When Covid Comes to the Farm

Well, just my luck. Two days before I was set to get my first vaccine shot, I started feeling sore. I was hoping it was just soreness from pruning our thirty-two apple trees (yes, I know I’m about a month late pruning, but, in my defense, just a month behind is pretty good for me). Then I started getting a weird sensation in my head. I described it to my wife, and she said I had a headache. “Strange,” I thought — I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten a headache in my life, and most of those involved blunt-force impacts of some sort. 

A few hours later, I noticed a cold sensation shudder through my body while my arm hairs straightened like a porcupine. Usually, this happens when my wife’s dead ancestors who still inhabit our farmhouse decide to scare the bejesus out of me. But this happened without the prodding of disembodied voices or footless footsteps. I told my wife about this sensation, which she diagnosed as chills, and in a matter of seconds she was bearing down on me with a thermometer. “Open up,” she said. 

“99.9” I read a few seconds later, at which point she banished me to the far room and I’ve hardly seen her since. I’ve only ventured out to go get the rapid Covid test, which was supposed to take thirty minutes to pronounce my verdict but instead came back positive in half that time. 

Since then, Natalie’s been living on the other side of the house, taking care of Thomas. Occasionally she reads this blog, so I’d just like to tell her I’m okay and to thank her for leaving food and Gatorade outside my door. We’ve got the baby monitor set up in my room so she can monitor my status remotely, but I’m pretty sure she’s not listening anymore. I think after she heard me listening to Jerry Clower on YouTube, she unplugged it on her end. 

So far, I’ve been really lucky and my symptoms are mild, as evidenced by the fact that I can write this nonsense. I will say it’s interesting what you turn to for comfort when sick. I haven’t thought about Jerry Clower in years, but as I was lying in bed I thought wouldn’t it be nice to listen to Jerry Clower again. For those who don’t know “Jay-ree” Clower is, he is the man who could make my dad belly-laugh while driving me to school in the morning. My dad is good-natured, but he’s not the jovial knee-slapping type, so to hear him laugh out loud was an odd occurrence. When it happened, usually Jerry Clower cassette tapes or Patrick McManus books were the cause of that phenomenon. I suppose since I’ve got most of the McManus books memorized, I turn to Clower when sick. 

All kidding aside, though, I would like to thank my wife for taking care of Thomas, putting up with sick me and regular me, and not banishing me to the barn. I’ll owe you when I get out of quarantine. And for everyone else, be careful out there. I can attest to the fact that Covid is still around, and even the mild symptoms aren’t much fun. 

My Philosophical Thoughts on Baby Strollers

Lately I’ve been thinking deeply about humanity and strollers. The fact that humans still exist is pretty astonishing, given that parents in the caveman era had to lug babies through the woods without dropping them, all while getting chased by velociraptors. 

I’ve never been chased by a velociraptor while transporting Thomas, but last weekend it was actually sunny for once, and we decided to put Thomas in the stroller for a walk. He stayed in the stroller until he started to recite his favorite mournful wail for the entire countryside to hear. My wife calls it the “Please Hold Me Now Wail.” We tried to continue onward, hoping he would settle down, but eventually a siren fired up in the distance, likely that of the Social Services rapid response team. Natalie then unstrapped Thomas, heaved him upward, and handed him off to me to carry half a mile back to the house, which is when I started thinking deeply about humanity and strollers. 

Granted, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought deeply about strollers. The first time was years ago, pre-parenthood, when my wife and I went on a pilgrimage to baby stroller Mecca, a.k.a. Disney World. At the time, I  had a general disdain for the strollers swarming all around me, specifically the one that mowed my foot off at the ankle. “Weakling dads,” I thought, “man up and heft your child so the rest of us can have a few square-inches to walk at the happiest place on Earth.” And I swore to myself I would not be a stroller dad if we ever had a kid. 

Well, turns out we did have a kid and he happens to be a giant. At seven months, he’s already outgrown his nine month clothes and hefting him any distance is like carrying a bag of cement with little arms and legs. Hence, I normally let Natalie push the stroller, that way I’m not seen as a stroller dad and my macho reputation is still intact. But occasionally I do have to heft him around, and I find myself thinking deeply about abandoning my pledge and using the stroller instead. 

Now I know what you’re thinking: “But, Stephen, your macho manly reputation will be in tatters if someone spots you pushing a baby stroller.” 

Likely you’d be right, if it wasn’t for the fact that my macho manly reputation was already in tatters because somebody at the sale barn let the dark secret slip that I’m a nerd and like Star Wars. Thus, I don’t have a whole lot to lose. But even if I did have a lot to lose, I think macho men and baby strollers can coexist these days. Times are changing. For proof, look no further than Star Wars itself and the most popular TV show around right now, the Mandalorian. The whole premise of the show is that a macho space gunslinger is followed around by a floating stroller. That wouldn’t have happened forty years ago. I mean, can you imagine Darth Vader being shadowed by a floating stroller? I think not. 

