Saturday, 26 March 2011

Flesh and Bones

This time last week I dedicated a whole day to all things horse. The farrier came and put on new shoes, the vet came and gave Kitty and Alan their boosters against horse flu, and the dentist came to file their teeth. I gave them a big grooming session as their winter coats are coming out, which is an indisputable sign that spring is here. Kitty's winter coat is never wrong.

I put all the horse sheddings in a bird feeder and the blackbirds plunder it to build their nests. The birds know when it's spring too.

Today it was the sheeps' turn. Their winter grazing on Milkweed is looking tired, and Tractor Dave is coming to roll and feed the grass so it was time to move the sheep. While they're gathered up, it's a good time to worm them and trim their feet, and generally give them a good once over.

With no outbuilding and ten acres for loose sheep to cavort about avoiding capture, I had to fashion a pen and entice them into it. A bucket of barley was enough to get them to ignore the open horse trailer and walk into the pen

I just picked up the trailer from its service, and I was worried that the truck wouldn't pull it when it was full of sheep. The clutch is so bad on the truck that every night I have to reverse up our sloping driveway, because it won't hold in first gear.

After digging the garden yesterday, and wrestling the trailer this morning, fetching all the metal hurdles was tiring. I can feel my wrists and elbows complaining. I worry that my joints are getting worn out. I try to carry more than my upper body strength allows and I think of those bodies from Pompeii. Archaeologists were able to discern slaves' bones from the scarring at the insertions of the muscles. These scars were most prominent on the arms of young girls. And I've got twenty years on them.

God, even my bones are lower class.

By the time I'd caught and treated the first two lambs, I had to surrender. I called Mike and Underkeeper Pete for assistance, and maybe some moral support. My gloves were ripped, I'd broken my makeshift worming syringe, and my hands were shaking from muscle fatigue. When the work gets physically hard, just some company, someone to hand you the can of antibacterial foot spray, takes the pressure off.

With help, I finished the sheep ablutions in an hour. Their feet were desperately overgrown so I've made a note to trim feet more often, my joints be damned.

The truck pulled the loaded trailer. I began to relax a bit and enjoy the few miles between Milkweed and their new field.

No gloves = purple hands. That will take a few days to wear off

I used what was left of my clutch to pull the trailer up the dirt track to the field. The sheep dribbled out and sampled their new forage. My bones are due a day's rest now, or until the sheep shearer comes.

Hayley (our farrier) and I were discussing joints and bones when she visited. Hayley trained for years, and worked as an apprentice blacksmith. Now she has her own business and a mobile forge in the back of her truck. She "hot shoes" horses, heating a basic horseshoe in a forge and shaping it on an anvil to fit the horse's foot exactly.

She's a good fifteen years younger than me but she's already doing her best to conserve her joints. If clients want their horses shod, but the horse doesn't actually need shoes, Hayley tells them she's not prepared to do it. "I only have a certain number of shoes in me. Every pair I fit takes its toll on my body, and I need to work for as long as possible. If they only need a trim, that's what they're going to get."

Outdoor physical work has long been undervalued. There should be a premium paid if you are earning a living at the expense of your body. In most cases, these are jobs that someone else is paying you to do because they are not strong enough to do it, or the work is too hard for them to even contemplate. But there's a stigma associated with people who labor, outside laborers particularly.  Hayley labors, but she is a business woman and an artisan. I use my back to grow plants and raise chickens, but I also use my knowledge of soil science, plant biology, and animal husbandry. My brain isn't wearing out, at least not as fast as my skeleton.

Mike is also wearing out, though the accident caused a great leap in his demise, and some side effects. Quincy the puppy is teething and tries to use anything or anyone as a chew toy. I saw the puppy playing on Mike's lap, writhing about and chewing his shirt sleeve. Then I saw blood. Mike doesn't have much feeling in his right arm and he didn't notice the puppy had chewed a hole in his skin. I cleaned it up and it's healing fine. Wearing out on the inside is one thing, being devoured from the outside is another.


Kate said...

Good post. I hear you about the body wearing out. I expect you work harder than I do, but I think I may have a few years on you as well. Getting older ain't for sissies. It's a tough lesson to learn - working more carefully, more deliberately, and constantly monitoring what one's body can withstand.

I have a problem with that prejudice against people who work with their hands and bodies. I don't understand it. The white collar workers may be physically cleaner and smell better, but they've screwed over a lot more people than the ones with dirt under their fingernails ever have. It's the professional class that ought by rights to be suspect. It's honest labor that more often leaves you with literally dirty hands.

Tell Mike he needs to mind himself better. What would happen if his attentive wife weren't around to notice his bleeding? An untreated dog bite could lead to a nasty infection, I suspect.

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

Put your feet up for a few! I know this time of year can be so challenging- so much to do so little time to do it. I am looking at making breeding pens, cleaning out the coops, seeding, etc,etc. My whole body shakes just thinking about all that outdoor labour- mind you I am currently procrastinating drinking a tea and reading your blog!

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Good post and you are exactly right about the labor force. It just disgusts me that in my country Charlie Sheen can get paid a million dollars per episode of the sit-com he stars in, yet, people have to fight to get minimum wage at 6 or 7 dollars an hour and no benefits, digging ditches, building homes, caring for animals, making things, repairing things, and the restaurants and hotels. How does that make sense?! It's the laborers that keep things going. If all decided to sit down for the day, OMG , what would the world do??

As for your body, I relate to that too. I am barely 5 foot tall and 95 pounds. I have had to work extra hard in my life to keep up. You may be wearing down your muscles, but working hard also makes your bone density better and you need that to not get osteoporosis.

You guys sure work HARD. You do a great job. I hope you can get a break sometime and enjoy a vacation?

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

No, no, no! You're not wearing out! Well, you are -- we all are -- but more slowly than either the desk jockeys or the aristocrats. Every day that you're out there, pushing your joints and muscles, you're retarding the process of wearing out.

As Karen pointed out, nothing's as good for bone density as exercise, and all the evidence is that regular, strenuous exercise will help you live long and prosper.

The chance of injury, of course, is always there, but I hope that whoever the god of injuries is (Spike? Trip?) understands that you and Mike have paid your dues in that regard.

Heidianne said...

Great post! Great replies from everyone. I completely relate to you on using your body hard to get work done. I just came in from stacking a big old pile of firewood in the rain, and sat down with a beer to take a break. My back is killing me, but work has to get done.I have worked hard all my life, and now my lower back is showing the wear and tear. "Degenerative Discs" the Dr. said. I know what will aggravate my back, so I try to avoid it, or at least modify what I do around here.But the wood needs to be stacked, and the compost shoveled, so you do it.
Your farrier is a smart woman, we know several former farriers, former, that have destroyed their backs,and shoulders. Not to mention the odd kick resulting in fractures. My forge work is less bending over, and none of the potential for getting kicked in the head. You still have to be careful of tendonitis, and rotator cuff issues, but I can't imagine doing anything else., and would die if I had to work in an office. Yes, no more accidents for either of you!This includes being eaten by puppies, I hope Mike is healing up well.

Kerry said...

I like how everyone has a title -- from Princess Anne and Lady S., to Tractor Dave and Underkeeper Pete. I'll assume others call him Gamekeeper Mike (or Headkeeper Mike? That maybe sounds like a different job altogether) so what are you called? Odd Job Jen? Jack-of-all-Trades Jen? or just Loud Yankee Jen?
I hope one day I get title/name. My top choice is Lottery Winner Kerry.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - I like your dirty hands observation. And Mike promises to be more careful next time.

HKS - I'm giving a false impression that I work hard. I'm also partial to a cup of tea and reading blogs. I hope you get through your long list!

Karen - Thanks for the worker solidarity, and the very good news about my improving bone density!

Tamar - Ditto the bone density info. I'm shocked at how ignorant I am concerning health and fitness (I learned a lot from the comments between you and Paula on you Chin Up post). I might light a candle to the god of accidents anyway, just in case.

Heidianne - My sympathies go out to you. My measly ailments don't compare to a bad back. I hope you have some helpers you can call on too.

Kerry - Can I be Sister of Lottery Winner Kerry?