My daughter moved to Tennessee a month ago to work on a livestock ranch. I asked her if she could write about what she’s been doing, and this is what she sent back. She’s worried it’s a bit all over the place, but what she’s feeling is something that might have been or might be true for many of you too!
In case you didn’t know (which you likely didn’t since I’ve only met a handful of you), I moved away from home and out east to Tennessee about four weeks ago to a new job/internship on a cattle ranch. Long story short, I want to become a livestock veterinarian, and starting work on the farm was not just a step in that path but also a kind of checkpoint, a way to experience and reflect upon whether working with animals, living in a rural area, and interacting with other ranchers and farmers was the kind of life I want to ultimately lead. The answer to that is still complicated and unclear, and perhaps being here has actually raised more questions than it’s answered - likely because the dream has gone from being an simple abstraction in my head to a reality that is still continuing to unfold out to all its trailing ends.
Long work days are generally followed by online class and school work and then a phone call home before I go to bed. I struggle to encompass what I’ve been up to, the kind of people I’ve met, and the way my life is unfolding in these twenty minute FaceTime conversations with my family. … which is why my mom asked me to write this blog for her, because she thought I could say more than she could about my experience. Well, therein lies the problem. How do I write in a blog post what I can’t even express in the accumulation of hours of phone conversation?
And so here I am, kind of stuck. And the only thing I can think is this: that the stories of my time here - the lessons learned, things realized, encounters with others - can only be told candidly and confidently after I’ve spent a great deal more time here. I need to feel that I belong here, and that I understand (and am understood) instead of just observing the people who have so generously taken me under their wing in order to reach a place where I can speak either of them or of myself. And that feeling is the feeling that is guiding me most right now. The longing to actually invest myself before I talk about that investment (instead of the other way around) tells me that, in reference to what I said in the beginning, I’m interested in the reality and all its trailing ends far more than I am interested in the abstract of that reality. I think that the moment reality becomes worth something far more than the dream is not just an indicator that you’re on the right path, but I hope an indicator of some internal growth as well. I think it’s a process that any person who actually finds a passion for something, whether it's baking or caring for animals or becoming a teacher, undergoes: a process where you have to disappear for a while because you have to find what creates you inside yourself before you ever dare to write about it or speak about it or teach about it.
And I think about my mom and the kind of work she does now. She loves it, and it’s hard work, but it gives her life. The only reason she writes so openly and readily to you all each month about her work and her life is because she’s spent a long time living what’s true to her without telling others about it. The people she writes about too - her parents, her friends, the people she works with - are represented not just as good people, or as role models, but as those she loves and cherishes. And that’s just it. You have to just live before you can talk about living.
And so I’m sorry, mom, that I am not yet able to talk about everything I’ve been learning and feeling. If I do this right, I’ll get there, and perhaps then I will be able to write a letter she wanted me to write and that I will also want to and be able to write. But for now, I am for the most part silent. What I will say are little things I’ve learned in the past couple weeks. I hope you enjoy.
The label “free-range” doesn’t actually mean all that much. Free range animals can be labeled as such if they are kept in an asphalt parking lot. The label you are looking for instead, but will likely not find, is “pastured.” The ranch I’m at keeps all their animals on pasture. They graze and roam as they like. It takes up a whole lot more land, but they’re healthier, happier, and I think they taste a whole lot better.
DO NOT put double layered cookie sheets in the dishwasher. The water will get between the layers and next time you put it in the oven it will explode.
Ruminants like cattle only have bottom teeth (this is true of all ruminants - goats, sheep, etc.). They eat grass by grabbing it with their lips and pulling.
Chicks are so stupid that you have to put pebbles in their water bowl because otherwise they’ll stick their heads in too far and just drown.
More on the chicks… caring for 300 of them has been my sole responsibility, and 14 have died so far. It killed me every time I went to check on them and found some keeled over, but as Ms. Jenny, my boss and temporary mom told me, “if you own livestock, you also own dead-stock. It’s just life. People forget that about life sometimes.”
April’s dessert will be apple cake. My daughter, who is working long hours in Tennessee, I am sure would love a bite or two of this right now! If I could, I would wrap one up and mail it to her. I use apples that I cook in honey and almond flour to bake this little cake. The black sesame seeds that I mix into the dough is my favorite part; they give it the subtle texture and really lovely smell. I would love for you all to try it. I am also offering a spring quiche to welcome the new season.
I have also made more of the soap that was such a hit last year! The nice smell always brightens my day when I use it. They are perfect as gifts for a good friend.
Cherry blossom season is in full bloom in Japan this time of year. I haven’t seen the ‘sakura’ (my daughter’s namesake) season in over ten years now, but even now, i can remember the tradition of sitting under the blooming trees with good friends and picnicking and partying. There aren’t any cherry blossoms in Pasadena, but that definitely doesn’t mean the picnicking and partying cannot commence (hopefully very soon, since the pandemic seems to have begun waning). I look forward to seeing you all.