Small-scale shepherding is not a lucrative undertaking, especially when one has a fiber flock mostly composed of pets. In an effort to not lose money on my shepherding habit, I started a business with an old friend a few years ago called ‘Plainsong Fiber.’ She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where there are fiber enthusiasts a-plenty, as well as an abundance of fiber festivals and yarn shops. Once or twice a year, she comes out for an extended visit to help with the sheep, skirt and sort fleeces, and spin wool before taking the pick of that year’s shearing to Seattle.
My friend and her daughter arrived this week for their annual visit to bright sun and high temperatures, but Seattle missed them, and almost immediately the dry heat shifted to mist and rain. We aren’t complaining, and neither is the grass after the last few months of drought. Even the sheep and lambs, damp through their fine, curly coats don’t seem to mind. They are happy to be out nibbling on fresh stems instead of the last wisps of winter hay.
It also means we are spending a lot of time in the outbuilding we’ve been slowly converting to a fiber studio. The building had long been used as a storage shed, but in its poured concrete floor and sound structure I saw promise. Over the last few years we’ve tinned the roof, added a small lean-to greenhouse, replaced the ancient, impossible-to-open garage doors, and put in an old wood stove. While aesthetically it still looks more like a shed than anything else, calling it a studio no longer sounds aspirational.
I was contemplating this progress when we lit a fire in the woodstove this morning. My friend had set her spinning wheel up next to the stove, and the wheel’s quiet whir accompanied the snap and crackle of the logs as they burned. Our mama cat and her latest batch of kittens have a cozy bed in the studio as well, and the kids played with the chubby babies while I sorted wool, rain tapping gently on the roof.
I’m a person with lots of ideas. Too many ideas it often seems; the capacity of my imagination always bigger than the time, energy, or resources at my disposal. This tendency leaves me feeling that no matter how fast I run, I am always running behind. Our fledgling fiber business is a perfect example. We could be hustling harder, posting more cute pictures and fun stories to social media, working to cultivate relationships with shops and online influencers to build our “brand.” But, between ranching, mothering, and my work as a writer and musician, I actually can’t hustle any harder for the business – I’m already overextended.
When I was younger I imagined eventually I would figure out how to reach the end of a daily to-do list with time left over to sit outside and sip an artfully concocted beverage in my well-tended garden. Now, firmly ensconced in middle-age, I consider it an accomplishment to drink a full glass of water, and I’ve had to admit, if I want any garden at all, it will never be well-tended. Looking over at my friend and our children using this space just as I’d imagined we would, a dream growing, albeit slowly, toward fruition, should feel like a victory. Instead, I see the cobwebs and unfinished walls, the tubs of dirty wool, the hours of work ahead, and I am exhausted before I begin.
The real work of my adulthood, it turns out, is not learning how to do it all. It’s about learning how to joyfully leave work undone. It’s about looking at an unfinished project and seeing all the progress instead of all that’s left to do. It’s about carving out space in the relentlessness of my own expectations to be still.
Outside the rain falls steadily, seeping through dusty soil to roots that have been waiting patiently for a drink. A drink that arrived later than expected, but still in plenty of time to grow a prairie’s worth of summer blooms.
Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in the northwest part of South Dakota. She’s a musician, mom, author, and shepherd. She writes a column for newspapers in her region and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can learn more about Eliza on her website.