When I first came here I thought it was the Akubra, the moleskins, the RM boots and the years on the land that made a farmer but now I know different.
It’s the long, hot hours on the tractor. The stiff neck, hip and back from hours reversing up hills and clearing gullies. It’s the permanent ‘farmer’s tan’ of face, neck and arms and the leathering of the skin in the hot aussie sun. It’s the ability to pull a calf out of a straining cow, or pull a cria out of a birthing alpaca. It’s knowing when to call the vet and when time and patience and a little TLC will heal.
It is knowing and loving and caring for animals. Being brave enough to decide who goes for slaughter when. Crying for them when they go, communicating with them beforehand and remembering them always as friends and fellow travellers and family. It’s the understanding that we all have a purpose and a gift to give and that some of these animals make the ultimate sacrifice, give of themselves, with love and service, so we can eat. There is no greater gift than that.
It is the watching of the seasons, the listening to the land as she speaks, working with her, nurturing her and feeling her nurture us as we live in her embrace. It is learning to see and hear her messengers and understand their messages – the scurrying ants, cawing black cockatoos, lying down alpacas and cows saying storm coming and watching the sky turning indigo as it looms.
Seeing the babies being born and the ones that don’t survive – snatched before life has a chance to begin by goannas or snakes or circumstance. Watching them grow and then mourning if they are taken too soon. Nature is cruel, life is not guaranteed and ‘where there is live stock, there is dead stock’.
It is watching the eagles wheel and soar and teaching their babies to fly, talking to snakes and not being afraid of them, swimming with platypus, marvelling at the beauty and diversity of Mother Nature and having daily conversations with God and the Angels. Finally feeling gratitude, humility and awe at this beautiful planet, this wonderful place and life, so precious, so tenuous, so brief. After a lifetime of dabbling in death defying activities, all of a sudden I don’t want to die, don’t want to leave here, can’t bear the thought of not seeing the trees we are planting bear fruit.
Being a Farmer is all about taking care of the land that takes care of us – that feeds our bodies, nurtures our souls, and allows us and the planet to breathe. It is hard, hard yakka. Lifting, carrying, hauling, hurting. Thankless, endless, relentless and often joyless. But the rewards are spiritual as we come to see how small we are in the grand scheme of things, how brief our imprint, how enduring and changeable nature is and how we too must learn to bend in the winds of change or be blown over if we stand too proud and strong and rigid.
It is riding out the floods and the droughts and understanding that the feast and famine cycles are natural rhythms of nature. It is knowing how to make do and paddock and bush fix things and scrape meals together from what is in the veggie patch and the pantry. Living by the seasons, powered by the sun and becoming ever more sustainable.
It is cuts and scratches and bruises and worn clothes and wrinkles, but it is honest, and pure and worthwhile. Down here on the farm we piss in the wind, we revel in our nudity, the animals don’t care how old or deshevelled we look, and the dirt is ingrained in hands and fingernails and no amount of scrubbing will get them clean. And we don’t care. Because bodies grow old and disintegrate and die and the wild dogs and goannas will feed off them. Nothing is forever, this too shall pass and we are lucky to have witnessed creation at its most perfect and beautiful and to have immersed ourselves in the natural world. What will happen after we are gone? Nature will endure and all our work may well have been for nothing – who knows who will tend Avalon for future gnerations or if it will just be left to run wild and untamed as it was before we came. And yet still we continue and persevere and keep going – for the love of it, for the deep peace and stillness she brings to our souls.
The Akubra never got worn so I sold it on ebay, I can’t afford moleskins or rm boots but I am a farmer in my wiry arms, in my wide shoulders, in my sun beaten and battered skin, in my tortured hip, in my holey clothes and deep down in my grateful soul . . .