Last weekend, I walked the maternal farm. My plan was to get some of its mud in my shoes. As children, we went up to the paternal farm once or twice a year. It wasn’t a working farm then. Our greatest pleasure was to tromp out and get very muddy on our way to The Pond. The paternal farm was a sleeping farm, really, a dream of a farm, with only cats and a horse or two representing the wide world of livestock, and crops that were someone else’s problem.
The paternal farm is, right at this very moment, making food. Cows are eating, getting shots and quick unhappy surgeries and eventually riding on to get cut up into food. Corn is building itself up into tall, lean spikes. It’s going to feed the cows, and after some long, strange trips, feed cars or humans. I picked through the deep, sloppy mud, around the sheds and barns and corrals.
Both farms had a farm dog, and they were much alike. Paternal farm dog was black and white, and the maternal farm dog I just met was orange. Both had the same stout, solid build, and the same soul. A farm dog is always at work, and always at play. Work is play. He’s social without being needy. A farm dog knows what he is about, he was born to do this, he loves doing it right where he is.
I was surprised that I even remembered paternal farm dog’s name: Ring. I didn’t like Ring. He was always dirty, and he smelled terrible. I must have been advised not to mess with him, because he scared me a little, and I was not afraid of dogs. Ring probably would bite me if he had to. He was always patrolling. The odd thing about Ring may have been that unlike my great-grandparents, who were retired, Ring still worked on the farm.
The grandfather who grew up on the maternal farm, the one that is still going, left after high school. I know he raised and killed animals on the farm, that animals are different on the farm, fundamentally, but I also know that when he left the farm for the city, he brought an abiding delight in animals. When he visited our house, he would set his hand down on the back of the couch, and twitch it to lure our cats over. No amount of scratching or biting could dampen his enthusiasm for the stalk and pounce game.
At the beach one summer, we found some tiny crabs in the sand, and he plopped down next to us, picked up a plastic shovel, and helped us dig out dozens of them and stash them in a bucket. Not to eat them or keep them, just to temporarily admire and possess them. We were having fun, and he was laughing up a storm. Look at those little guys! Look at their little feet waving around! Aren’t they funny? Not only a sweet memory, but one of my favorite reactions to the world: curiosity, interest, awe. Look at that! Isn’t that funny?