A Good Old Age

I was thinking about it the other day, and I’ve been writing this blog about farming for nearly two years now and have yet to mention the most humble of barnyard creatures. But the time is nigh, specifically the next paragraph. 

I’m talking about chickens. Chickens are paradoxical creatures, being astonishingly helpless and yet nearly indestructible in their own way. For instance, we have a chicken, Quigley, who is ten years old, which in chicken years means she’s as old as Methuselah (who in biblical years lived to 969, which means Methuselah likely pulled a Betty White and somewhere in the desert sands there is an undiscovered stone tablet edition of People Magazine that says “Methuselah turns 1000!”). 

Chickens best defense mechanism has been palling up with humans who are willing to build elaborate and highly priced fortifications in exchange for calcified embryos. On the one hand, it may seem like a poor business decision on the chickens’ part, given jumbo size eggs are ejected frequently out of a small orifice and often the human fortifications are hardly predator proof, especially if an English major built it. On the other hand, if you’re going to die, you might as well die in style, living in a grand gated community with a penthouse hen house, i.e a chicken run with elevated roosts.  

Quigley endears herself to us in other ways than egg laying (she quit laying eggs after two years). Namely, she’s the tamest chicken I’ve ever seen. She’ll come right up to your legs and softly nuzzle you with her beak until you pick her up and hold her. She is the last remaining member of our original flock that got babied and pampered as chicks and lived in a Rubbermaid tote on our back porch. With subsequent flocks, we’ve grown less attentive, which is why most of our current flock are about as tame as feathered dinosaurs. Quigley has outlived all her friends and family. Her best friend Charlie died about five years ago to natural causes, then Perla dropped dead, then Penfold and Andy got killed by a neighbor’s dog. And since Thomas was born, her chicken keepers don’t get around to giving her as much attention or chicken treats as they used to. But still she survives. I don’t think she likes her new flock mates, but to be honest, neither do I. They’re different, just wild nameless chickens if I’m being honest. But Quigley is a chicken worthy of a name. May her feathers fluff for many years to come!

Quigley and Her Best Friend, Charlie
Natalie with Quigley as chick and ten years later

Long Lost Childhood Survival Skills

This past weekend, I was watching Thomas eat chicken feed when a flood of memories came rushing back to me of the time I ate dog food as a child. To be honest, it was a bittersweet memory, not in the sense that the dog food was bittersweet (if I remember right it was rather bland), but it was nice to think about bygone days, when children didn’t need to spend all their time fiddling with an iPhone and could focus on the simpler pleasures of life, like sampling food intended for domesticated animals. Despite his mothers’ protests of his food choices, Thomas is really becoming a first rate scavenger and secretly I’m a little proud. So I’m not exactly sure how to deal with his newfound passion for scavenging. Last week, for instance, he ate a petrified potato chip that he found in a couch cushion. In some scenarios, say a post apocalyptic world, scavenging would be an essential survival skill, so I don’t want to discourage it completely. That said, I also don’t want to get a visit from child protective services. 

Anyway, this dilemma got me thinking of all of the essential survival skills we instinctively hone as children and then slowly let fade away as we enter into the norms of adulthood. For instance, most children are great pouncers, but most adults have completely forgotten how to pounce despite the fact that if a man or woman can pounce, then they’ll never go hungry. It’s like that old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to pounce and you feed him for a lifetime.” Pouncing is the prerequisite skill needed for fishing. A man who can stalk and pounce on a cricket or grasshopper will never be in want of bream or sunfish. And a man who can pounce on a lizard will never be in want of a mate. There is nothing that impresses and attracts the fairer sex more than catching a lizard and then letting it bite your earlobe and dangle like an oversized ‘80s earring. This courting display was widely practiced among second-grade boys of my era, and obviously it was effective because Britney Sampson sent me a little folded up note asking, “Do you love me? Check Yes or No.”  

Another survival skill I perfected as a child was trapping various and sundry creatures. I suppose children have gotten a bit soft because they can just count on habitat loss to keep all the dangerous animals away, but back in my day we had to take matters into our own hands. Me and my neighbor Andy dug pit traps (i.e. holes covered with twigs and a thin layer of leaves and grass to camouflage their existence) all over the backyard in hopes of catching a bear or other ferocious animal. However, the only thing we ever caught was my dad on the lawn mower. That was good enough to prove the concept though. Generally speaking, my dad wasn’t very ferocious, but he played the part of the bear pretty well, roaring to life when the lawn mower bottomed out in a cloud of dust. 

Which leads to another childhood survival skill: running. Me and Andy were such advanced runners that we won the main event in second grade field day, the wheelbarrow race, which utilizes running with your hands. Thankfully, I still have some vestige of my childhood running ability because, if you’re a government employee who works on farms day in and day out, you really need to know how to make a quick get away. There are all types of enraged animals to flee from, not just the farmers. I’ve run from enraged momma cows, an enraged wild turkey mom that I stumbled on in the woods, an enraged German Shepherd that had obviously been trained to protect private property, an enraged nest of yellow jackets that I discovered in an old hay bale, and an enraged box of bees that I accidentally dropped. In many of these cases I didn’t escape unscathed, but I at least survived, which means the time I spent running my parents ragged as a child paid off. 

