When I retire . . . a dream deferred
Do it now
Talking and writing about farming, gardening, chickens, goats, and food is a delight. I'll converse with strangers about it for hours. Sometimes parents will even cold message my farm's website or Facebook page asking to visit, and I love to have them here. It's happened more often with the pandemic. I'm glad to be able to provide people, especially children, a break.
It's funny to joke about being a "goat evangelist," but the longer I spend as a goat owner, the more convinced I become that the world would be a better place if more people had goats in their backyards.
My willingness, and even excitement, to talk about farming with anyone who even politely feigns interest stands in sharp contrast to how I used to feel when answering the question: "So, what do you do?" It's hard to work in a business where you wince a little bit at that standard and usually innocuous conversation starter.
It's not that I'm ashamed of working in politics; I don't always love that my job gives people a preconceived notion of me. Telling strangers what I do elicits two different types of reactions. A person will either recoil and then pretend like I didn't say it - as if I had just told them that I'm the manager of a meth lab, or they will tell me everything they think about everything related to the current state of our nation.
Now, instead of telling new people I work in politics, I mostly talk about farming and goats. It's a much more socially palatable discussion topic, and I find that goat cheese is much less divisive than the debt ceiling.
Like politics, I also get two standard reactions when I tell about our goats and little urban farm. Some people look at me in an intrigued way and reply with some derivation of "I could never do that." I assure them that if I can do it, anyone can. The other reaction, and more typical, is people say they want to do something like what I'm doing now when they retire.
I'm always confused by the people who declare my life is ideal for their retirement. It's almost exactly the opposite of that. It's the vision of the bucolic aspects of my day that drive that dream, but not all the work it takes to get there.
I try to imagine hulking bales of hay into feeders and hauling bags of grain to chickens 25 years from now - I hope I'll still be able to do it, but it sure won't be as easy as it is today. And, when I am (hopefully) still doing it, it will primarily be because I am doing it today.
When I was little, I remember asking my Mom, who was about my current age, to do a cartwheel with me. She replied that she could no longer do them, despite loving to when she was a child. I retorted, in the innocent way a six-year-old would, that I wanted to be able to do cartwheels for the rest of my life. Mom told me, "If you do a cartwheel every day, you'll still be able to when you're my age." She was probably right. But I didn't, so I probably can't. Also, I'm not willing to risk the closed head injury or strained back to find out this week.
It reminds me of farm chores, though. The first few weeks, and even months, living here were exhausting. I would fall into bed at night wonder what the heck we had gotten ourselves into. The work here is different than what you get at the gym. It's less repetitive, but in some ways harder.
Every week it got easier, though. Now, like a cartwheel, I do it every day; it's my habit and is the easiest it's been since we started. I just have to keep going.
There’s a lot to be said for momentum.
The thought of starting this whole project in my late 50s or even mid-60s sounds nearly impossible. It's a great idea in your head - retire to a little farm. Here's the thing, if it's your “someday” dream, DO IT NOW.
Live in a tiny apartment downtown? Start some herbs on your windowsill. Grow some tomatoes on your patio. Keep a secret chicken in your closet (no, don't do this, find a friend with chickens and get eggs from them.)
There is SOMETHING you can do to get closer to your dream no matter where you are. One of my friends, Adam, texted me that he started a pepper plant on his desk inspired by the Homegrown Year.
It reminds me of the Langston Hughes poem, Harlem:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
This little farm was our family's dream for YEARS before we made it a reality. I can't tell you all the places we looked at and the struggles it took for us to find this place. Nor can I tell you all the random locations I grew tomato plants. They were everywhere.
We made a lot of compromises to make this our home. That's the thing about a dream, though; it's hard work to get it but even more gratifying once you’re there.
Anyway, if it's your dream to retire to a little farm, don't wait. Figure out where to start and work incrementally until you’re here. You do not want to be trying this later, it’s no joke, and you’ll never be younger than you are today. Just put your hands down in the lawn and flip your legs over, it’ll be fine.
I hope I get to do this until I die, like cartwheels - except I get cheese and eggs.
Speaking of dying - as a a true-crime podcast fan, my life was basically made complete when the great Keith Morrison revealed his opening narration in case there's a Dateline episode made about me should I be murdered in my goat shed. This is not a drill.
By the way, as someone who has listened to more than my fair share of murder stories it’s always the husband. In my case, though, it will be a rival goat breeder who is jealous of my hard work. I’ll tell my husband, Mark, to start working on his alibi now just in case.
Mark likes to joke that with my Friday night Dateline addiction I'm a 75-year-old lady trapped in an almost 40-something's body. This is appropriate as I am basically living most people's retirement dream already. Apropos.