words and images: Jessica Sowards
Have you ever been so familiar with something that when you got a different view of it, it took you by surprise? Do you know what I mean? Like when you see a photo of yourself from the back and think, “Oh, how strange.” Or when you run into a person you know from work while on vacation in another city, and you hardly recognize them out of their usual setting? It’s like a revelation of something you thought you knew well, the realizing there is still more to learn.
My farm during daytime is as familiar to me as my own body. The way the morning light shines upon her through the trees, she glows and glistens before the dew dries. The smells of animals and manure mingle with the sweet scent of hay and grass. It assaults the senses in all the best ways and in some of the worst ones. The day is fruitful. The chickens are laying, and the goats are being milked. I tend to the garden in the mornings and spend the afternoons in the kitchen, mixing and kneading dough. The day is busy and long, tiring but so lovely. The night, however, is a foreign thing.
The moonlight is cold and slightly suggestive. It plays tricks on the eyes; it transforms trees into shadowy towers and forests into bottomless expanses. But from the barn, it is a mercy light.
When I think of my life before this farm, it feels like looking into someone else’s story. The neighborhood I called home for
decades now feels like a different world. Back then, when nights were lit by electric streetlamps, and the stars were drowned from view, I would have called night dark and quiet. Neighbors slept when I slept, so their cars and TVs slept too. And so it was quiet, and beyond the streetlamps, it was dark.
In the barn, I’m surrounded by the sound of chewing cud. Even as my goat herd lies resting, they chew. It’s a rhythmic sound, strangely comforting and so very alive. The sweet scent of hay is somewhat muted by the damp of the night. The hay feeder stands nearly empty, depleted from constant visits by twelve hungry girls today, waiting to be replenished by the farm boys in the morning. From the back of our property, a soft lull of birds floats through the night air. They make noise even in their sleep, the guineas, turkeys, and chickens. Low, hushed squawks and the occasional crow, it is a gentle sound compared to the roar and ruckus of daybreak.
In the far distance, a siren sounds. Perhaps the volunteer fire department or maybe an ambulance seven miles off in the closest town? I can hardly hear it. It reaches my ears more like a question than a declaration, but then Dakota, our giant white livestock guardian dog booms in response. The doe jumps in surprise, and I do, too. Then we settle back into our reverent waiting. The night, in all her soft and tender sounds, she is anything but quiet, and she fills the air again as the booming subsides.
The clock has rolled past midnight now. I heard the TV switch off a while ago, the farmer abandoning his wait for me to return. If I were to go in, I’d find five boys sleeping in five beds, mouths slightly open, with deep, soft snores emitting from their sweet bodies. And I’d find the farmer sleeping just the same as his sons, curled on the left side of the bed with blankets on the right side pulled back, inviting. I won’t go in just yet, though. I’ll stay on my post, surveying the farm and observing the swollen and stirring goat.
In the country, even in the very depths of night, it is not dark. Even now, the moon is waxing, nearly full. He joins with his bedfellows, the stars, to sing over my farm and those surrounding. The light that falls in the night is very different than the soft glow of morning or the golden blaze of dusk. The moonlight is cold and slightly suggestive. It plays tricks on the eyes; it transforms trees into shadowy towers and forests into bottomless expanses. But from the barn, it is a mercy light. It means I am not alone, with my glowing computer screen, in lighting the place.
Oh, and the stars, the silver, singing stars. I couldn’t see them from the neighborhood. I remember late-night car trips on country roads, when I, the city girl, would demand the car be pulled over. From the shoulder, I would awe, neck craned, at the galaxy I lived my life oblivious to. If I may confess to you tonight, from my rocking chair post, in becoming a regular farm girl, I have come to take the stars for granted.
Tonight is different, though. It is not a regular night. It is not a night where we arrive home too late and unload sleeping children beneath the waving sky without so much as a glance upward. Tonight, the stars have my eyes. They look almost layered as if laid down above me in sheets and I am certain they tell a story beyond my ability to comprehend. Surely they are a part of something so much bigger than me. Beneath these stars, on a little farm in the Arkansas woods, I am very, very small.
The doe is shifting, her long face lays upon the hay. She begins to doze, and I wonder if perhaps we will have a morning baby instead of a night one. The new mother in the kidding stall next door whispers sweet nothings to her day-old kid. It has been a fruitful weekend. My mind wanders to the contents of the pantry, planning breakfast for a full house. Farmhouse quiches are my fallback breakfasts for sleepy mornings, and tomorrow will certainly be one. As captivating as night is, the morning pushes her way in whether I welcome her or not.
As one a.m. flirts with the clock on my screen, I imagine curling up on the hay as well. Or maybe wandering into my comfortable bed. Perhaps if I open the window to the damp, cool night, the sounds of strong labor will carry in and alert me. Will I risk it? Maybe. In a little while, if she continues to rest, I’ll do the same. But for now, for just a little while longer, I’ll sit up with her and the living, shining night. I’ll close my eyes to the gentle sounds of a farm as she sleeps, as she chews and crows and prepares for another fruitful day. I’ll close my eyes to the bright, story-telling sky. I’ll feel the warm, full body press against my boots and the calm, sweet breeze kiss me goodnight. Goodnight. Goodnight, night. You are lovely to discover.
Follow Jessica on her blog @thehodgepodgedarling.blogspot.com.