I am an introvert. No secret there. I get along better with animals than with people…lets be honest, I mostly tolerate people. So, the idea of taking on an intern and teaching them the ways of the farm and letting them care for my animals is no small task in my mind. But last summer I did just that; I invited someone I didn’t know into our lives to help put food in front of the animals and to deal with whatever came out the other end. And when we all came out the other side, we had made a new friend and a loyal ally in the war of keeping all things fed and happy and all poop shoveled and cleared.
When Bonnie first started as our intern, she was given a crash course over one week, but not just any week….it was the week immediately prior to us heading halfway across the US for almost 12 days. We had just brought in 200 established laying hens from another farm, purchased a LGD puppy that required training and boundaries, and housed five hungry pigs that could uproot a t-post like it was a carrot prime for the pickin’. During crash-course week, it seemed that the animals were too eager to help me teach Bonnie about ‘What to do in case THIS happens…’ Case in point; just as I was trying to explain the best way to get escapee piggers back into their pen, we noticed that the piggers had escapeed. True story. The following day, as I was explaining when to call the vet for an ill horse, I plum needed to call the vet…for an ill horse. I was pretty sure she was going to tuck tail up into the hills beyond our house and never come back. But I was wrong, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
One day, not too long ago, Bonnie confessed to me that working at the Acre had helped her immensely. I knew she had been considering going back to nursing school and even though I was sad at the prospect of losing our wonderful intern, I felt incredibly honored at what she had to say about it. She said she had been throwing around the idea of going back to school, but that she couldn’t figure out what nursing ‘specialty’ she wanted to study. Then it hit her. Through her work with the animals, and the healing power she felt when she was with them, she decided that a new ‘specialty’ should exist in nursing. She said her dream was to one day open a clinic that combined the worlds of conventional and holistic medicine. A place where you could come for a prescription as well as a massage or acupuncture. Instead of focusing solely on the symptoms of illness, her clinic would address preventative health measures including a ritual yoga practice and healing, whole foods. A place where you could help to clean out a chicken coop or milk a cow, receive spiritual healing therapy while in the presence of the animals, and leave with a dozen fresh eggs and a half-gallon of raw milk to nourish your body. Needless to say, I was floored. And impressed. And in complete and utter awe. So, I decided to ask Bonnie a few simple questions about her time here in the hopes that it may enlighten people as to why and how sustainable farms can heal, not only charred and barren landscapes, but broken hearts and weary souls.
How did you come to start out as an intern at The Crowded Acre?
A mutual friend, Ian Forber-Pratt, told me about the farm he was staying at on one of his visits back to the States from India. And I said, “Wow! Could I work there?”
What draws you to farming?
Somehow it’s the one thing that always feels right, that I know I was made to participate in.
What was it like jumping in and farm sitting for two weeks right off the bat?
For me, and where I was in life at that moment, it was like rehab. I had been giving time and energy to some things I probably should not have been giving time and energy to. Farm sitting was hard work physically and it kept me occupied. All the while, the animals had an incredible healing influence. It’s hard to devote time and energy to potentially negative aspects of your life when you are herding escapee pigs and fixing their fencing like 900 times…ok, maybe it was only 3…
What is your favorite part of the farm?
Anything with the animals, especially the horses and cows. We have deep conversations while I am out in the paddock. The hugelkultur beds have been fun to assemble as well.
Have you noticed a change in yourself since you started farming?
I think I’ve learned to slow down, be more observative and more creative. Spell check is telling me observative isn’t a word, but I think it is.
What is the funniest thing to happen at the farm during your time here?
Everything Turd Ferguson (the 4 1/2 month old Jersey) does is funny and adorable. When the pregnant piggers rolled over for us to rub their bellies like, ‘Ugh! I am so over this pregnancy thing!’ Really, just pigs in general are funny. I laugh at the comments the hens make to me…pretty much everything at the Acre makes me laugh at one point or another.
What is the saddest thing to happen?
When Luna died.
Hands down, I have to agree, in seven years it was my saddest day too.
Has this internship given you a brighter outlook on your future?
Definitely. I worry a lot about not having direction in my life, but working on the farm has reminded me that a meaningful life is one lived in harmony and symbiosis with others, that taking care of any living creature gives meaning and worth to one’s life. Animals don’t worry about careers or money.
What advice would you give to future interns?
Be patient in the hard work. Read Billy Collins’s poem ‘Shoveling Snow With Buddha’ for more advice on that subject…shovel manure with Buddha. Think of every task as your gift to the earth.
Last question, would you do it over again?
Thank you, Bonnie, for all of your hard work here at the Acre. There will always be a place for you here to converse with cows, herd escapee pigs, and shovel manure with Buddha.
Shoveling Snow With Buddha
In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.
Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?
But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.
This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.
He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.
All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.
After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.