The animals have written to Santa Claus this year – check out what they are asking for!
You can read some of the past letters as well as today’s! If you want to see tomorrow’s letter (in red)… well, please come back tomorrow!
If you are not on our mailing list but would like to be, you can sign up here. We send snail mail letters twice a year, and email newsletters approximately every two months. They are informative, sometimes funny, and include stories about the animals.
Thank you for supporting Star Gazing Farm!
As a lover of language, I frequently get my panties in a twist when words are appropriated and used for purposes other than their intent, linguistic origin disrespected. I recognize deep curmudgeonly tendencies in my reactionism. Be that as it may, sometimes upon deeper examination of some words (except the word “impact” used as a verb which I will vehemently battle till the end of my days), I often find an interesting meandering path of vocabulary evolution. To wit, I’ve been recently pondering the word “concierge”. Think about this word for a moment – doesn’t it connote elegance, style, protection, a luxury apartment building in, say, the 16th arrondissement in Paris? A handsome gentleman wearing a gold-braided uniform welcoming you with “Bonjour madame”…. Sigh. Now, in recent years the word has been usurped by the medical profession which has coined the “Concierge doctors”, an utterly irritating misuse of this term. But I digress.
The truth is that the word concierge comes from the Latin conservus (“fellow slave”) which puts an entirely different light on the whole thing, don’t you think? But that is one of those strange, byzantine paths of language whereby the original meaning is entirely turned around. For concierges, contrary to being enslaved, are Gods in their own little worlds.
Hélas, I have little experience with the 16th arronidissment of Paris, but I lived in Cairo for a year back in my youth, and there were concierges everywhere. We learned to fear and respect these guys; I’m convinced they and the taxi drivers ran the entire city. In Cairo the concierges are called “bawwaab” (bawwaabi, plural, and you’d better think of them in the plural since the vast majority of Cairo residences housing some 7 million people are apartment buildings and them’s a lot of bawwaabis).
Bawwaab البواب means literally “he of the door” or the “door doer” or more concisely, “gatekeeper”. Being a bawwaab is a pearl of a job. First of all, you get a place to live. That’s a big deal. Second, bawwaabis know everything, and I mean everything, about their tenants. Want to sneak in a lover, a quart of liquor, or have a new television installed? Got to go through the bawaab. If he doesn’t want your lover or liquor or TV to pass through his doors, guess what.
These guys (and they are guys) usually have a room right off the entrance of the building, or sometimes an apartment in the basement – but in my experience, they mostly hang out on cots right near the front door 24/7. Protecting their throne. They are more effective than security cameras.
Now, I suspect that had I better understood the art of baksheesh بقشيش (“tip” – we will not refer to the word “bribe” as it would be indelicate) I might have found navigating Cairo a bit less tedious. Some of my male friends lived in an apartment building with not one, but two bawwaabis, one of them enormous and frightening. Phones in Cairo were not in abundance in those days (I was lucky enough to have one, but I had to shake it up and down several times before getting a dial tone), and any attempts to go up to my friends’ flat even for a brief word were blocked, physically and, perhaps more importantly, morally by this impressive man. Strangely, though, there was a riotous New year’s Eve party at their apartment that I never could figure out – replete with music blasting from the Romantics, large quantities of bad beer, and at least a dozen females, it was a recipe for infidel cavorting. I strongly suspect heavy baksheesh was involved.
Things are honestly not so different here in Boyds (minus the New Year’s parties). My farm has a few bawwaabi and I can tell you, they are worth their weight in gold. I think the US should adopt this form of social monitoring and we would all live cleaner lives.
At my farm, no one gets in or out without my bawwabis’ notice. They alternately walk the perimeter and sit up front watching the farm’s comings and goings at all times. They are not named Abdul or Samir or Hassan – they are Nicole and Henry and Sam, though Sam is not sure it’s entirely his job and sometimes goes up to the neighbors to indulge in a bit of Vodka and pickles (we’re an international crowd out here).
These are working dogs. Livestock guardian dogs. Big, white, fluffy, smiling, cute, huggable, and utterly lethal to predators. Travel anywhere in farmland and you will see these big white dogs dotting the countryside. Laying down. Taking a sunbath. Stretched out and utterly relaxed. On vacation. “My God, they’re all asleep at the wheel”, a casual observer might say. You of little faith, you have not seen a slumbering LGD rise up in a millisecond to address an issue with tiger-like ferocity. Beware, ye foxes and skunks and groundhogs and uninvited UPS trucks. These dogs have no interest in humans they do not know, other than their ability to dole out treats (baksheesh, anyone?). Unless a human were to enter the property sporting a shotgun or evil intent, the dogs could not be less curious. This has led to great frustration on the part of those visitors who desperately want to pet the big white fluffy cute huggable dogs. But when it comes to keeping animals out who might harm their chickens or ducks or sheep or goats or alpcas or horses or emus or any other creature that is tasty to a carnivore,they transcend the cute and show who they really are: fierce protectors.
