City Mouse, Country Mouse

See a beautiful goat kid? Beauty belies the truth: manually pulled from her mother, bottle fed because she was two weak to stand, then put down at 3 months old because of an injury.

See a beautiful goat kid? Beauty belies the truth: manually pulled from her mother, bottle fed because she was too weak to stand, then put down at 3 months old because of an injury.

I glanced down at my shirt as I got out of the car. Damn. Frayed on the hem, and stained with something dark—blood, probably. I sighed. Once again I would be the worst dressed parent at school—the country mouse among city mice.

It was easy when the kids were at the local rural school. Most of the parents showed up in manure-splattered gumboots and dirty coveralls there. But now that the kids are at school in the city, I feel a vast cultural divide between myself and the other parents.

They walk in wearing impeccable make-up, high heels, and dry clean-only clothes. They sport jewellery and labour-intensive hairstyles. Meanwhile, I’ve thrown on my least decrepit pair of blue jeans, hiking boots, and a t-shirt of dubious cleanliness. If I’m lucky, I’ve combed the hay out of my hair.

When these city parents find out I live on a lifestyle block in the country, they wax lyrical about how someday they want to live “the good life” in the country. I look at them dubiously. Those high heels wouldn’t work well in a muddy paddock. If they persist, I describe for them my daily routine, beginning at 5 most mornings. I enumerate the hours of hard labour in the garden, the DIY vetting (not for the faint of heart) that comes with owning livestock, the never ending struggle to maintain a rotting 125 year-old house.

It’s worse when city folk come to visit. Of course, other than at kidding time (see Worst Hostess of the Year), when visitors arrive, work stops. We make sure the garden is weeded, the grass trim, and the usual mess of half-finished projects is cleaned up before visitors come. We serve the fruits of our labour—homemade cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables. We relax with a glass of wine. Visitors get the impression it is always like this.

The truth is much dirtier and sweatier, and it’s visible in our clothing. No matter how careful I am, eventually I find myself trimming hooves, treating an abscess, or tying up tomatoes in my “city” clothes. I sweat every day. I am regularly splattered with blood—my own or a goat’s. None of my shoes is reliably without manure on the soles.

So while the city folk see only the romance of rural subsistence farming, we live the reality. Are there moments of romance? Yes. In the silence of early morning milking. In the evening strolls around the property, when the day’s work is done. In the daily sweep through the vegetable garden to pick dinner. In the frolicking play of goat kids in the paddock. But it takes long, hard work to create those moments of romance, and the romance probably isn’t worth it unless you also enjoy the work. And, of course, if you don’t mind being the worst dressed parent at school.

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