Thursday, February 13th, 2014
The murder rate is up in Boyds.
There are lots of things, I have realized, that city folk wrongly assume about farms. One of them is that we rural dwellers sit around much of the day with a stalk of straw in the side of our mouths saying “yep”. If you have any doubt about this, next time you have a chance, take a taste of some straw. Another is that we live in a zone quite removed from the hurly burly workaday world where bad things happen randomly to people and everyone is in a hurry. Come around here at sunset for evening feeding and you’ll see that being me is about as fun as riding the Tokyo subway at rush hour.
But it’s the casualties that really are the shocker. I grew up in the city. I know all about how to walk with purpose, keep my eyes averted from any random eye contacts with handsome strangers, hide my jewelry, and generally stay clear of trouble. My reasonably good luck ran out the day the bank I was working at was robbed at gunpoint, but that is another story. I managed, however, in all those years of urban living to avoid corpses.
Now, I confess to really enjoying a good murder mystery, especially when the murderee is someone rather dislikeable. Too many chapters into a book without a body, and I’m afraid the volume will have to be returned to the library unfinished.
But the truth is, dead bodies are rarely that much fun in real life. A few weekends ago a volunteer came into my office carrying a piece of something furry that obviously once belonged to someone that, probably, was no more. She wanted to know if I might know the owner. I calmly took the body part, examined it, and said, no, I didn’t think I knew that we were acquainted. I mentioned that I’d seen a stray leg the previous week, though, and perhaps they were related? The other volunteer in my office (who was just innocently getting some paperwork) nearly fainted.
Potentially related to this, we have a regular flock of black vultures on the farm. There are 3, in particular, who have been coming to roost in the dead locust tree for many years now. Last week I had to have that tree topped because it was a hazard – I fretted audibly to the tree cutter about my vultures who, needless to say, didn’t quite share my concern. But these vultures have never bothered the animals here; they always stay at least 30 feet in the air, and so I’ve named them, and have come to look forward to their daily visits. Well, yesterday coming up the driveway I saw an entire army of vultures on the ground in the lower pasture. This did not bode well. Vultures in a tree are vultures who are just catching some rays or enjoying the view. Vultures on the ground are on a mission. Stranger still, was that Sam the dog was doing nothing. He ordinarily loathes these birds, barking and howling while they laugh at him from their perch. My first thought was, poor little guys, I’ll bet they know the storm is coming and are worried about keeping fed. I wondered if I should scrounge up something for them. I sometimes amaze myself with my own naivete, because a then I saw the body. As much as I enjoy forensics on TV, I confess I did not investigate – I could see from a distance that it was a raccoon who had clearly gone to meet his maker. I left it at that.
Such callousness is not always so easy. This morning I found not one, but two wild birds in my house. I was able to catch the starling and set him free, but the second little one was not so lucky. I wrested this tiny thing with the long, elegant beak out of the clutches of my murderous cat, and kept him quiet, but the little one died in my hands after a dramatic flutter of wings. Such beauty here and then gone.
People say, “well, that is Nature”. I say, these days, Nature is not exactly anything to write home about.
For example, those of you who have dogs will know exactly my level of consternation this morning when I found I could not open the front door (dogs’ normal bathroom exit point) due to the snow that had piled itself against it. I opened the back porch door and invited the dogs out to go pee, but they stayed put on the sofa and told me something I cannot repeat here.
“Carry on” is a good farmer’s motto, so I went out to deal with the outdoors, and proceeded to have a fight with half a dozen livestock, got on the wrong end of some goat one-upmanship, and had to threaten one of my favorite sheep Madison with a barbecue if he didn’t stop trying to dump my bucket of feed. Heather the rooster worked his way inside the house at some point, the donkey ended up on the back porch eating chicken feed, and I had to try three times to get feed to the llamas due to more caprine interference. The snow was above boot level, so cold ice chunks made their way to my feet while I was trying to move enough snow to get my gate/feeding system back in operation.
By the time I got back inside I was seriously crabby. The dogs watched me pulling off wet clothing but did not think to tell me that in my absence not only they, but apparently all of the neighborhood dogs, had relieved themselves all over my house. As I continued to discover piles and puddles, my language degenerated, and then I stopped short and had what I can only identify as a True Commercial Moment: “My God! What would I do without paper towels!” I realized, in an eerily calm way, as one does when another part of the brain is in a state of possibly dangerous agitation, that at that very moment, paper towels were the only thing standing between me and insanity. Or felony. Or at least a great deal of loud cursing.
I would like to share this wave of gratitude with you toward the Scott family, the inventors of the paper towel. I personally am celebrating by letting all of the indoor chickens have a romp around the house as I sit at my office window and watch the black vultures soar and circle my farm.
Life, death, and paper towels. My definition of modern farming.
“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats