I love the industriousness of chickens. There is no silliness about them, they are always working, always alert for food.When I put the donkey’s hay in the feeder Fran (no this is Meg, I see) always hops up and watches me and my camera, and studies the hay for seeds. When she is done, she hops on a donkey’s back and goes about her business. She takes no short cuts, and never slacks off.
Whenever we come out to feed them, the donkeys are coming towards us. They are telepathic creatures. Sometimes I think they can hear us talking in the house, hear us scrambling to get carrots, get our boots on. They are always waiting for us, when it is time for them to get their hay.
Twice a day, we visit the donkeys. When it is cold, as it was today, the visits are brief. Even though there is hay in the feeder, Simon waits to be brushed, talked to , kissed on the nose. I am very connected to Simon. In some ways, we are the same thing, the broken parts of us help us see right through the other.
I am not a farmer, and have never wanted to be one. I am a writer and have always wanted to be one.
This question of identify comes up all the time, especially if you write about dogs and other animals. I am often telling people what I am not – I am not a trainer, not a rescue facility, not a vet, not an amusement park or tourist destination, not a social worker, not a non-profit, not a photographer-for-hire, not a publicist or marketer (mostly). The need to do this often used to make me angry, and often grumpy, until I came to understand that I was the problem, the difficulty was inside of me. This anger comes from an old place, of course, when all kinds of violations made me very angry, defensive and closed. Identity is a sensitive issue for me, but that is an old story. The new one is that all I needed to say is no thanks, I don’t do that, I don’t read or respond to those requests or messages, and I can just skip the angry/grumpy part. I have found that if you are honest that most people are very accepting of the truth.
So while I am not a farmer, I love my farm. So does Maria. Sharing this love makes the farm twice as wonderful. Farmlove is something of an addiction, I think, as Jenna Woginrich has written in her new book “Barnheart”. I have taken pains for years to say I am a writer, not a farmer. Yet here is this farm, and I am on it, and it is a seminal part of my life and consciousness. We are always tending to it – animals, fences, feed, trash, pipes and doors. One of the things I most love about the farm is the rythyms and feelings of it. If you have animals on a farm, you know that the lives of animals – dogs, donkeys, cats, chickens – revolve around food. So, then, does yours. Food is life to them, and they are amazing scholars of food. They take it seriously, they know when humans are even thinking about feeding them, when they put put their jackets on inside the farmhouse, or put their feeding boots and shoes on, get cups, look at hay bales or grain barrels. They know by the light when to look at their food bowls, come and stand by the big barn, cluck and rush of the birdseed can, waiting for spillage.
Twice a day, Maria and I go outside, and always – always – the animals are already aware of us, on the move, watching us, waiting for us to make the first move. Simon brays and the donkeys come and stand by the barn, the dogs rush into the kitchen to wait by their bowls, the chickens rush up to Maria and follow her, the cats dance all around us in excitement. In a few minutes all of the animals are fed, and drifting off back into their disparate lives, and we return to ours. It is a sweet time and I took some photos of it.
We love these chores. We love our farm. Here are some scenes from a late afternoon.
Fran hopped up into the feeder this afternoon to trawl for seeds. She hops up onto a donkey’s back, then up into the feeder. She roots around for awhile, and then hops back onto a donkey and onto the ground. She is an inquisitive hen, a strange thing for a chicken to be.