How to tell if you’re infected.
Certain people, myself included, are afflicted by a condition that’s difficult to describe. It’s not recognized by physicians or psychoanalysts (yet), but it’s really only a matter of time before it’s a household diagnosis. It’s a sharp, targeted depression, a sudden overcast feeling that hits you while you’re at work or standing in the grocery-store checkout line. It’s a dreamer’s disease, a mix of hope, determination, and grit. It attacks those of us who wish to God we were outside with our flocks, feed bags, or harnesses instead of sitting in front of a computer screen. When a severe attack hits, it’s all you can do to sit still. The room gets smaller, your mind wanders, and you are overcome with the desire to be tagging cattle ears or feeding pigs. (People at the office water cooler will stare and slowly back away if you say this out loud. If this happens to you, just segue into sports banter and you’ll be fine.)
The symptoms are mild at first. You start reading online homesteading forums and shopping at cheese-making supply sites on your lunch break. You go home after work and instead of turning on the television, you bake a pie and study chicken-coop building plans. Then somehow, somewhere along the way you realize that you’re happiest when you’re weeding the garden or collecting eggs from the henhouse. It’s all downhill from there. When you accept that a fulfilling life requires tractor attachments and a septic system, it’s too late.
You’ve already been infected with the disease.
This condition is roughly defined as the state of knowing unequivocally that you want to be a farmer but, due to personal circumstances, cannot be one just yet. So there you are, heartsick and confused in the passing lane, wondering why you can’t stop thinking about heritage-breed livestock and electric fences. Do not be afraid. You are not alone. You have what I have. You are suffering from Barnheart.
But do not panic, my dear friends; there is a remedy! The condition must be fought with direct, intentional actions that yield tangible, farm-related results. If you find yourself overcome with the longings of Barnheart, simply step outside, get some fresh air, and breathe. Go back to your desk and finish your office work, knowing that tonight you’ll be taking notes on spring garden plans and perusing seed catalogs. Usually, those small, simple actions that lead you in the direction of your own farm can help ease the longing.
At times, though, you might find yourself resorting to extreme measures — calling in “sick” to work in the garden, muck out chicken coops, collect eggs, and bake bread. After all, this is a disease of inaction, and it hits us hardest when we are furthest from our dreams. If you find yourself suffering, make plans to visit an orchard, a dairy farm, or a livestock auction. Go pick berries at a local U-pick farm. Busy hands will get you on the mend.
And when you find yourself sitting in your office, classroom, or café and your mind wanders to dreams of the farming life, know that you are not alone. There are those of us who also long for the bitter scent of manure and sweet odor of hay in the air, to feel the sun on our bare arms. (I can just about feel it, too, even in January, in a cubicle on the third floor of an office building.) Even though we straighten up in our ergonomic desk chairs, we’d rather be stretched out in the bed of a pickup truck, drinking in the stars on a crisp fall night.
When your mind wanders like this and your heart feels heavy, do not lose the faith, and do not fret about your current circumstances. Everything changes. If you need to stand in the slanting light of an old barn to lift your spirits, go for it. Perhaps someday you’ll do this every day. For some, this is surely the only cure. I may be such a case.
We’ll get there. In the meantime, let us just take comfort in knowing we’re not alone. And maybe take turns standing up and admitting we have a problem.
Hello. My name is Jenna. And I have Barnheart.
Excerpted from Barnheart © by Jenna Woginrich,
used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Now available. Click here to read more