On the rare occasion that I ever leave the farm for more than a day, my recurring fear is that something will happen that can’t be handled by whomever I’ve entrusted with its care, requiring me to abort my trip and rush back. Rarely have such events happened. But last week, when I went to the City for four days, I had a momentary scare.
The purpose of my trip was to retrieve some essentials from my office (I’ve been reunited with my notary stamp); to catch up on some deferred medical checkups (I’ll live); and to incidentally socialize and grab some culture (If Omicron doesn’t close down the theaters, do see Caroline, or Change at the Roundabout; it’s terrific). But I must admit that even such a short and mundane visit can seem like a vacation.
I was still abed on my first morning in the City when I got a panicked message from Steve. You know Steve, the friend who thought I should figure how to manage my sheep herd through “trolley problem” analysis. Steve had kindly volunteered to come up and mind the farm in my absence. By now, he’s actually an old hand. But nervous about it, like you’d expect of a gay boy from the City thrown onto a farm.
Steve had found a dead chicken when he opened the coop up in the morning, with its head eaten off but otherwise intact. He was shaken by the sight (he shared a picture), and said he found the rest of the flock cowering in a corner, clearly shell shocked by an attack.
Based on what he reported, I assumed the culprit was a weasel. I assured Steve that he need not feel guilty; I hadn’t been securing the front door of the coop that carefully of late either. It was just happenstance that something weaseled through a small opening on his watch.
Later that day, at twilight, I, in sophisticated City mode, was having a Campari and soda with Éric. Steve called. He had been closing in the chickens for the night when he saw the predator, which he described as being the size of a cat with a long tail. It stared him down and then just slipped into the coop. What, Steve asked, should he do? I got immensely concerned, as it sounded that it might be a fisher cat, the largest variety of weasel, which could easily decimate the entire flock.
I suggested that he take out a lantern and a long handled shovel and scare the invader out. I assured him it was unlikely to attack him.Ten minutes later, he called me back. The plan had succeeded. The creature left and he had closed the chickens in tightly. We could both relax for the night.
After the fact, when Steve googled “fisher,” he learned that they are vicious and had been known (rarely, I must add) to attack humans. Sending him in with “your broken flickering lantern and an old shovel, with no warning” confirmed his oft-stated view that I am a MONSTER. But I felt I could rest easy because after this encounter Steve gave a fuller description of the creature and said it had a long rat like tail. That meant it was not a bushy-tailed fisher at all but a possum, which can certainly kill a chicken but isn’t likely to rip apart a whole flock, let alone attack a human. We’ve coexisted with possums on the farm forever.
Steve disputed the name I gave to the animal. He asserted that it was in fact a more dangerous “O-possum,” with a heavy emphasis on the O, and said I was wrong to say that possums and opossums were the same thing. It was my turn to google, and I claim vindication. There is just one species of American marsupial, which for the last four hundred years has been known alternatively as opposum or possum. Although there is another marsupial which is only called a possum, it also only lives in Australia.
My next text from Steve was the following afternoon, when he sent me a picture of the sheep herd following him, as he decided to take a little hike across the pasture. He was concerned this meant any stranger could lead them away. I told him he should be not concerned but flattered, that they would run from a stranger but only follow someone they knew. As I thought about it, I recalled Steve saying on his last visit that the sheep seemed much calmer in the barn now that there are fewer of them. Maybe, I thought, the calm he perceived also had something to do with the relative comfort they’ve developed with him, especially now that he is no longer so nervous being around them. Animals pick up on these things.
Rather than make me feel insecure about being away, these frequent communications made me confident that issues could be handled in my absence. More important, they made me oddly happy. They transported me back to the time twenty one years ago, when I was roughly Steve’s age and newly plunked down on the farm. I recalled the sense of achievement I felt then at handling any novel situation with a frisson of danger, as I assume Steve felt from getting the possum out of the chicken coop. And I savored the memory of when the sheep first expressed affection and loyalty to me, assuming Steve must have derived a similar joy.
I returned last Sunday to find a farm in good order. The chickens, whose trauma had clearly faded, were strolling freely and pecking as usual. The sheep took my reappearance in stride, as if they had not noticed my absence. They do indeed seem calm and contented.
I have not done a post mortem with Steve on how he perceived his visit. Maybe my avuncular assumption that his responses would parallel mine is unjustified by reality. But no matter. Triggering happy memories, particularly in these grim pandemic times, is a prerogative of age.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
Not much this winter
Daikon Radish (harvested before the frost), $2/each – large, great for radish salads, kimchee
Collard greens $3/bag
EGGS: $5/doz Production is down, but there are still a few coming in, so ask
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT LAMB: There’s a backup of bookings at the slaughterhouse, almost impossible to get a slot, so it’s not imminent. I’ll let you know.
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.