WAKING UP ON A FARM
Anyone who has followed my writing for a while knows that my grandparents had a large corn farm in Iowa pre-Depression, and they lost most of that farm post-Depression . . . I’m talking The Great Depression for those of you who do not know American History. I was only on that farm once, as a five-year old, but it had a lasting impression on me.
I’ve owned acreage twice in my lifetime. Five acres in Vermont, five acres in Gig Harbor, Washington, and to me, there is no greater place to live than on your own acreage, ideally with animals and veggies and all manner of living things surrounding you.
I am reminded of that today as I sit on a four-acre farm school, my latest semi-permanent home base, and I thought I would take a moment to tell you what it is like.
The morning begins in almost stereotypical fashion for a farm . . . a rooster crows at seven a.m., this being late fall and the corresponding late sunrise. I smile when I hear nature’s alarm clock, a fairly nasty bird, that rooster, not terribly friendly, but as good as they come in announcing dawn.
There is no hurry for me to go feed the animals, my weekend chore. They are accustomed to eating around nine, so I have breakfast, put on my coat, leash up Maggie, and head out into the damp mist for our first of many walks. Ground fog hovers ten feet above terra firma, almost like steam although I know it isn’t, and on this Saturday morning the surrounding area is eerily quiet. Fog will do that, suppress noise, in fact misdirect noise, so that sounds coming from the east sound as though they are emanating from the north, or west, strange that, I’m sure there is a scientific reason for it, but why spoil magic with science?
With the walk completed, it is time to feed Maggie girl, spoil her some, have a morning chat with her, heat up some coffee, almost shudder at the pure joy of that first sip, sunlight now breaking through the mist, and it is time for my rounds. Maggie is not allowed with me for feeding animals; they are spooked by the strange dog, although in Maggie’s defense she is on her best behavior, bred to be a farm dog and it will always be in her DNA.
I give her a treat and leave the warmth of the bus.
Barn cats are first, none to be seen but five empty dishes are proof that they are around. I then open the door to the large coop which houses six hens and a peacock who thinks he’s a chicken. They spring from their nighttime home, I toss some food on the ground, and the pecking commences. Walk another ten feet to the second coop, this one housing aforementioned rooster with his three ladies, no releasing this group because of the cantankerous nature of Mr. Nasty, so food is tossed into the coop and we leave it at that. A quick check of water in both coops tells me all is well, and it is time to deal with the pigs.
Four pigs total, potbelly by breed, and if you’ve ever dealt with any kind of pig you will know they take their food seriously. They are rock solid, they are heavy, and many a novice farmer has made the mistake of thinking those cute little piggies are harmless. Truth be told they can accidently break your ankle or leg simply by lunging right when you are moving left, so feeding them requires opening the door, faking them out with some misdirection, placing food into trough, and getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible without slipping and falling on any loose excrement, slimy in nature and as nasty as you can ever imagine.
My favorite part is next, feeding the horses, two in number, first some grain to keep them occupied, then two flakes of hay for later on, and if I’m lucky they will let me pet their necks, but luck is not on my side this morning. Their exhales create a plume of air, I always love watching that on cold mornings, and if push came to shove, and I was forced to choose, I think horses would be my favorite of the many farm animals available. Graceful, powerful, and incredibly gentle if they know you.
I trudge through the barn to the other side of the property where two sheep and two alpacas are kept in their own corral. This one is a little tricky because the sheep want to steal the alpaca’s food, one alpaca is aggressive by nature, one is so afraid she is almost impossible to feed like the others and, well, it takes some slight of hand and coaxing to get that particular job completed.
One last feeding job, a quick five-minute drive to another property where three goats await their breakfast, then back to the farm where the sun has completely broken through the mist and Maggie is waiting for my attention. The sounds of the surrounding area beat out a rhythm of rural land, engines coughing and then starting, trashcan lids clanging, wood being chopped, overhead Canadian Geese honk on their way south, perfect flying formation, a chainsaw shatters the moment, smaller birds compete for attention, and of course random dog barking for no apparent reason at all. The late-risers are now out of bed and, for me, the magic of the early morning is gone . . . but I smile when I think that tomorrow brings more magic, and the day after that, and after that, until my magic runs out.
THE FRAILITY OF LIFE
True story . . . in seventy-five years I have known not one person who suffered from ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but in the last week, I kid you not, I have heard of three casual friends who have been diagnosed with it, one three months ago and she already died.
Isn’t that weird?
I think of this thing called life often, and one thing that has me absolutely baffled is why I have skated through almost completely unscathed. I pay very little attention to living a healthy lifestyle. I eat like a college dorm kid. I exercise in spurts, when the spirit moves me. And yet I am as healthy as the proverbial horse. Colds? I don’t get them. The flu? Nope! Run down and feeling drained? Can’t say that’s me. Never had a major illness. Last sprained an ankle when I was twelve. A back operation in 1989 for a bulged disc, completely recovered, no residual pain. Artificial hip two years ago, completely recovered, no residual pain. I do not have sleepless nights, have stayed within a twenty pound range in weight since I was twenty . . . it’s just mind-boggling that I am functioning at all.
It all seems so random. Who was that health guru a few years back who died of a heart attack when he was forty? Jim something, I think. Who could have seen that one coming? My best friend, Frank, dead of spine cancer, worked out all the time, ate all the right foods, went in for a pain in the back and was diagnosed with Stage 4. And I know quite a few people/friends who are plagued with poor health, who struggle to get through each day, without crippling pain
This is all an insight into my mind and this nomad lifestyle. I may as well live life to the fullest because you all know damned well, my lottery number is going to come up sooner rather than later.
It just all seems so random, you know?