Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

The Wisdom of the Wheelbarrow.

Posted on | April 27, 2014 | 6 Comments

Large jobs require large amounts of procrastination.  But this spring, when the deep litter in the barn reached the same level as the top of the water trough, I couldn’t put off cleaning it out any longer.  By the same token, if I wanted to make a fourth raised bed in the garden I needed to get loads of compost down there before it was actually time to plant.  So I decided to combine the miserable jobs of cleaning out the barn and hauling compost to the garden by simply carrying load after load of dirty bedding straight down to the garden where it could compost in place.  Lazy but effective.

Yet if the task ahead seemed daunting (6 months worth of hay and poop in the barn!) and the labor seemed wearisome (why is the only spot of full sun for the garden 960 feet from the compost pile?), the wheelbarrow was more than a match.  Supported by the elemental forces of  the fulcrum, it is a powerful tool.  Sustained by centuries of use for both the menial….

and the majestic task….

it is a conventional tool with extraordinary uses.

Which is not to say that it is a good multi-tasker.  It stinks at multi-tasking.  Load it up with soil, balance your seedlings on top, and head to the garden, and you’re headed for disaster.  At the first bump the seedlings will tip over or fall off, crushing the delicate growth.  Arrange your different sizes of poultry staples, T-post fence clips, bolt cutters, cage clips, wire clippers and crimping tools in the wheelbarrow, pick it up, and by the time you arrive at the hole in the fence it will all be a jumble of mixed of sizes and spilled boxes in the bottom.  Stop halfway to the perennial bed to scratch an itch on your nose, let go of one of the handles, and the wheelbarrow is sure to tip over, spilling compost in the driveway.

The wheelbarrow prefers to focus on one job, one load, one trip at a time.  No distractions, please.

Which might just be what makes it so powerful.

Because when I started cleaning out the barn, my multi-tasking mind was going a million miles a minute.  What was I going to make for dinner?  How many more days until the transplants could come out of the greenhouse?  Who was going to take Little to soccer while I was picking Big up from lacrosse?  Could I get away with sweeping up the dog hair downstairs instead of vacuuming today?  What in the heck is that password for the ParentPortal website so I can check the kids’ progress reports?  Should I water the greens in the garden this afternoon or wait until tomorrow morning?  Where am I going to find more hay until the first cutting?

With each scoop of the pitchfork, I was planning the amount of chores I could get done after finishing the barn but before I had to pick up Pretty from school.  As I dumped the manure, I was writing a grocery list in my head.  When I returned through the barnyard, I was taking note of areas of the barn that needed fixing (the automatic waterer, the hoses to the buck pen, the roost ladder).  Because a perfectly balanced load didn’t require much mental concentration.  Fill the wheelbarrow just enough to make it worth your while, but not enough to make you strain on the way down….

and your mind is completely free to chase its own tail for a while.  Until load by load, trip by trip, the wheelbarrow begins to exert its will over your own.

Eventually the sounds of the day get louder than the nonsense in your head.  Bella snoring in the shade by the barn door.

The rustling in the woods as Thunder and his ladies scratch for bugs in the leaf debris.

The gurgling of the waterfall in the pond each time I pass.

Julia noshing on her cud nearby as I dig into the deep litter.

The birds twittering at the feeder in the front yard.  They didn’t even bother to fly away by the time I trudged past with the 4th load.

The wheelbarrow rolls, your thoughts retreat, the day emerges.  Because once your mind is quiet, your eyes are opened.

The comfrey that I got from my friend Katherine and that is coveted by all the critters in the barnyard had already appeared.

The same with the lamb’s ear I received from my friend Elaina in return for some farm sitting.

There is autumn sedum that I received as one plant from my friend, Marnie, many years ago.  I have divided that plant so many times that it appears in every perennial bed on the property.  It is the first to turn green in the spring and the last plant to stop blooming every fall.  As resilient as Marnie herself.

A section of tulip bulbs that my friend Tanya gave me one visit because she thought she had waited to long to plant them.  Yet they bloomed that year and every spring since then.

The first buds on the Japanese maple from my Aunt Peg, Uncle Roger, and cousin Christopher.

The only remaining rhododendron that I brought back from my grandmother’s property after her funeral.  The other 7 plants were scratched up by the chickens or died after my haphazard transplanting process.  But this one has already survived the chickens, the transplant, forgotten waterings, and a freezing winter.

How is it that I rarely notice all these signs of love and friendship that surround my daily trek to the barn and path to the garden?

Never mind enjoying all the rewards of past toils.  Like the bushels of daffodils that line the garden fence.  They are still blooming long after my back and knees have forgotten the ache of digging in 350 bulbs.

Or appreciating the plants that do all the work themselves. Like the creeping jenny that has crept over this barren hillside in just one season.

Oh, and have I ever really considered how many shades of green exist in the spring garden alone???

Therein lies the sacred force of the wheelbarrow.  For once your ears are tuned to the exuberant bird song and the crunch of gravel under your feet, once your eyes are focused on the budding dogwoods and shifting cloud shapes in the sky, there is nothing more than the simple task at hand.

Nothing to plan.  Nothing to worry about.  Just load after load.  Trip after trip.

The wheelbarrow rolls.

The barn empties.

The garden fills.

A cool breeze is a precious gift.

A brief spring shower is a blessing from above.

I can appreciate the strong grasp of my milking hands on the way down the driveway.

And am grateful even for my solid farmer thighs on the way back uphill.

The smooth flow of my shoulders during the sweep of the pitchfork.  The confident lift of my back as I heft the wheelbarrow.  Perhaps the neighbors just see a sweaty woman in a manure-covered T-shirt, ripped barn shorts, and more hair in her face than in her hair clip.  But this job, this work, this body, feels just as graceful and purposeful as the wheelbarrow itself.  Can there be anything more powerful than that?

They say that Buddha created the concept of mindfulness around 400 B.C.  An awareness of one’s mind, feelings, and body in the present moment.  Complete attention to now.  But if he created it, the wheelbarrow has been practicing and teaching that mindfulness since it came along in 200 A.D. It’s amazing what you can take in and what you can let go of when moving at the pace of the wheelbarrow.  Plus I got 6 months of muck and mush cleared away from the water trough.  Enough room for even a duck to pass through.

And a whole new raised bed row to plant the winter squash.

Huh.  Maybe the wheelbarrow can multi-task after all. 🙂

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. – See more at:

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. – See more at:


6 Responses to “The Wisdom of the Wheelbarrow.”

  1. Sherry Herry
    April 28th, 2014 @ 4:44 am

    Very nice article!

  2. Jill
    April 28th, 2014 @ 6:39 am


  3. Ferne K
    April 28th, 2014 @ 8:17 am

    Wonderful, thoughtful piece of writing. Now I wonder if I can bring a wheelbarrow into my house to clean out the closets. Something to think about.

  4. admin
    April 28th, 2014 @ 9:09 am

    Honestly, hauling wheelbarrow loads of manure to the garden is more appealing than switching out the kids’ winter clothes to summer clothes in their closets. That’s still on my To Do list……

  5. annabelle
    April 28th, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

    beautiful! and once again.. we are in exactly the same place.. I too am mucking 6..9! months worth of picky goat waste and filling new raised beds.. but in sunny CA

  6. Lisa D
    April 30th, 2014 @ 9:05 am

    Glad to see you are practicing your skills! Mindfulness is exactly what I was thinking as I read this. That retreat is really paying off 🙂

Leave a Reply

  • Archives

  • Tags

  • February 2023
    M T W T F S S
  • Meta

  • Humor & Funny Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
  • Best Green Blogs