When we first came here, the air was eerily silent. Above the roar of the river and the clatter and squeal of the occasional logging truck, there was an absence.
I used to find it ironic to travel to the city and wake up to a jungle of birdsong, when at home in the valley the mornings were so thick with quiet. Maybe it had been too long since life had filled this place; maybe nobody was carelessly dropping chicken grain or compost scraps before we arrived. For months only the ravens showed themselves, eyeing the livestock cheekily, working dedicatedly on prying sheets of tin off the barn roof.
In the deep of the long winter the chickadees came to the poplar tree beside the porch. Cheeping and peering through the windows, holding out hope till my mother came home from the feed store one day with a bag of sunflower seeds. Daily through the halting cold we doled out plates of seeds for our small new friends.
“Birds attract birds,” said the birder neighbour, eyes wide with delight.
This year the trees around the house ring out with birdsong, the joyous chorus of tiny souls fills the void that was once there and overflows it. Swallows dip and soar, blessedly feeding on mosquitoes, while tits and finches, jays and sparrows try their luck against the big, black cat that stalks the stairway. Tropical birds make the journey to this unlikely latitude just to grace us with their presence. And weeks ago, the sandhill cranes arrived in does, passing over in V formation, flocks of hundreds, hooting hauntingly, looking for their landing at Telegraph Ranch further up the valley road.
2. A Name
We still have no name for this place that holds us all. We think of many but they rattle around without sticking. We ask,
What do you want to be called?
The baby foxes start emerging on the road around the bend. “Fox Corner Farm,” says my mother.
“Kitsune Farm,” I say, translating Fox to Japanese.
I know this because it’s also the name for sweet bean curd skins when added to udon noodles – fox noodles, for the red-brown colour of the bean curd. The Kitsune are sly spirits in Japanese lore, harsh and mysterious and impossibly graceful.
I look up Fox in the Gitxsan dictionary to find what the people here call him. I laugh out loud.
The Gitxsan word for Fox is nagatse – Nagata, our shared last name – all that for “Nagata Farm”?
Since moving to the land I see my horses every day, but I spend only snatches with them. I feel sucked away in every other direction, only to find it’s too late, or cold, or hot, or buggy, for meaningful conversation with my equine companions. They do not suffer for it as I do. While I ride my little farm and life dramas and excesses they exist calmly around the perimeter, holding the shape of this small world in the midst of its own creation. My heart can be in pieces, my brain racing – and out the window the whole herd is lying flat out as though shot; as if to say, We got this.
When one sunny morning I listen to their siren song and wander out to their huge, delicate bodies lying naked and trusting in the green grass, they one by one rise up to greet me and demand their fly-bitten bodies itched. Spero and Firefly spar for my attentions; Spero wins and takes his place at a my fingertips, so Firefly makes for her mother, Amalia, who is up and stretched now. 23 months old, the sturdy filly still performs the ritual of walking close in front of her mother, bending alongside and ducking for the teat. She sips slowly. A generous feeling of all being right in the world spreads through the moment. The dogs and goats wander closer.
I am marvelling at her beauty, her strength, the power and contentment radiating from her. She has come so far after so many years. The angry, shut-down, skinny, dull-coated, far-away-eyed, indignant woman is this fulsome beast now, round and muscular and full of it all. She is at home in a body she wanted to leave; told me she was leaving more than once because being alive this time was so, so painful and she was so, so tired. But she is whole now. I am marvelling at her beauty.
One eye opens and holds mine sharply. The rest of her stays easy and quiet. She says, almost impatiently,
“What do you think Trust means?”
She hits me with this and it expands instantly, this understanding that trust isn’t an idea or a choice or a contract, a guarantee or an easy ride. Trust doesn’t mean it’s all going to be okay. It means it all is okay. It means even the darkness. Even the empty silence. It is one thin silver line to follow when nothing seems right. It is the only thing you can do in that moment. It is falling in love with a small, dark mare who wants nothing to do with you, and ten years later watching her claim her own life before your very eyes.
4. Doing the Rounds
I just realized that doing the rounds here is a literal statement. We are surrounded. Watch:
You wake up with light pouring in. 5 o’clock. The mountain imposes herself through your tiny bedroom window. You lay very still pretending to sleep until 6. You crawl upright, slip out the door, still bleary-eyed and barefoot. Release the dogs from the porch and revel in their predictable joy. Invite them to help.
Ten strides straight out the front door you find the pullets outside their greenhouse home, their big front yard, their gate down to the garden. With handsome black collars their soft white selves croon away in the early morning heat. They hear the basement door and come running to the edge of their pen, cackling gleefully as you pour their rations down upon them.
You turn right and up the driveway, and let the mama and baby goat out, the original laying hens too. Mack the Rooster crows wholeheartedly. The goats rear up to place their tiny hooves on your shoulders, or lean against your legs.
You turn another right and cross the yard to the pigs. They are sleeping in but come squinting into the light when you call, eyeing you suspiciously until you indeed head to the feed room and fill a container with their dusty dry porridge. If they’re sleepy enough you can rub their bellies till they flip over into the mud to provide better access to the tender black flesh. But once the grain is poured the are fierce and fast.
Leave them to argue over the feed and turn yet another right, into the pasture to feed the roosters bound for the chopping block, fierce and defiant already, by now frantic for their grain. In you snap off the electric fence you can climb in. They will untie your laces (on the days you wear shoes) and bite you ungraciously; all that enters is fair game.
By now the horses have cottoned on and come to lick the buckets clean of grain. They form the outer edge, patrolling the periphery for predators and spooks, tying everything together with their steady footfall.
If you head straight now you’ll come back to the garden, with its long and tall beds and its hopeful baby plants standing proud above the rich clay soil. It might need water, or it might just need admiring.
Call the dogs back to the porch for breakfast. Put the kettle on. Forget to wash your feet.
Click here for Part 13 in this series.