A New Year’s Resolution to Finish What I …

Whereas the hours in a day total 24,

and whereas the majority of my waking hours are spent in the formidable paperwork jungle that is a government agriculture office or the chaos of my humble abode, which is the natural habitat of a toddler who has both the unlimited energy and destructive power of the Tasmanian Devil, 

and whereas projects continue to accumulate on my to-do list, many of which, before they’re even started, spawn sub-projects of equal or greater extent, 

and whereas I am easily seduced by any undertaking that involves rust, junk, or otherwise questionable purchases,

and whereas, to fund these projects, our bank account hardly has time to recuperate before it’s depleted faster than my willpower in the candy aisle,

and whereas so many half-completed projects lie in ruins around here that future archeologists will likely speculate about all the unfinished contraptions found in the dig area of our farm and what natural disaster could have so thoroughly halted their progress (say a small volcanic eruption or an localized asteroid strike)

and whereas  it was not a natural disaster per se, but merely the natural tendency of the farmer to never finish what he started, to leave things languishing in a semi-completed state, 

and whereas I, that farmer, am already fighting the urge to abandon this resolution to start other bits of writing, to thus let it moulder away in the digital leaf litter that is my documents file, 

and whereas I’ll likely forget this resolution until one day many years from now when I’ll vaguely remember I started a parody resolution of some sort, but won’t remember what I named it, 

Now, therefore, I, Stephen Bishop, sometimes known as The Misfit Farmer, other times known by words synonymous with hoarder, hereby declare this resolution nearly complete, needing only a final line, which I’ll leave to another day because I think I hear a volcano erupting outside my house. 

Now is the Winter of Our Discombobulation

We finally got the tree up and decorated, but Thomas is mostly oblivious to it. He did seriously maim the cow ornament, leaving the poor bovine with only one functional leg, but otherwise he’s paid little attention to the Christmas tree, or anything Christmas-related really. Christmas just isn’t special yet because, to him, the whole world is still special. Who needs Christmas gifts when you find gifts of great wonder everywhere? The Tupperware cabinet, alone, is like Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders. Add to that the contents of the pots and pan cabinet and Thomas is a toddler, content. 

Meanwhile, his parents are deep in a winter of discombobulation. For one, it’s hardly felt like winter. We’re in a severe drought, with temperatures more characteristic of a summer solstice than winter solstice (and it’s supposed to be in the seventies on Christmas day, ugh). During this drought outside, any semblance of routine has withered up and evaporated inside our house. Thomas has run the gauntlet of day-care germs (RSV, croup, stomach bug, ear infection, crud, ear infection, stomach bug), which has strangely left him more energetic than ever, but has completely exhausted his parents. 

The Tupperware Drawer

And it shows. Our pitiful little pencil tree is the only decoration up. There are no gifts around it, because, well, they still need to be wrapped. I didn’t put the big wreaths up outside because I was too busy scrambling to mend fences for goats. Natalie didn’t put out her Christmas village, and I didn’t even put out the nativity scene. It’s kind of sad, to be honest. I didn’t think I would miss the decorations, but now, in hindsight, I realize that Christmas decorations do serve a purpose, namely reminding me that it’s Christmas. I’ve probably thought about Christmas less this year than any since I was a blissfully unaware toddler like Thomas.  

I haven’t been blissfully unaware, but unaware nonetheless–too distracted by the burdens of modernity to stop and find gifts of great wonder anywhere, even in the Christmas story. That said, I’ve still got a few days left and it just rained, so maybe I should learn from my toddler and at least go rejoice in a mud puddle.  

Thomas playing in a mud puddle after rain.

How To Run Away From Farmhouse Ghosts

I had an interesting thought the other day: Where do ghosts go when we bulldoze their haunted farmhouses, when we pave purgatory and put up a parking lot? If you ask me, it’s an issue that rarely gets the attention it deserves. 

The Kendrick Family in Front of Our Farmhouse

Our old farmhouse was built in 1897. You can tell Kendricks built it. Kendricks, my in-laws, have a tendency to build on the fly and verbalize all their decision-making processes at the moment of cognitive conception. They decide in milliseconds what to do and move forward, no second thoughts, no regrets, hammer to the nail, then another nail, another nail, and so on, till they have a house with as confusing a floor plan as a house of mirrors. It may seem impractical to have three front doors, a bathroom as a hallway, and a fireplace in the closet, but, as I said, Kendricks built my house and there are no regrets.

These three front-doors doors make it easy to flee the premises from Kendrick ghosts who are equally vocal and decisive in the afterlife. Don’t get me wrong, decisiveness has its place, like the Battle of King’s Mountain, when my wife’s ancestors fought with the Overmountain Men to whip the British. (If the battle had depended on the Bishops, my ancestors, we would have surely lost for fear of hurting the British’s feelings. Or, we would have starved to death, unable to choose which campfire to eat at and insisting someone else choose. My wife has studied my genealogy and says I have a French ancestor, which explains a lot). 

But self-assured and outspoken Kendricks are not who you want haunting your farmhouse. Kendrick ghosts have no qualms about terrifying an in-law now inhabiting their old domicile with disembodied utterances and footless footsteps. I’m certain it’s Kendrick ghosts because no other ghosts could navigate our house without getting lost and asking for help. Plus, a Kendrick ghost would never ask for help as a point of pride. 

Furthermore, I did see a real Kendrick ghost once, no joke. It was a grayish apparition in the shape of granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. I saw it on the same night my wife was laughing in her sleep with a strange, childlike giggle. When I rolled over to investigate the cause of her laughter, my wife was still clearly asleep, yet still clearly giggling. And standing beside the bed, beside her, was this grey granny. I rolled back over, put the sheet over my head, and tried to convince myself I was dreaming. The next morning, I told my wife about the giggling and asked her what she was dreaming about. I had yet to mention anything about the ghost. She said she had been dreaming about her great-grandma, at which point I nearly created a fourth front-door in our house. 

Penola Kendrick, a.k.a. Granny Ghost