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. 

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.

When Pigs Fly and A Farmer Exercises

In a clear indication of how behind the times our society is, pot belly pigs bear the weight of an unattainable standard. Really, it’s a double standard if you ask me. While most farmers spend years working on a respectable pot belly to drape over their belt buckle and show off at the sale barn, pot belly pigs can’t get a cloven hoof in the arena door. Try bringing a pot belly pig to the sale barn, and you’ll be laughed out of the unloading line. 

Our local small animal sale rules: Pot bellies get no respect.

I know the pain this causes because of an enlightening and thoroughly delightful conversation I had with an aspiring pot belly. I made its acquaintance quite by surprise, one day after work, on my daily “run” (in an effort to postpone the looming heart attack, I sometimes lift my feet repeatedly, in a pattern indicative of briskly shuffling penguin). My route takes me past the sale barn, up a tortuous hill, to a long dirt road that dissects a crop field. The field has a small patch of trees beside the road. On the day of my encounter with the pot belly, I noticed a truck with a gooseneck livestock trailer parked beside that clump of trees. “That’s strange,” I thought, “I wonder if they’re broke down.” 

But no sooner than I thought that, the truck began moving, whipped the trailer around, and started barrelling toward me. I always give a little wave to oncoming vehicles, but the farmer didn’t even throw up the obligatory “how ya doing” index finger. He just kept boogying down the road, leaving me running in a cloud of dust. “Strange,” I thought. 

A few minutes later, I made it to the trees where the farmer had been parked. Out of nowhere, I heard a voice, low and gruff with a thick Bronx accent:“Hey, you, can I get some directions?” I stopped running, looked around, but didn’t see anyone. 

“Yeah, you, runner boy,” the voice said, “over here, down low.” 

“Holy smokes!” I said, staring at a creature emerging from the woods. It was short and stout, with a low center of gravity. 

“What? You never seen a pot belly pig before?” 

“No, I mean, you, you’re a…” I stammered. 

“You humans are all alike,” said the pig, with an offended grunt. It shook it’s stubby little snout in disappointment and then started sniffing the ground, stopping every so often to root around for some unseen delectable. I stood in awe, speechless until a few words finally welled up from my throat, “but, but, you’re a…”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m a pot belly pig, already covered that. You know those yahoos at the sale barn had never seen a pot belly pig either. They wouldn’t let me strut my stuff across the arena floor, and I got modeling offers from Versace and Tommy Hilfiger. Then that good for nothing, sorry excuse for a farmer just abandoned me out here in the middle of nowhere and didn’t even say goodbye.”

“No, I mean, I’ve raised lots of pigs before,” I said, “but you’re a talking pig. I mean, I’ve never talked to a pig before.”

“Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” said the pig, “Imagine that–a farmer who has never talked to a pig before. Never thought I’d see the day. Now if you can quit yapping and point me in the direction of the Charlotte airport, this pig’s gotta catch a flight to New York City for a fashion show.”

I gave the pig directions. It turned and trotted off to Charlotte. Meanwhile, I started running the other way and wondered if I had just experienced the mysterious condition called a runner’s high.

Good Tool Sheds Make Good Neighbors

[An OLD FARMER chews the cud with a YOUNG FARMER, while both sit on benches in front of an Ann Taylor store at the mall. The two talk the finer points and intricacies of a farmer’s hardest task, tool wrangling. FYI, this bit of make-believe took place in the good ole days, pre-COVID, when husbands patiently sat outside of women’s clothing stores and made small talk to pass the time.]

OLD FARMER: “What type of tools you run?”

YOUNG FARMER: [his feet surrounded by bags of various shapes and sizes, full of great deals in the latest women’s fashion] A little of everything–Craftsman, some Kobalts, even a few DeWalts. Been trying to cull out the Pittsburghs, but I’ve got more of ‘em in my tool shed than I’d like to admit.

OF: Well, it takes a few generations to stock a good tool shed, but you gotta start somewhere. I remember when I was about your age: I had the wildest bunch of tools this side of a rodeo chute. Never would stay put.

