. How odd.

Fast forward to now. I'm in West Virginia on a pig farm. People don't really "get it" and I understand why. It's pigs and West Virginia and, basically, "most people go to college so that they don't have to do manual labor."

I don't want to grow up an become a pig farmer necessarily, but that doesn't detract the value of this work or the learning experience for me. As it turns out, this farming stuff is really complicated. There's a lot that goes into it. A small part of the job is feeding and watering the animals and making sure that they have shelter. The other 90% of your job, from day to day or week to week, is problem solving. Every day, new problems that require fast but effective thinking, creative fixes, making do and making things better. Weird or not, this is an invigorating and rewarding way to spend a day, a week, a month...

I came here back at square one, where I was when I showed up for the first day's work at Spannocchia. Tender hands that couldn't even be protected by gloves, because the gloves gave blisters. A sunburn from skin used to a steady florescent glow. And not even a fighting chance of hoisting a 100 lb. bag of grain from one place to another. I had to re-learn the feeling of wire in my hands, the way it bends and twists from a Slinky coil into sturdy structures that even a pig can't destroy. And there's a lot, A LOT, that I don't know. But I'm back and it feels good. Except for the stings, and even those are feeling better already.

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