Some days seem designed to break a farmer’s spirit, a favorite goat has a still born doe and I am so bone tired that I cry for this tiny kid silent in my hands, cry for all the losses I have ever had and all the ones of the future too. Wind blows out electricity leaving the farm without water, the farm is a mess of mud or ice, after a long day of teaching I arrive home to find the donkeys have broken down their fence and refuse to be caught, even the vet isn’t quite sure why our first doe Bonnie still seems a little “off” after kidding --these days leave me wondering if I know anything at all.
Then there are the days that feel like an invitation. Days so full of heartbreaking beauty that it feels like I have been tossed into a photo album I never dared believe could belong to me. I am the only one awake at 1 a.m. when Lily actually lays down on my lap to deliver 3 perfect doelings, hardly calling out, just leaning into me, an assurance that I am exactly where I need to be. The sunflowers all turn their faces towards morning sun, a reminder --I have no reason not to do the same. The water flows from the outdoor faucet like a benediction and has the grass ever looked so green?
When people ask how long it takes to make chevre, there are a few answers I could give. The actual hands-on time is only about an hour. But then there is the morning milking of goats that takes an hour at daybreak and sunset. The pasteurizing which takes another half hour. The 12 hours it takes for the chevre to set and form curd. The 6 hours you must wait to let the cheese drain off the whey. We could I suppose go back to the filling of water buckets in the goat barn and the collecting of hay bales on a hot summer afternoon, even to the weeks leading up to that moment where nature graced Maine with the perfect mixture of sun and rain to develop a good hay crop.
It’s all in there and it’s part of what makes eating this cheese such a celebration of farm life and connectedness. It becomes impossible to see and taste the finished product in isolation. It is the simplest thing in the world (time plus lovely milk plus a bit of culture and whey and we have cheese) and also overwhelmingly or exquisitely complex depending in the day.
Like everything in life, the true recipe is one of balance. Farming is a reminder that this balance comes from a combination of constant adjustment in response to daily challenges, a willingness to temporarily loosen the reins when nature demands control, and perhaps most of all the humbling (and comforting) knowledge that we are never working in isolation.