By Kim Carr:
With winter 2020–2021 barely in my rearview mirror, I find myself shaking off the “brrrr” and turning my face to the sun. Anybody who really knows me, knows that I am not a winter person. I think if I was not a farmer, my fondness for winter might change slightly. Being able to gaze out the window at the snow and stay inside where it is nice and warm, only venturing out for fun things––well, that would change my perspective some. Just the simple fact that it takes me so much time to put on an extra pair of socks, long underwear, sweatpants, an undershirt, a t-shirt, hoodie, a coat, a facemask, with a sock cap over that and, once everything is tucked, zipped, snapped, then I slip on my boots and a pair of gloves. Now I struggle to get the door open because my hands are slippery from the gloves, and I cannot grasp things like I can with my bare hands. This makes winter a little less than super desirable for me. However, I live in Missouri, and part of the joy of living in Missouri means we have four seasons, sometimes all in one day.
In the winter, I waddle outside bundled up like the Michelin Man. Dressed in so many layers, I have an urge to check the tire pressure on the car. After I suppress my Michelin Man tendencies, I go about taking care of my daily farm chores. Despite multiple days that ranged well below zero here in the mighty Midwest, I never really got too cold because I dressed appropriately. While we had single-digit days and negative-zero temps, we were lucky and the wind did not beat us relentlessly like it has in winters past. So, the cold was definitely cold, but it was not make-your-face-fall-off cold. There is a remarkable difference between the two. It also helps that after over 32 years of farming, I have learned to dress properly, which also makes a huge difference. Admittedly, I do not watch much news, but when I do, it makes my head hurt to watch a reporter interview someone about how terribly cold it is, yet the person is not wearing a hat, gloves, or scarf, and they have on a light jacket that they did not even take time to zip. They are standing there with one hand holding the jacket shut like the weather is so bad it might rip the very jacket from their back. Maybe I bundle up like I do because I know once I get out there, I am going to be out there for some time. When you have livestock, you do not really get the option of maybe I will go out and feed animals today, maybe I will not. In reality, though, I am not a fan of the cold; I do not mind doing my chores no matter what the weather. Doing chores (I am not really sure why they are called that) is almost therapeutic.
Frozen and broken eggs is just one challenge that winter brings. The colder it is, the more often eggs need to be collected. In the summer, I need to stay ahead of the black snakes who find the eggs to be a delicacy.
I love the routine of doing my chores, which have a way of changing a little bit every day. You know what things should happen and how they should go, but with animals, you never really know. You cannot control everything and need to have the ability to adjust and adapt as things unfold. Most days go pretty smoothly, but you never know when a chicken will get tangled up in string from a feed sack or when a cow decides to calve on the nastiest day you’ve had in four weeks––or maybe you hear a bunch of chirping and must find where the babies are that have been separated from their mom. Maybe you move a bag of bedding and three mice run up your arm or you go to reach in a nest box to gather eggs and find yourself face to face with a big black snake snacking on your breakfast.
While I looked forward to the thaw, it brought its own challenges. Melting snow turns to ice. I only had one fall this winter, which I count as a huge success.
While spring, summer, and fall have their challenges on the farm, those challenges are just made easier because you are not in a fight to stay warm and safe from the elements like you must do in the winter. One winter challenge that I always dread is that so much of what I do requires that I take my gloves off. It is amazing how fast your fingers will freeze and become useless. I try my best to keep my gloves on as much as possible, but opening gates, locks, connecting water hoses and such requires me to remove my gloves. I am always cautious when working with metal pieces with my gloves off in the winter. More than once, I have had my hands or fingers stick or freeze to a metal lock, gate latch, or water hydrant. I can tell you that once your bare skin sticks to a piece of metal, your mind will immediately go to the scene in A Christmas Story where the little kid gets his tongue stuck on the light pole.
You know the pain; you can feel the pain even if you have never had such pain. Can you imagine the amount of pain it must be to have your tongue frozen to something? That has got to hurt. I am very sympathetic, because I have had to peel my fingertips from a metal gate or latch before. Of course, it is only natural to believe such trauma and pain could only happen in winter, but you would be wrong. Now I am not really a believer in bad luck; I just think things happen and sometimes bad things happen in greater frequency to certain people. I tend to look at it more like life happens. Sometimes life is happy, sad, funny, chaotic, overwhelming, easy going, relaxing, or countless other amazing moments that all come together to create the roadmap to our Young Brandon and I at the rock by the
lives. Some memories you look back on with pond with my Great Dane, Jason. The birch
more fondness than others. trees are long gone, but the big rock is still a
favorite spot to hang out.
One fond memory I have is the birth of my first nephew, Brandon. He was born in October 1988. I had just moved onto my farm in August of that year. I use his birth as a mile marker in my life. Brandon will turn thirty-three this year, so I know I have been here, living life on the farm, for thirty-three years this fall. Being able to share the joys of the farm with Brandon as he grew up has been a true bright spot in all that I have done. Now that he is grown and has a son, Brycen, it, like life, has come full circle, providing me an abundance of riches that I only could have dreamed of back when I was ten and first wanted to become a farmer.
