The deep freeze of winter has loosened and the snow is running down the hill as a glistening, gray sheet of ice. I have to strap little spikes onto my shoes to get up the hill to feed the animals.
No one can yet say that winter is over or that spring has come, but there is a quickening in the light, a tad more gold in the rare sunshine and less icy white.
My ducks know it. They cheerfully peck around their tiny yard and wait at the gate, hoping today will be the day I open it and let them roam.
We've built a second coop and have reserved three hens and a rooster from a farmer an hour to the south. This year is looking like it could be the year our urban homesteading really takes off. We have two greenhouses, a few good fruit trees and a large, mature herb garden. In just the past week, I've handled three family health crises with just our own resources.
People ask me why I tie myself down so close to the land. It does make planning our summer trip to raft a river in southern Poland a lot harder.
And I do wonder about it sometimes. Have I made the right decisions? It certainly isn't that much cheaper to grow your own food and medicine. If work hours were counted, it is ridiculously expensive. And I wonder just how much it lowers our environmental impact--even with our rainwater irrigation system and pest-patrol ducks.
When my husband whines or the neighbors sneer or my friends question my overworked lifestyle, I remind them of the list-able benefits--pesticide-free food, a healthy diet and environment for kids, kids growing up knowing the value of food, learning basic survival skills and developing connections to plants and animals, physical exercise and something to drag us out of the house no matter the weather, insurance against hard times, and a small internal sense of accomplishment and satisfaction...
Somehow it still doesn't seem to add up. The benefits feel like fringe things, luxuries in a life that is stretched to the breaking point. We try to keep up with jobs, school, social standards, my disability and one child's disability.
It often feels like every day is a battle. I wake up long before dawn, roll my legs out of bed and try to coordinate my movements so my feet slide right into my slippers as they hit the floor. I'm in the kids' room to get them up for their extra-early ride to school before I'm more than half awake.
At night I fall into bed and lately indulge in one unwise relaxation-a single show on Netflix that keeps me up past 11:00 and results in less sleep than I really need. When spring comes, I know even that will have to go.
So, why then? I could just work more hours and buy the occasional expensive organic produce.
I ask myself this quietly and my husband asks it out loud sometimes.
But then somehow we each start planning the garden or the coop for the new chickens. There is something inexorable about it. Once you have close ties to the land, it requires things from you. Maybe it's a kind of homing instinct, like my ducks have. The more unstable the outside world becomes, the stronger the inner need to have a way to make our own food gets.
Then there is the future conversation with my children I imagine. In twenty years, when they have grown to understand history, environmental problems, politics and the world in general, the effects of climate change will be much more apparent. And their generation will ask us what we did when the warnings were clear. They'll ask what we did when 97 percent of scientists were sure and crying for people to change their dependence on oil, coal and factory farms.
I want to be able to answer those questions without shame.
No matter my doubts, I can't quiet those predictable voices. And growing food is one way I know to do something. It's a way to learn skills and teach them to my kids to be prepared for whatever kind of world they will live in.
If I had a better way--a job with political or corporate influence or a lot of money which I could use to push for systemic change--then I might well put all these hours of work into that. But for now this is the thing I can do.
And I'm glad for it. When the cost-benefit analysis is all done and there is a pause in the work, I am happy looking at our tiny kingdom, a refuge and a hope that there will be a future.