A Peaceable Kingdom

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

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The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks (about 1833)

For those of us a bit up in years and knee-deep in the matters of bottle feeding lambs, shoveling manure, paying bills, and wondering where the next  arthritic pain might arise, the romantic aspects of Valentine’s Day are pretty much lost on us. That’s not to say that we have an (albeit) murky memory of such things.  And that we don’t applaud the incredible optimism of those who do find love before, after, around or merely on this day.  And that we certainly wouldn’t eschew a box of chocolates or some flowers …  But love takes on a different meaning for some of us, after all the kissing has been done.

That is to say that receiving a snort from a goat or a woolly greeting from a sheep now delights us just as much as Tall, Dark, and Handsome once did.

The other day I saw our alpaca Marguerite tearing down the driveway in pursuit of  Nicole the Great Pyrenees who was desperately trying to get away from her.  Marguerite swung her neck in absolute delight, “look Ma, no hands!”  The unexpected gives me more joy than any night out at the movies ever did.

Let’s be honest here  – ever since I found several dozen kindred souls at an “Anti-Valentine’s Day” party, where there was a Cupid piñata and a 4 hour playlist that included such hits as “Love Stinks”  and “Tainted Love”, I’ve had a different appreciation for this day. And I assiduously avoid it.  Until now.

This year I just have the feeling that everyone might benefit from indulging in a few mushy feelings. Forget and wine and roses: let’s talk about animals.

“We like each other’s company and while we all had different parents, we can all agree on one thing: we find deep meaning in cookies.”

Raise your hands, now – how many of you actually can’t get to sleep at night until your dog or cat is snugly in bed with you?  How many of you have had to toss your partner onto the couch because “there are too many bodies for this bed”?  Who among you would rather hang out with your friends’ pets at a party than try to meet new folks?  I thought so. So take it up a notch or three and you might just land on a farm.

Over time the house has hosted (sometime inadvertently) goats, sheep, turkeys, roosters, rabbits, and a pig – not to mention a host of wild creatures who make their way inside, sometimes on the feline express.  While this would not really put us in the running for “House Beautiful”, it’s a good way to live.  We like each other’s company and while we all had different parents, we can all agree on one thing: we find deep meaning in cookies (except Gruff the sheep who is obviously very confused about life).  Every evening there are knocks on the back door – first from Dee Dee Donkey who slams it with her front hooves, then Angel the sheep who head-butts it . Then eventually I hear the gathering sounds of the dinner crowd: Waldo the pig grunting, baaing, mooing, barking, and the occasional swear word. Mostly they want cookies.  Molasses cookies, ginger snaps, Fig Newtons (but not the generic:  brand name only, please!).  I think I can speak for everyone in saying that there can never be too many cookies in life.

Peaceable Kingdom by John Shroeder (about 2010)

Now, some more organized farmers may find our methods here alarming – not the cookies; all sensible farmers know the value of cookies – but the fact that all the animal species live together as one big group.  Our guys: they love it.  The different opinions provide an endless source of conversation, and they’ve all somehow, some way, worked out ways to get along.  Afternoons during naptime, if I’m not having my own lie-down (clarification:  this is an age-old civilized European tradition and has nothing to do with being, feeling, or looking a bit worse for wear), I will find the animals sacked out together: Mehitabel the donkey in “her” spot (and don’t mess with her spot), Newman Goat and Dee Dee Donkey quietly discussing the BBC news in the corner, Rachel, Bart, and Madison the sheep lined up against the back wall, Louisa the llama, and Waldo the pig, with Mr. Pickles the rooster sitting on his rotund form.

I can’t explain it, and I don’t want to even try.  It just is.  And it’s beautiful.  And it speaks volumes of love, tolerance, acceptance, and a willingness to just get along.

So this Valentine’s Day I’d like to ask you to show your love to the animals.  Don’t bother with the chocolate (unless it’s European and involves hazelnuts).  Leave the flowers where they are growing.  Instead, participate in the joy of this funny little, humble farm in Boyds, Maryland.  Whether you visit in person or remotely through words and pictures, I think you can grab (wait now ….) some good, positive feelings, straighten out your mood for the day, let the bad news in the world roll off your back;  know that there is a group of animals here who hold out for peace.  We shall always strive to be a peaceable kingdom. Won’t you join us?

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

—Isaiah 11: 6-7

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