One time when Brandon was little, probably three or four years old, I am not sure why, but of all the things that we could have been doing, my mom and I were bra shopping and Brandon was with us. This still remains one of my least-favorite things to do, bra shop; but for some reason, it needed to be done, and I had my young nephew with me. Like all small kids, he was entertaining himself weaving in and out of the clothes racks when he stopped and was mesmerized by the mannequin wearing nothing but a fancy bra and underwear. Proving the apple does not fall far from the tree, my sweet little nephew, with jaw wide open and his eyes bulging, shouts––no, not just a normal talking voice–– the kid shouts, “Look at those ta-tas.” I am certain I turned a brighter shade of red than the scarlet undies. Now I would laugh, but back then I was embarrassed and sure that everyone within two hundred feet of the lingerie department had overheard this youngster shouting about ta-tas. To this day, I cannot walk past a store mannequin and not think about this moment-in-time without laughter in my heart.
Now, what does any of this have to do with the summer I nearly froze my ta-tas off? Many, many years ago––maybe twenty-five years ago or so, I had a situation here on the farm. Naturally, you think of being frozen as a winter problem (at least I put frozen and winter together), but I like to stretch my boundaries, color outside the lines. Why be normal when you can be extraordinary? I like to look at my challenging moments as an opportunity for growth in some manner. I have learned it is much better to go through life laughing even if things do not always seem funny when they are unfolding. So, like I said, many moons ago, before my mom and grandma built their home here on the farm, I was living by myself out here in the country; nobody but me, the dogs, cows, cats, chickens, and other critters, much like it is today, but I was by myself. Well, back then, my house did not have any air-conditioning. It was an old house surrounded by big shade trees. It must have been built in sections; the living room, bathroom, laundry room, and spare bedroom were built over a basement. The kitchen and my bedroom were built on a slab. My bedroom had a crawl space that actually opened up into the basement. It was rather creepy because it gave access to every critter under the sun that was looking for a cool, damp place to hang out. It was not uncommon to find snakes, toads, crickets, and numerous spiders at any given time in the basement. It was a place that I only visited when getting something out of the deep-freeze. If the deep-freeze were not in the basement, I would never have gone down those stairs. With only one light bulb and a small window, it was dark down there no matter what. The freezer was up on bricks to keep it from shorting out in case of a rain . . . or should I say, mud slide. The basement walls were always like five minutes away from total collapse. How the house is still standing is still a total shock to me. I am not sure why, but one time I was in the basement during a storm and the water poured through the wall in numerous locations. I felt like I should do a Dutch Boy move and start plugging holes but knew it would be of no help.
One summer day, we were in the midst of a heat wave. The temps had been in the nineties day after day after day for what seemed like forever. At night, it only got down into the low eighties. There was no relief and not having any air-conditioning was tough even with the big shade trees outside. I was opening the windows at night and using fans to try and pull in the cooler air, but eighty really is not all that cool. In the morning, I would shut the windows and try to keep the house cool that way. One day, I do not know what I was thinking, but I had just taken a shower. It was so hot, I did not throw on any clothes when I got out of the shower, just a pair of house slippers. I ran downstairs to grab something out of the freezer to cook for dinner. Like I said, I do not know what I was thinking—obviously, I was not thinking one iota. I pushed up the old freezer door with one hand holding it open because the lid would not stay up on its own. Being five foot two, I had to stand on my tippy toes to reach over into the deep freeze to grab a package of meat from the bottom of the freezer with my other hand. It was instantaneous when I realized what a huge mistake I had made. I had already committed and was not leaving without my package for dinner, so I reached deep into the freezer and grabbed my package of meat. Nowadays, freezers are made to be frost free or whatever they call it where they stay free of all the ice buildup. My freezer was not that kind. It had the thick ice build-up along the edges that I swore I would defrost and clean up before I added anything new to the freezer. Hindsight is 20/20.
Anyhow, you can only imagine my surprise as I leaned my half-dry body over into the deep freeze and my (for the sake of the story in case any kids are reading along), let’s just say, my ta-tas, came to rest on the inside of the freezer against the ice buildup. I knew I was in trouble the very second my ta-tas hit the ice, but I was already committed—probably wouldn’t have made much difference, they were frozen to the inside of the freezer the second they hit the side of the freezer. Now here I am on my tip toes, one hand holding the freezer door open over my head, the other clutched to my dinner package, and my ta-tas firmly frozen to the inside of the freezer all alone in the dark, damp basement with no one around except a snake or two, dozens of crickets, and probably oodles of brown recluse spiders without a care in the world to my predicament. To help keep panic from setting in, I imagined myself as being in some sort of high stakes training with the Navy Seals or the FBI. How could I escape this situation, and would I survive? You know you really have to focus and commit when you make the decision to just rip your frozen flesh, causing it to detach from your own body. These are the kind of decisions that had to be made when you have no nearby neighbors that might hear your screams of terror and pain; no one will be arriving home in a matter of hours, and this is before the cell phone days––not to mention, I did not have any pockets to hold a cell phone.
Signs of spring around the farm. Slowly but surely things are starting to green, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I have made it through another winter on the farm.
I must admit, freezing my ta-tas in the middle of summer is not something I ever would have thought possible, but living on a farm has taught me to roll with the punches. You never know what life might put in your path. Sometimes you go over the obstacle, around it, or straight through it. No matter how I handle those obstacles or challenges that life puts in my path, I try to find humor in those moments. It might not be right away; I can tell you I found no humor when I was frozen to the freezer, but looking back, I find it hysterical. The fact that I did not lose any body parts makes it even more humorous. I hope that whatever challenges life throws at you, winter, spring, summer, or fall, that you will charge through it, go over or around, and perhaps find some humor on the other side of it all.
Kim Carr is a photographer and mid-Missouri hobby farmer who has combined her love for the country life with that of natural-light photography. Her work reflects my commitment to sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of all animals. To learn more about Kim, read her interview with Elizabeth Gracen here.
To purchase Kim's photography, visit her website.