Monday, January 27, 2020

Cleaning Up After Animals

In July of 2018, I wandered outside in the warm day to sit next to my husband on a pile of milled lumber he was going to use for a small structure to house two horses.
"Are you sure we should be doing this?" I said to him. "I mean, can we really afford to build a kind-of barn and keep two horses?"
He looked at me, and answered, "I've been thinking the same thing."

Less than a month later, he had a stroke, and I was glad we had cancelled that build before we started. It would have been hard for both of us to look at a half-finished structure; me seeing the end of my dreams of having a horse, and him feeling frustrated that he couldn't make that dream come true.

On Sunday afternoon, with a mild spell bringing temperatures up to plus six (Celsius), I cleaned out the chicken coop. I love doing this. I get such a feeling of accomplishment by scooping up all the dirty shavings and piles of poop and dumping everything into the wheelbarrow, then spreading fresh, dry shavings all over the floor.
I also like hearing them talk to me while I'm working; chickens being a skittish bird, it's mostly in protest when I get too close. They walk around saying "berk-berk-berk", or when I shovel right under their spot on the roost, they raise their voice, "bok-bok-bok". They are funny birds, and I enjoy caring for them. It's good for my soul.

For an hour, it's a time to focus on their needs, on the work, on the muscles in my back and arms, on getting the job done the way I want it done. It's a time to be part of their space, a welcome break from being in my own office space too much. For an hour, I don't think about what I'm working on, or need to work on, or won't get the chance to work on. It's a time of peace and quiet for my brain.

So now I wish I had horses or donkeys or goats to take care of, to be able to be in their space and be entirely focused on them, to take my mind off my worries. I'm really struggling these days, feeling adrift, sometimes even lost, wondering what meaning my work has (not only as a writer but as a worship leader and as a teacher) and what my future work will be -- because right now, I simply don't see it. I don't deal well with uncertainty, with waiting and wondering, with not knowing.  Having a couple of horses or a pair of goats to take care of would help alleviate that feeling of not having any purpose anymore.

In my first job in radio, when I lived in a new community where I knew no one and worked the morning shift which meant I was home all afternoon but went to bed at eight p.m., the cure for my loneliness was to get a dog. It changed my life. Suddenly, there was a purpose to my hours outside of work: walking twice a day, getting to know this other creature, restructuring my life to include her.
Having Maggie in my life meant I spent a lot less time focused on myself -- and that was a good thing. It's something I need now, desperately. I know it can't happen, it's simply not feasible (we don't have a building, for one thing), but it would be nice.

Having responsibility for an animal is a healing practice, a way of getting out of one's own head, and remembering there is purpose in serving others. It's the therapy of hard work, and the symbolism of heaving one's own crap out the door into the wheelbarrow.

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