Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sense of Duty

The Ranch Hand’s Diary:
Sense of Duty

On Saturday I walk Norma in on my way to the lodge. It's the new ritual. I've been walking her in every morning this week. Jesse says it's a rideshare. "Yeah," I agree. "We commute to work together that cow and I." I pause and then add, "This morning, Norma kept stopping to eat grass and I had to tell her, ‘Come on, we don’t have time to stop for fast food, we’re running late.’" 

After I close the gate after Norma, I help Jesse move the Chicken Palace to a place with fresh grass. I stand inside and make sure the chickens don't get caught on the wrong side of the wire, don't get squished under the moving bars.

Once that’s done, I go inside and unload the dishwashers as I make coffee and get a breakfast for myself. I put the yogurt I've had straining overnight into containers, wash the strainers, and strain four more quarts. Making yogurt is a process of waiting, cleaning containers, and shifting the yogurt in its various stages from one pot to another.

Jesse and I get the milking stuff together and go milk Norma the cow. The Little Dude is out in the field more or less on his own. Practicing his independence. We get something under a gallon of milk and then let Norma back out to pasture and go inside to clean the milking containers and put away the fresh milk.

We have guests arriving later today and to help Laura out I've agreed to make a cake. Because she's worried I'll get caught up with work and not have time later on I hastily whip it together. It's a gluten-free chocolate cake. Although it’s not sugar free, it is egg and dairy free and possibly the best cake I've ever had. "What's not in this again?" One of the guests asks that night after dinner when we’re eating that gooey chocolate delicious dessert. "What's it made with?" another guest asks.

"Magic and a lot of love," I say, only partly joking.

I put the cake in the oven and while it's baking I make a new batch of yogurt using homemade yogurt cultures. It's exciting. Doing it this way feels more like really making yogurt than the way simply adding a powdered culture had felt. While the milk is heating up on the stove, I check on the kombucha bottles to make sure none of the tops have popped off or the balloons burst as the bacteria and yeast work with the new fruit sugars in their second ferment. They all seem happy, those precious yeasts and bacterias. While the yogurt milk is cooling down, I make a batch of Orange Julius using fresh whey in place of milk. For every two quarts of yogurt I make, I strain out a quart of whey. Laura uses it to make bread. But even so, we’re up to our ears in it. Lance, the new kid on the ranch, had challenged me to make something with whey tasty enough for him to enjoy. We had all joked with him about drinking it fresh but he hadn't liked the taste of plain whey—it was too sour, too watery, too much like diluted yogurt. Although he's a runner and has used whey proteins in the past, telling him how much better fresh whey is wasn't enough to convince him to drink it so I make up some concoctions. He tastes it and says, "Okay, you win. I like this."

By the time the cake is done, the yogurt cultures added to the heated milk, and the whey Orange Julius put away in the refrigerator it's 10:15 in the morning. I feel like I've done a full day’s worth of work already.

But the day has only just begun. Jesse and I head over to the cold room and began to empty meat from the freezers into coolers. We have to inventory it all, mark down the weights, and then put it back into various freezers by cut or by animal. Jesse and I are leaning over the lip of a freezer reaching down for the last bits of meat and I say, "This is the story of two vegetarians inventorying a roomful of meat." I don't take a picture. It's too gruesome. Evidence of too much violence and death. Cryovat wrapped reminders of large-scale production and my own hypocrisy. I still eat fish on occasion.

We take a break for lunch. I set the table and put out the food. After lunch, Jesse and I clean everything up. Then we go back out to finish the inventorying. We have to work quickly. Time isn't on our side. We can't let the meat thaw.

At three o'clock, I hit a wall. For a second, I lean my head on my arm and sigh. Jesse calls out the cut and weight of a piece of pork she’s holding and I lift my head so that I can write it down. My strongest desire is to stop for the day and head back to my cabin to be alone, quiet, and at rest. What's best, what's needed is impossible—not today, not working this ranch.

As we stuff the last of the two thousand plus pounds of meat into the last freezer, I think of the way we’ve structured work and life. Responsibility. We push ourselves hard, so often ignoring what the soul or body or mind needs in order to get the job done.

It's not wrong.

It's not right.

It's how it is.

And on this day, between doing the inventory and going back to the kitchen to make a ganache, more yogurt, and to check once more on the kombucha, I wish I had the courage, or maybe the luxury, to be honest and say, "That's all I can do today. See you tomorrow."

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