But these days nobody’s criticizing Mando for placing baby Yoda in the floating pram. So if Mando can use a stroller and still be macho, so can I. This is the Way.

How to Procrastinate on a Farm

There’s a farmer here who hasn’t harvested his soybeans yet. Yep, it’s mid-February and some people are already itching to plant corn, and he’s still got soybeans standing on the stalk, which makes my heart brim with admiration. Though he’s merely four months behind (which isn’t all that impressive), to procrastinate such an essential task as harvesting your crop, you’ve really got to dedicate yourself to other pursuits. 

Despite what some may think, procrastination isn’t easy. For instance, last Saturday morning, just to avoid cleaning out the barn gutters, I decided to continue putting new siding on our old farmhouse. Cleaning out the barn gutters is a tedious yearly task, but re-siding on an old farmhouse is a once-in-a-lifetime monumental task that is challenging and gratifying. After five minutes of gratification, however, I remembered I needed to feed the cows, a matter of more pressing concern than cladding my shelter or cleaning out gutters. Thus, I went off to attend to the cow’s health and well-being. 

On the way to the barn, I noticed the tractor tire was flat again. I’ve been intending to buy a new set of front tires for five years, so I went to start the air compressor. While waiting for the pressure to build, I cranked the tractor and let it run a while since I hadn’t used it much in the winter. Good grief, the fuel gage was nearing E. Truth be told, “accidentally” running a diesel tractor out of fuel is an excellent way to occupy your time. Personally, I’ve never bled a fuel line in less than two hours and once or twice had it take all day. But mostly, I was starting to get hungry, so I decided I’d drive the tractor to the gas station down the road, the one with a grill and good cheeseburger basket, to refuel the tractor and my stomach in one efficient stop. 

On the way, I stopped by a neighbor’s house to ogle his new hydraulic wood splitter. Ogling another’s man equipment is an excellent way to kill time. However, it can be untasteful if you linger, so after a mere hour chat with the neighbor, I promptly resumed my journey to the gas station. 

The grill was bustling with talk and upon some beckoning, I joined a table of old men to hear reports of all that had been accomplished throughout the countryside. One farmer had trapped a large skunk overnight and was trying to figure out what to do with it. Another had spent the morning at a scrapyard searching for the perfect pieces of scrap metal pipes to weld together for a set of homemade monkey bars for his granddaughter. He wasn’t successful with his search and was generally displeased with the selection of scrap available these days. 

By the time I finished listening to such reports and got home from refueling, it was nearly mid-afternoon and a great spell of fatigue descended upon me after I fed the cows, so much so I decided to go inside and watch a basketball game just to restore my energy. It happened to be a real nail biter that went into double overtime, and by the time it concluded, darkness had descended outside, which meant all other tasks could be put off till tomorrow. Tomorrow, being Sunday, a day of rest as declared by God, I could safely procrastinate till Monday. Monday happened to be President’s Day, a federally-mandated holiday which I felt obligated to observe as a patriotic American. By Tuesday, I couldn’t remember what task I had originally intended to start on Saturday, so I considered my procrastination complete, a job well done. 

Re-siding your farmhouse will only take ten years if you diligently apply yourself to mastering procrastination.

If you’d like to join the Misfit Farmer’s Procrastination Club, just let me know. So far, the only two members are me and my barn cat, Bunty. And, to be honest, we’ve just briefly talked about the idea and haven’t gotten around to meeting yet, so you’d be a charter member.

A Prolonged Dream of Kokomo

It doesn’t snow here often, but when it does, you can rest safely knowing my wife’s grandpa Lowry is on patrol. When the Department of Transportation snow plows get to our community, the plow drivers can just stop awhile and go sledding or participate in a discussion on the merits of marshmallows in hot chocolate while warming themselves around a bonfire. Really, they can do whatever they want for 15 minutes because Lowry, with the use of a box blade and the tractor’s front-in-loader, has already plowed the roads and remains on patrol for further accumulation. The only road he spares is Clay Hill, a steep hill where local children can break their first bone in a safe environment with adult supervision. While huddled in a  shivering mass, many parents pay such close attention to their sledding children that they can be heard encouraging their offspring with shouts likes, “Great ride, Ricky, you got a lot of air!” as Ricky and his plastic trash can lid dangle from the top of a pine tree.

This past weekend, Thomas, my offspring, experienced snow for the first time. He inherited my general hatred for frozen precipitation, as evidenced by the picture above. Not that I want to teach Thomas to hate, but if he was going to hate somebody, I’d be ok with him hating snowmen. 

Bad things happen when it snows here. Take, for instance, the time I woke up to an explosion and a blinding glow in the window. My first thought was Kim Jong-un’s missile program had greatly progressed, though his targeting system needed some work because his warhead landed at the wrong white house. When I peeked through the blinds, I saw the true culprit was a snapped powerline laying across the driveway, spewing flames and sparks. We were without power for seven days–in an old farmhouse with defunct fireplaces and walls that lacked any insulation. Well, mostly without power–by day three, I got a great deal on a price-gouged generator. 

Then there was the time I raised a dozen day-old dairy bulls in an arctic freeze. The dairy farmer couldn’t find anyone else dumb enough to take the calves, and he told me he’d throw in two sickly ones for free. To be honest, I couldn’t tell which ones in particular were the sickly ones, as our barn soon became a triage unit for scouring pneumonic calves. Several scouring viruses, like rotavirus, can also infect humans, so by the end of the week, while trying to keep calves from keeling over in the barn, I  had to frequently race back to the bathroom in the house, all while trying to delicately balance speed and intestinal control. 

Then there was the other time when a pipe burst underneath the house and the other time a joy-riding truck  skidded off the road and demolished part of my newly-built fence and the other time my wife made me watch the movie Frozen and I had that stupid “do-you-want-to-build-a-snowman” song stuck in my head for three eternities. 

At this point, I realize this post has devolved into a continuation of last week’s post where I tried to cancel February. My petition didn’t make much headway with the calendar authorities, and to add insult to injury, our local meteorologists are now calling for freezing rain this weekend. So if you don’t hear from me next week, you’ll know I didn’t survive whatever bad thing blew in with the ice storm, or else I unlocked the secrets of human hibernation and you can expect another blog post whenever ambient outdoor temperatures rouse me from a prolonged dream of Kokomo.

A Petition to Cancel February, Permanently

February, ugh–a month so bad it’s reduced to 28 days. It’s also anchored by the holiday with the worst candy. How many teeth have cracked on those little hearts that say “Be mine”? Beware is more like it. 

The worst thing about February is that it’s cold and bleak and generally unconducive to peeing outside. I know bathroom humor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the fact of the matter is that February is the last month you’d want to relieve yourself on the roadside in an emergency situation. And yet the irony is that nature calls more frequently in cold weather, which is another reason to hate February. Apparently, because humans sweat less when cold, the human body has to route more fluids through the bladder. But the bladder has already contracted its capacity to hold liquid because, well, the heater in the truck has quit working and it’s cold and many things contract when cold, including the bladder. Thus, the bladder is now, at best, the size of a large walnut and completely incapable of storing the two gallons of coffee imbibed to stay warm. All these factors, added to the fact that there’s no gas station bathroom within miles to patronize, mean that bladder has now commandeered control of the truck, engaged the emergency flashers, and brought the truck to a screeching halt on the roadside beside a patch of woods. 

Furthermore, we ought to know something is wrong with February when we start the month by relying on groundhogs to forecast our weather. It’s a pretty good indicator that we, as humanity, have given up when we transfer meteorological decision-making to the rodent that lives in the road pipe. My wife’s poppaw, who is eighty-five years old, can remember a better age when groundhogs had yet to inhabit every culvert in the countryside. He said he never used to see groundhogs growing up, and then, all the sudden, they were everywhere, poking their heads up along the roadside. Don’t get me wrong, groundhogs aren’t dumb animals, as anyone who has had to battle one in a garden can attest, but only in February would southerners in the greater Charlotte viewing area get so sick and tired of Larry Sprinkle’s dreary forecasts that we’d put our hope in a rodent from above the Mason-Dixon line. 

Yes, our weatherman’s name is really Larry Sprinkle.

Thus, February is so bad that humanity unites in general dislike of the month, if for no other reason than the “r” in the middle of February is a completely superfluous letter whose sole purpose is to make us feel like idiots and second guess the spelling of a word we learned in first grade. 

Anyway, you can probably tell I don’t like February, and I’m sorry if you were one of the people who lost the calendrical lottery and were born during the month. But, let’s face it, you would benefit most from canceling February because, with it wiped from existence, you’d never grow older. So if you’d like to make the world a better place, please sign the petition by leaving your name (or favorite fake name, I’m not picky) in the comments and then distribute this petition far and wide, so we can rid the calendar from the scourge of February. Even if we can’t get February omitted entirely, maybe we can negotiate and at least get the “r” omitted from the middle, which would be a big win for the universe if you ask me.