I cleaned my car not long ago. To some of you, this will bring to mind images of a lintless rag swept lovingly across a gleaming fender. To others, pictures of the ghostly shells of Starbucks half-caff, low fat, triple venti white chocolate mochas being pulled from the floor into a waiting sack, or perhaps, if your taste runs more towards the proletarian, Micky Ds and Burger King sacks and cups and ketchup packets scooped up and discarded. If you are the owner of a pet or child, you may even imagine that there will be some vacuuming to be done. This, however, is Bent Barrow Farm, which means that when it comes to the messes made by pets and children we probably have you beat. On this day it was not takeout containers or coffee cups that worried me, but rather, in reverse order from the top, the two old tarps, one muddy horse blanket, five flakes of straw, half-flake of Eastern Washington orchard grass hay, and several dozen or so partially composted leavings of our recently sold Saanen goat, Claire. Claire de Lune had gone to live with a new family, and due to the details of my custody arrangement I was loathe to pick up my oldest daughter without making a reduction in the evidence. Hence, I cleaned the car, or to rephrase, I raked the car in preparation for the next stage of cleaning, which will involve at least a roll of quarters and a half an hour at the local Arco. A new neighbor passed, and despite my welcoming gesticulations (the rake prevented a proper wave) she failed to smile. Thinking that perhaps her countenance reflected some concern about the loose equivalent of a bale of straw which I had just raked out of my station wagon and onto the public roadway, I wished she could have been there five minutes later to see me valiantly removing, in the rain, every stem to the compost pile.
I can't complain about rain, by the way. Not only do I feel no need, but I believe it would put me at a strategic disadvantage in the complexity that is marriage. I like a steady drizzle . . . a warm mist invites a romantic mood . . . a summer downpour brings thanks to Mother Nature and a new shade of green to the already verdant valley. All that said, I really think that it comes down to preferring here to there (here being this South Fork valley, a home so beautiful and so beloved that it sometimes interferes with my breathing and gives me a lump in my throat; there being, generally, Anywhere Else, and specifically, Where He's From. Since most complaints about the weather meet with his, "yes, this IS a wretched place," I have learned to limit my commentary to the positive).
My husband I live here, in the South Fork valley of the Nooksack river, with two point three children, all daughters, as well as a couple dozen pets. A mule, about whom you shall learn much; a pair of goats, morphing each spring into three or four through to the miracle of birth and reducing again to two at fall weaning; two strangely different dogs; two strangely similar cats; fifteen hens—five young, seven aging, three ancient; a rooster, ancient too; three tiny fish in one giant tank; a beloved and most indulged rabbit. We live on a parcel which is just barely big enough to do, while somehow at the same time being just barely small enough to keep up with. My fantasy home of the future, on 200 acres, is going to be hard to look after, though perhaps not with the kind assistance of my fantasy gardener, my fantasy groom, and my fantasy steward. Until such time as I can afford such assistance (read: never) I shall consider this home perfect.
My oldest daughter, the point three, is behind this mucking out of the Volvo. I see her just one weekend per month during the school year, plus all summer and most school vacations. It's a long story, which from my perspective boils down to her dad X's having had more money for lawyers, but which has resolved in a situation which is, at least, acceptable. X is not a bad father, and in fact has become a better and better one over the years. His partner J is a good father too, and I eagerly await the day when their will and that of our nation collide to permit me to call J, with all legitimacy and legal recognition, her step-father. In the meantime, I call him that anyway.
M suffers from mild asthma, serious hay fever, and manageable excema. My car, though of course unusually dirtied by this week's goat shipment, has never been immaculate. Twenty four years old, doubling as a farm truck, and often misused by me, my children, and my livestock, the station wagon bravely trundles on in a state which no one could call presentable. I try, for M's weekends, to make it into something closer to quaint than repulsive. At the least, a thorough vacuuming the day before means a comfortable ride home for M, a ride without sneezing. At the best, it means that her fathers in Seattle will get the impression that I am normal.
M is, in many ways, fortunate to have three fathers and a mother who love her. She enjoys an almost comical variety between her two homes. Her Seattle home, a tidy condo, sits in trendy Fremont between a roaring arterial and a gentrified yippie hub of commerce. Her public school is the sort that parents dream about, move towards, enter lotteries for . . . orchestra, American Sign Language, foreign language, and accelerated science courses bolster a more than adequate core curriculum in a bright, new building full of new and expensive things.
M's school takes pride in holding an annual "No-Bake Bake Sale," which means they will accept money from everyone, regardless of whether the donor wants a brownie or not. It also means that you don't get a brownie even if you DID want one, and also that most donations are not in the 25 cents range but rather closer to $2500. Or so I assume, judging from the fact that their income from the event last year came to something more than the purchase price of our house.
M enjoys ballet, swimming, ice skating, cello, drama, and Spanish lessons in Seattle—though not all at once. It is only slightly damaging to my pride to admit that I feel deeply grateful that she can have such things. My ability to afford the time and money for extracurricular activities petered out after she enjoyed three stellar riding lessons from our local dressage coach, and it has been with some degree of shame and worry that I have admitted to being unable to continue. She would have loved to go weekly, all summer, for years.
M used to have a clam in Seattle, but the mollusk was discarded after several weeks of complete inactivity. My empathetic daughter still worries that the clam might not have been dead, after all, despite her father's assurance that the living produce bubbles. From what Google tells me, a terrible odor should have assured them of its deceasement, but it is not my place to act as coroner in the Fremont household. There were also fish, at one point, but as M tells it they were flushed, living, down the toilet after being struck with some minor disorder of the scales. Restraining the rage of my inner animal rights activist, I console her by reminding her that not everyone is an animal person. Her fastidious urban dads are not animal people, though they talk of a mythical chocolate lab of the future. This imagined someday dog, which I see as a bone thrown to placate M in her petless frustration, holds my daughter in eternal anticipation. I try to tell her that she has more than enough pets in the one household to make up for the lack in the other, but as a fellow animal lover I can empathize. She gets lonely.
M never lacks for company here in Wickersham. Her first move upon arriving home is usually to run and check on the mule and goats. She, parroting her mother as children often will, calls them the hoofbeasts. It's nice to have a term that encapsulates the caprine and equine in just two syllables. Hay burners comes close, but then you run into the tricky business of the rabbit (who is, of course, a hay burner, but who by no means deserves classification with our pasture pets). M told her allergist, in response to a question about handling hay, that she did sometimes feed hay to the rabbit, washing her hands afterward, but that under no circumstances was she allowed to give hay to the hoofbeasts. I am sure that the comic effect of this statement would have been reduced had she said she liked to feed the lagomorph but not the ungulates, or the bunny but not the mule and goats. For that reason, if for no other, I am glad the term stuck. I enjoy comedy.
After checking on the hoofbeasts, M usually convenes with her sisters to the house, where she receives the effusive greeting of our little red heeler, Story, and our big Australian Shepherd, Paisley. If she's not in the mood for such galumphing oafs, she might retire to the coop where our bedraggled hens, currently in moult, might present her with an egg or ten depending on the season.