There has been a lot of talk in our nation recently about working class people. I am working class, and so are my dogs. I feel no more enslaved to work than they do, although I have heard some say it is, indeed, as the Latin would have us believe, slavery to make an animal work. “How can you enslave an animal so?” I counter with, and what would you have them do? Ignore thousands of years of genetics, instincts and primitive knowledge and make them sit on the couch with you to watch NCIS? There are leisure dogs (there are 2, in fact, residing inside my house) who quite like NCIS. But a true working dog whose every molecule is programmed to do a specific thing is ill suited to the domestic life. Work is a biological imperative. Border collies herd. If they are not given sheep, they round up the neighborhood kids. Hounds, alas, are hunting dogs and if they are not out with Guys with Guns, then they work on eliminating the neighborhood’s squirrel population. Livestock guardian dogs are concierge dogs. They are the bawwaabis of the farming world. They live to watch, listen, and protect.
But here is the thing. Late at night, where in the darkness all I can see are white dogs like spotlights gracefully moving about, things change. Night softens the shadows and the quiet brings into relief natures’ sounds. Ancient as great white wolves, these dogs circle each other , leap up, bumping each other, snorting and grunting and growling with pleasure. First one starts, and then the next, and they twist and turn, smile and snap, splay paws on the ground and jump to the side, asking me to do the same. Once, just once, Sam lets out a long, heart-wrenching, high-pitched howl. I twist my torso around one way and the next, inelegantly following them, and under the cold December moon I am allowed to join the White Dog Night Dance. They are no longer bawwabis, and I am no longer just a farmer.
‘Till next time,
“To run with the wolf was to run in the shadows, the dark ray of life, survival and instinct. A fierceness that was both proud and lonely, a tearing, a howling, a hunger and thirst. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst. A strength that would die fighting, kicking, screaming, that wouldn’t stop until the last breath had been wrung from its body. The will to take one’s place in the world. To say ‘I am here.’ To say ‘I am.’”
― O.R. Melling
“His arrival detonated two sheepdogs that began barking even before they emerged at a dead run from behind the garage.”
― Anita Shreve
In these times of long, long political discussions, campaigning and elections, post-elections campaigning, protests, post-mortem essays, and all the rest — I offer you a tale about cows. Yes, cows. “Really? The country is in a state of immense change and she wants to talk about bovines???” Read on, my fellow Americans, if you wish to be enlightened.
The other night my farm held an evening event to honor our hard-working volunteers. We built a bonfire, roasted marshmallows, ate good home-cooked food and, as the kids would say, “chilled” (literally, brrr!). The kids drank cider and the parents drank wine, and we all stared into the fire as humans have done for thousands of years. Mr. Newman Goat got a beer (Guinness, his favorite), and the sheep ate pumpkins. Nicole and Henry, clad in their best white fluffy dog coats, watched over all of us from a distance as if to make sure we were all OK. Sam, as usual, hid under the porch. Great protective skills, that dog has. The kids took their parents on private, moonlit tours to meet their favorite animals. There was no music, no entertainment, no games – just enjoyment of what is.
I, myself, was simply grateful to sit down for a change and rest my (increasingly old) bones by the fire. There was a brief moment of upset when Brandy entered the scene and produced an immense cow pie right at the entrance, which someone promptly stepped in. But she then laid down and we settled back into our firelit reveries. And then … and then … the Great White-horned Beast appeared on the crest of the hill. “Oooh, ahhh”, the parents echoed. Heads turned and cameras flashed. “How lovely,” said one, “how majestic,” cried another. A young volunteer said, flatly, “he smells the marshmallows”. Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.
Sure enough, after a moment of calm and stately magnificence, the 2000 pound Bullwinkle came lumbering down the hill, heading straight for our little group. “Oooh, ahhh” exclaimed the parents. “OH NO!” cried the young volunteers who jumped to their feet waving their arms as Bullwinkle tossed his massive head back and forth in sheer bovine excitement, aiming right for the fire pit, Brandy in close pursuit. The kids were probably thinking of squashed parents, while I was thinking of scorched hooves and vet bills.
As one body, we rose to our feet, young people simultaneously waving the large black beasts away from danger and parents away from the large black beasts.
