Grit Blogs > Life on Hard Hill

Homestead Conversations

Carol Tornetta

Alpacas Teddy and Finn

“Teddy, there’s a goldenrod in your ear.”

This statement can only be deemed odd if you don’t know that it’s winter in Pennsylvania, and that Teddy is a twenty-month-old alpaca with incredibly fluffy ears.

Once you have moved to your homestead, you begin to say odd things. You tell goats to eat the poison ivy up on the hill rather than the freshly sprouted grass in the backyard. You have dinner conversations about composting and water collection. You reminisce about going to “fine dining” establishments, and which concerts you attended during the area’s annual jazz festival, and about viewing films on large screens rather than downloaded from a cloud onto your laptop.

There is no debate about which is better or worse. Every time you fry up an egg you grabbed from underneath an indignant hen, you remember why you did it. As you pore over the seed catalogs piled next to the vegetable garden plan, your mouth involuntarily puckers from the memory of the piquancy of last summer’s dill pickles with garlic and caraway. Feeling the soft drape of the yarn you are spinning from Teddy’s fleece—sans goldenrod blossoms—reminds you. You are here to live a cleaner, fresher life, producing less waste in your search for more self-sufficiency. And peace.

But do not believe it is easy. The weather, in its glorious uncontrollability, is your constant foe: too much snow, not enough rain, wilting grass, creeks reduced to a trickle. There is the frequent worry over the return of the mystery predator that steals your friendly laying hens for its dinner. “Summer work hours in force” means sixteen hour days and certainly no Fridays off. It’s not just driving the SUV to the Jiffy Lube for an oil change anymore, as vehicle maintenance now includes dumping the oil from a big green tractor. Chasing escaped goats in the pitch dark night is always a joy. And what suburbanite went to work on Monday morning in a cast because an alpaca head-butted her thumb ... and broke it?

Bubbles the chicken

You get to watch from the kitchen window while your husband spreads bottled wolf urine solution on the perimeter of the barnyard, while you remember saying “Bubbles, stop chasing the pigeons!” Sadly, you don’t get to say that anymore, because the urine is supposed to deter the predator that stole away beautiful Bubbles last Thursday, in the late afternoon sun. You finally get it out of your system when you shout to the kitchen, “Why didn’t the wretched death machine just take the pigeons!”

And instead of donning your best dress and sitting down to dine on an elaborately decorated plate of tuna sashimi with pickled ginger while listening to a live jazz trio, you collapse into an old kitchen chair and hear this conversation:

“I saw you poured the wolf pee out by the creek.”

“Yup. Made sure to wear disposable gloves to keep the stink outside. It seemed to freak the dog out a bit.”

“Good. Hope it stinks to those stupid foxes, too. I want Bubbles to be the last girl we lose.”

Then you realize it was your own conversation.