YF: Sounds like my hammer. Get’s out, and I’ll spend half a day hunting it. Usually, it’s laying somewhere in knee-high grass, but one time I found it over in my neighbor’s front yard, hanging on some shrubbery.

Current state of my finger–nothing meaner than an old claw hammer.

OF: Some ole hammers are more trouble than they’re worth. Yep, it’s best to load the ornery ones up and consign them at a junk sale. Had one hammer I never could trust around a nail–a finger nail, that is. Turn your head for just a split-second, and it’d take direct aim for your thumb. I finally lost a thumb nail to it, and that’s when I said enough is enough. Yep, hardly anything meaner than an old claw hammer.

YF: Yeah, my granddeddy once got gored in the backside by a claw hammer. Really, he sat on it accidentally, but he said it had the same effect.

OF: It happens to the best of us. Last week, I got lassoed by a wild water hose, but really my feet just got tangled up. It’s hard to pick your feet up when you’re an old man like me.

YF: Well, if you ask me, water hoses are the worst. Never will coil right, and then they get lost in the winter and I never can find them come spring–unless I happen to be bush hogging and then I find them shredded and wrapped up tight around the bush hog blade. 

OF: That reminds me of the old saying: A good tool shed is ladder high, wrench tight, and hammer strong–and if you keep any water hoses, it best be water tight–they have a way of slithering through the smallest openings. 

YF: Ain’t that the truth. Never heard that one before.

[At this point, the YOUNG FARMER’S WIFE walks hurriedly out of Ann Taylor Store, bags dangling from her side, with a panicked look on her face.]

YF: What’s wrong?

YOUNG FARMER’S WIFE: Just got a call from Nell–several wrenches got out and are rampaging through her shrubbery. She said if we don’t get back fast and get them caught up, she’s going to pepper them with birdshot. I think you forgot to close the tool shed door again. 

[YOUNG FARMER jumps up from bench, scrambles to gather all the bags at his feet, then gives a little nice-to-meet-you nod to the OLD FARMER, who nods back.]

OF: That’s farming, son. Just remember: Good tool sheds make good neighbors. Now yall take care, and good luck getting the wrenches caught back up!

The Three Truths of Raising Livestock

If you walk far on our farm during winter, you’ll likely come up missing footwear, especially if you try to traverse the Bog of Despair, which is centered around the hay ring. It contains a few old-growth rubber boots that are as firmly rooted in the muck as swamp gums in the Bayou. The poor soles are a grim reminder of what happens when bipeds with loosely-fitting rubber boots on their trotters attempt such a superfluous task as removing twine from a hay roll. 

A lot of farmers don’t bother cutting and removing the twine, but if anybody was going to lose a cow because twine got knotted up in the digestive tract, it would probably be me. I once lost a cow to a plastic feedsack. “Probably just a little case of pneumonia,” the vet said, having stopped by since the cow was off its feed and acting puny, “likely this shot will get her perked back up and feeling better by tomorrow.” By tomorrow, the cow was as perky as a three-toed sloth, and by the next day it was as perky as a dead three-toed sloth. Figures, most farmers get to tell stories of losing cows to cunning predators like coyotes or mountain lions or chupacabras, but I lose a cow to a plastic bag.   

I know it was a plastic feed sack because after we dragged the carcass off and let nature take its course, my wife’s poppaw returned to examine the remains. In the ribs, he found a feedsack that had been balled up and compacted so tightly it could have been an effective projectile in a small cannon. 

In my opinion, losing animals is the worst part of farming, especially when I easily could have prevented that loss by throwing the empty feedsack away instead of saving it for who knows why. After that, I was admittedly feeling pretty glum. In consolation, my wife’s poppaw told me there are two truths to raising livestock: “Animals are going to get out, and animals are going to die; a person who ain’t prepared to deal with those two facts don’t need to be raising livestock.”

He was right of course, but I’d also like to add a third truth: a farm is going to get muddy in winter, and a person who ain’t prepared to lose a boot, best walk barefoot.