Picture, if you will, a large stand-alone screened-in porch. Inside, the walls are lined up to waist-level with boxes of vegetables, and a couple of tables take up space. In the middle of the room, between the potatoes and the tomatoes and across from the peppers, sits me. In front of me, taking up most of the available floorspace, lies a giant black fleece, very carefully laid out whole, cut side down. Its sunburned brown tips face upwards, completely covered in a layer of hay. I hunch over it, pulling off large handfuls, picking out large detritus, shaking it free of second cuts, making a large pile under my chair of undesirable bits. I am an idiot, so I’m wearing a white tank top and kahki-colored capris, which are completely covered with dust and bits of hay. I’ve forgotton to take off my earrings, but my birkinstocks are in a corner somewhere so I can more easily use my feet to push the fleece around. Sunlight slants in on the right, covering more and more of the wool-covered floor, incrementally increasing the already-intense heat. I am sweating. The most polite way to describe the smell is “barn.”
Cleaning a fleece is not my favorite job in the world. It is hard work that I am still learning, apprenticed only to the internet, so even though this is my sixth fleece, I still have some self-doubt about my technique. I have not found a way to do it that does not involve horrible posture that I regret all the next day, and I spend the rest of the evening whining at Jared because the heat has knocked me out.
But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t trade this job for anything. Something about spending real working hours doing hard labor, more or less outside, with something related to an actual animal that’s in a pen less than fifty feet away, makes me feel… normal. Human. Not exactly idyllic – it’s hard to feel idyllic when you’re covered in sweat and dirt and you smell like fifteen sheep just crapped on you – but… real. Not like some postmodern spiritualistic fancy, or like those overproduced magazines that make up new complicated ways every week to simplify your life, but something that makes more visceral sense. The world shrinks to the size of the farm, neatly hemmed in by neighboring cornfields that block out everywhere else. Other farmy folks are strolling to and fro, working, talking, laughing, all surrounded and oddly excited by plain old food. In and out flows a tide of CSA members, bearing strollers and cell phones, taking a few precious moments to make their normal a little more human.
It’s late, but eventually I get home for the day. I collapse into the couch for a few minutes before realizing I’d rather shower than win the lottery. One long shower later, I am zonked out for the night. I wake up back in my regular life, put on decent clothes, brush and straighten my hair, look at my hands, and think…
“Wow! With all that lanolin I was handling yesterday, my nails look amazing! Too bad my left hand is still stained brown from husking black walnuts.”
Yup. This is my normal.