The Last of the Araucanas

Monday, July 11th, 2011

This past weekend I was driving the old farm truck around Frederick with Gruff the sheep riding shotgun, who was so excited to be on the road that he was alternately stepping all over me and sticking his enormous wooly head out the window and joyously shouting “BAAA!”.

The smaller streets of the old city were congested, and the going was slow. Snapshots of people’s Saturday afternoon: we passed by bars, cafés, mechanics shops, clothing stores with inventory spilling out to the sidewalk, people working on their postage stamp front lawns or taking out the trash.  It was a nice day, a bit on the hot side, but no one looked enthusiastic; the body language spoke of fatigue, lethargy, boredom.  Most people were so unaware of (or annoyed by) the traffic, that they never even saw our truck and missed this tiny event, this little oddity that might have given their day just the lift it needed.

I tried to message them telepathically: “YO! hey, you, turn around! Look over here!  There’s a sheep in this truck! Pretty cool, huh?” Yet they were stubbornly blind, rather like all waiters when you really REALLY need a coffee refill.

At stoplights we pulled up next to cars whose drivers were smoking or listening to music, windows open. A few people looked up, smiles of disbelief and delight coming over their faces; most were so involved in themselves, blocked up in their micro-worlds, that they were oblivious both to the beautiful beast in the window and his resonant sweet ovine calls.

Frankly, I was disappointed in Frederick.  I certainly would have expected this level of blasé from DC (the very essence of urban fake), but not from my beloved old-timey, down-to-earth, let’s-be-real Frederick.  Yet the malaise, the ennui, the ‘je ne sais quoi’ and ‘je m’en fous’ seems to have migrated north, hélas.

Noticing things seems to be a dying trait in modern man.  Is it the speed of our lives?  The vast number of details we seem compelled to have to keep track of?  Shorter attention spans, video games, poor educational systems,
something in the water, the government?

I try to really *see*, at least when it comes to animals. I try to notice the turtles and snakes in the road (and unceremoniously block traffic while I hop out of the car and move them to the other side).  I slow down for squirrels and chipmunks.  In fact, I once had a bizarre car accident because I stopped on busy New Hampshire Avenue for an opossum, and was hit full on by a van full of irate Afghanis in traditional garb.  (And I lost the insurance case, too).  When I see dead animals in the road, a piece of me hurts and I angrily call it pure callousness: the “me” generation unthinkingly using moving steel ammunition against the wilderness.

Yet even if one tries to go slowly, to notice, and (I do so hate this overused term) be “mindful” … one can still miss so much.

Today I found my beloved Annie dead in the hay loft.  It looks like she may have wedged herself between bales of hay to lay an egg and was then unable to get out.  I can’t say – perhaps it was her time.  Yet on all the occasions I’ve been in that hay loft in the last few days, I could have helped her if I had only been more alert, if only I had listened, if I had intuited distress. Upon seeing her little body, I felt a physical pain, just as I do when I see the creatures who have died in traffic.   I wondered about her suffering, wishing it weren’t so.

She’s been here on the farm for many years, and was the last of four beautiful Araucana hens (very large orange/brown/black fuzzy-cheeked birds who lay beautiful blue eggs).  Lovely Annie: mother of Orion the grand rooster, and suspected grandmother of the many Charlie roosters (Charlie-Bob, Charlie-Jim, Charlie-Joe, Charlie-Bill, …). Just last week I was holding her and telling her how glad I was she was still here.

Here, then, is the highest cost of not paying attention.

On a far lighter note, today brought another set of casualties.  Having forgotten to lock the car door after doing errands last night, I found it swinging wide open this morning.  Dismayed, I thought immediately of the 3 client payments I was going to deposit in the bank.  Not only were those gone, the entire checkbook had been eaten: checks, register, deposit slips, several weeks’ worth of receipts, and yesterday’s mail.  Only the cardboard
ring binder remained, chewed, torn, muddy, and flung 30 feet from the car.

Most will attribute this to Mr. Newman Goat.  Not so fast! Mr. Newman Goat has always been an exceptionally classy thief, never consuming everything (he likes to teasingly leave something of a forensic trail) and always sampling my literary tastes with a little wave to the local librarian (“hey, cutie”).  Yet in this instance the books were completely, scarily, untouched.

I very much fear that the secret to what was once a clever publicity stunt has fallen into the hands of an unscrupulous thug, a goat who once roamed the streets of Hyattsville.  This is a guy who terrorizes old lady donkeys, steals dinner from hapless sheep, and has been known – brace yourselves – to even beat up Mr. Newman Goat himself.

So, even as I mourn the passing of a generation of beautiful birds, I am also contemplating with trembling the possibility of a shift in power here at the farm.  I know that life means change, but when it comes to Mr. Newman, I’m going to guess that most of us would vote for “more of the same”.  As they say, “better the devil you know….”

Till next time,

Farmer Anne
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats

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