I’m Going Back to the Plough

 

Before the coronavirus raised its ugly head and scared everyone away from the city, I lived there part-time while I taught at a local university.  Earlier this year though, I boxed and taped my city underwear and moved back to the farm permanently.  According to Allied Van Lines making moves and changing locations is not that unusual.  On average, most people change their address 11 times during a lifetime.  My mother, who’s less a rolling stone and more a streaking comet, moved nine times within a five-year period.  The majority of moves we make are local though, from an apartment to a house in the same town, for example.

But people in my age group, the baby boomers, are the least likely of any demographic to make a big move. 

Generally, older adults have finally paid the mortgage off and are unwilling to take on any new debt, especially house loans.  And if they do change homes, they want to live closer to town, not further away.  They want to be nearer goods and services, and especially medical facilities as they age.

None of those issues mattered to me when I decided to move back full-time to the farm.  I’d become fatigued of sitting in lines of hot cars at traffic lights.  The charm of living among hundreds of interesting and colorful people was spent.  The evening before I moved out of town, I watched Rocketman, a biopic about classic rocker, Elton John.  The next day packing boxes, I found myself singing one of Elton’s songs:  “So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl, you can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough…”

The farm does have plows, which means work, so country living has not always been my panacea.  For twenty years after marrying a farmer I plied, if not plowed the land.  During that time I often walked field roads dreaming of city streets and city lights.  I’d become a hay seed, but I longed to make hay in the big city.  I couldn’t shake wonderful memories of being a college coed in a big city back east where I grew up.  I loved the city parks with their beautiful fountains of sculptured winged gods spouting water.  Down the boulevard were magnificent museums and large libraries, repositories of learning.

I finally got the chance to leave the farm once my children were raised, and I became a university professor.

I moved into my little part-time apartment in the biggest city around: Boise, Idaho, population 226,570.  It wasn’t the Big Apple but it was a fairly large potato.  When I made that move a farm girlfriend of mine asked me, “What does the city have that the country doesn’t–besides shopping?”

I thought (but didn’t say): you plebeian!  A country girl could never understand the excitement, the energy, of so many people working and thinking and creating, in one big, buzzing place.  Even Michelangelo said, “I have never found salvation in nature.  I love cities above all.”

But I came to discover my plebeian friend had a point.  Though cultural centers too, for most people cities are basically shopping meccas.  In terms of daily living, this is their biggest draw and greatest drawback.  I soon found I had only so much time and money to spend in big box stores buried in concrete canyons.

Another friend, Donna, said, “Won’t you be bored living out on the farm again?”

Maybe.  But I’m beginning to understand the upside of boredom, how it motivates you to engage with all the little things you missed before, like the litter of kittens out by the barn.  Besides, every day’s not meant to be a bell-ringer.  If you can’t stand the lethargy of time, you’ll die young—or at least sooner from rushing about so much.

So, it could be I moved back to the farm to save my life—or savor it.  Really it doesn’t matter.  If I’m honest, it’s how you live, not where you live that matters.

Early this morning, when it was still dark, I opened the door to my back patio.  I heard the river rushing past, and when I looked up, I saw a spray of stars in the sky.  Mornings on the farm are the best.

 

Image Credit: packing boxes        Image Credit:  Rocketman        Image Credit:  old barn photo by Diana Hooley

 

 

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

To those of you who ask why raise chickens, I say why not?

Especially during the age of coronavirus, companion animals can be an important comfort.  I realize some of you may not see chickens as companion animals, but don’t forget what the great poet Emily Dickinson had to say about this: “Hope is the thing with feathers…”

Chickens have many superior qualities to commend them  For one thing, they don’t bark annoyingly as some dogs do.   Plus chickens lay eggs.  Dogs don’t lay eggs.  Also, chickens are very efficient animals.  They have one of the highest feed conversion ratios (FCR) of any livestock.  Feed conversion ratios look at the difference between how much it takes to feed an animal versus how much food that animal provides.  Chickens will eat your table scraps and turn them into protein-rich eggs.  If you don’t know what to do with that watermelon rind—feed it to the chickens.  What about that tub of soured yogurt in the fridge?  Chickens love yogurt.  They even eat ground rock.  It’s called grit, and it helps them digest their food better.

We’ve raised chickens on our farm on and off for years and though they’re interesting, funny creatures, they do have their challenges.  One time I had a problematic hen who was a real nester.  When it came time to gather eggs, she wouldn’t leave her nest box and scratch in the yard with the other hens.  She just wanted to sit in the box, murmuring contentedly.  I tried to surreptitiously wrap my arm around the box to grab her eggs from behind.  But she’d have none of my foolishness.  She’d squawk and flap her wings indignantly like I was some stranger with my hand up her dress.

Chickens are generally peaceable, but like humans, they’re keenly aware of social hierarchies. 

I was reminded of this fact once when I taught school and attended a faculty meeting.  I understood the “pecking order” among faculty members, but one of our new, young teachers, did not.  She had the temerity to make an innocent suggestion–without vetting her idea first with faculty leaders.

“What? Where’d you come up with that stinker?”

“That’s a dumb idea.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

I tried to defend her, rebuking fellow faculty members by saying they were all acting like a bunch of chickens picking at the youngest and newest member of our group. It was only later that I realized what a bizarre comment this was.  My only defense is I had chickens on the brain, one of the few downsides of being in the chicken-raising business.

Chickens come in variety of breeds and colors:  Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Leghorn (famously popularized by the cartoon character with the southern drawl, Foghorn Leghorn). 

Eggs come in different colors too, but there’s a popular myth about egg shell color.  Some people believe brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs.  White eggs can be just as nutritious if they’re laid by a “pastured” hen as opposed to a caged hen.  This is what really makes the difference in terms of egg nutrients.

One of the best parts of raising chickens is sharing the eggs with friends and family.  I’ll give Nancy (an older friend who is careful with her diet and prefers organic) a dozen.  Elizabeth next door needs my eggs to bake her delicious homemade cupcakes and Danish pastries.  Simon is always in a hurry when he goes to work in the morning.  He likes to break one of my eggs over a piece of bread and microwave it for a quick breakfast.  Overall, being in the chicken business has been for both me and my husband, an egg-cellent adventure.

 

Image Credit:  Diana Hooley