I love that the kids who work at Star Gazing Farm are so grounded in reality. I love that they protect both of their loved ones: parents AND cows. There is no enemy, simply the good of all. Sometimes, when you work with rescuing animals, you can feel rather down about humanity. “How could anyone DO that to an animal,” you hear yourself lamenting over and over again. But these young folks are, to me, the essence of what can be and is great about people. Watch these kids in action and you know that we have a future of men and women who not only care, but put their caring into actions.
Sometimes groups and affiliations are built out of self-interest, greed, and other nasty human traits, but sometimes – not often, I give you, but sometimes – they are formed out of sheer common sense. The evening the bovines came to the bonfire will be one which we’ll look back upon and say, “the Cow Party rules!” Kids, go forth and vote.
“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
Til next time,
It’s gorgeous. It looks, smells, and feels like dirt but it’s fully composted and aged manure all from our sanctuary animals, mixed with straw bedding and hay.
November, 2016 pickup dates: Saturdays between 9 am and 2 pm or Tuesdays between 3:30 and 7 pm. Bring a pickup truck, trailer, or heavy duty compost bags or buckets.
We do not charge for this wonderful composted manure and you can take as much as you like; however, if you are able to make a donation to the farm, we would greatly appreciate it – these donations not only help pay for food for the animals, but they help us maintain our tractor which is how we are able to give you such great compost!
Reports back from gardeners say that this stuff is magic.
We have both fully composted and hot piles (and everything in between).
Catalyst Compost: SMOKIN’! If you need hot manure to get your own compost pile cooking fast, you should bring tins or heat-proof cannisters. This stuff will get your compost broken down much faster, and will add vital nutrients.
Magic Mountains of Manure: 100% composted manure, multi-flavored: gifts from cows, goats, sheep, horses, and a variety of fowl, plus straw and hay, all cooked, regularly turned, and ready to go. Can be put directly on working gardens and lawns.
Note: we are not “organic”, but we do not use pesticides or any kind of chemicals on the property. All animals are free range, happy, and healthy, and their primary diet is orchard grass, timothy hay, grain, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
We invite you to come and take as much as you want, as many loads as you want.
For large loads, or if you can’t make it on Saturdays, please contact us regarding other arrangements for pickup.
Need to contact us about a visit?
In order to make your visit as memorable as possible we ask that you review our recommendations before making your trip.
We have informal visiting hours every Saturday from 10am-2pm, and formal events three times a year. If you are planning on dropping by on an unscheduled (informal) day, please just let us know you’re coming; we are working on Saturdays and need to plan for a tour guide for you. Please note: there are no unsupervised visits.
There is no cost to visit the farm. However, we greatly appreciate a donation, since donations is how we pay for feeding and caring for the animals.
There is a gate into the farm; please close it behind you so the animals stay inside the farm. Once inside, please feel free to park in front of the house in the areas indicated by the red arrows. Mr. Newman Goat-only parking is in the rear of the home, and he prefers to leave that space open for hay deliveries.
We welcome family visits, as we believe learning about the farm animals is a great educational experience for both young and old. Parents must stay with their children at all times.
Please leave all pets at home. If you need to bring a service animal please contact us first, as we have Guardian animals on the farm.
The animals love apples, bananas, lettuce, and other healthy treats like fig newtons. If you’d like to bring treats for the animals, please take them into the farm office first to be sorted. We monitor what the animals eat every day. If you wish to bring your own snack, please consume it in the designated visitor areas and do not bring any food into the barnyard.
Please feel free to take lots of photos! We love seeing the farm through your eyes, and your happy faces are our happy memories.
Please go to www.stargazingfarm.org/directions for detailed directions. We are approximately 6 miles away from Route 270, Germantown exit.
You visit the farm at your own risk. By visiting the farm you agree to the following:
I hereby acknowledge and assume the risk of participation in any and all animal related activities at SGF or in any and all locations where SGF activities take place. I hereby acknowledge that I will release, Star Gazing Farm, Inc., its officers, staff members, volunteers, instructors, advisors, and/or agents in any location where animal related activities are conducted or animals and/or property are used, of and from all claims which may hereafter develop or accrue to them on account of injury, loss or damage, which may be suffered by said minor or to any property, because of any matter, thing, or condition, negligence or default whatsoever, and they hereby assume and accept the full risk and danger of any hurt, injury or damage which may occur through or by reason of any matter, thing or condition, negligence or default, or any person or persons whatsoever.
We offer community service learning hours to young people in the Montgomery County school system! Volunteers must be at least 11 years of age. Volunteer Application Form.