Farming in the dark is a delightful exercise in patience, faith and silliness. It is due in part to the wintry season, and in larger part to having zero working lights in the barn.
It begins with the two blown light bulbs in the barn that need replacing. Changing a light bulb in this instance is no easy matter. First, there is forgetting that the lights don’t work until you are there flipping the switch. There’s the realization that nothing in the barn is safe enough to climb upon, and there’s that nagging resistance to the idea of fetching your kitchen step-stool, because “barn bacteria” and “kitchen clean” don’t sit comfortably together in your mind. And so most days you stop here. But just in case your inner-procrastinator requires any reassurance, you can always play out the rest of the “remembering” scenario: remembering to take the old light bulbs to the store, which involves remembering to take them in the car with you, remembering to stop at the hardware store, and remembering to bring the bulbs into the shop to see what kind you have. Then there’s purchasing them, getting them home, up into the barn and now you’re right back at the step-stool conundrum.
So instead you embrace the darkness, telling yourself you’re saving money. For emergencies, you have a little strap with a headlight you could wear, though you haven’t needed to yet. Working in the dark, your intuition and guesswork guide you. Your eyes and brain rest, while your heart and gut do the thinking.
Throwing grain for chickens, you listen for the sharp patter of the feed falling to know your scoop is above their tray. Missing means it falls silently onto the straw bedding underfoot. Throwing it and hoping it hits is an exercise in faith. Missing and immediately letting your mistake go is an exercise in self-forgiveness. Finding yourself inadvertently practicing small meditations on faith and forgiveness, alone in silence, first thing in the morning, is no bad thing.
Climbing and reaching for hay bales, grasping at where you guess the two parallel lines of twine might be, automatically slipping your hands under them and grabbing them, without first having seen them, is sheer magic. It feels like farmgirl instinct. And for someone who grew up in London, there’s still a silly shiver of delight to be found in it.
Eyes now attuned to the darkness, you look outside and better appreciate the slow dawn rising. Beyond this light, the warm, yellow-glow of the farmhouse kitchen window beckons. When you return inside, the kettle will have boiled, you’ll be sipping tea and parenting children within minutes, which somehow feels like an entire world away. Because briefly, you belong most — right here. Breathing in patience and faith, exhaling silliness and delight.
Etienne White lives where the land meets the sky on a farm in Iowa County where she raises grass-fed, Old English Babydoll sheep, as well as pastured chickens, a happy farm dog, a wily barn cat and her two spirited children. She runs a consulting business working at the intersection of sustainability and marketing, and is a sought-after speaker on sustainability in the United States and Europe.