Friday, June 27, 2008

Farm View

What do they say about looking at something through the eyes of a child? I am having a similar experience these days on our farm with the guests we host at our cabin above the hay field.

When we first found this farm, it seemed it should be shared with other people like ourselves, caught up in cities, surrounded by efficient systems to make our lives easier, but also far removed from the basics of how things work. It's also pretty up this little creek valley. Five years later we have our farm stay for folks to visit, either as a retreat, a family outing, or a chance to decide if they can visualize a similar change of lifestyle.

I see our place anew each time our guests accompany me to feed the sheep or check for eggs. It doesn't matter whether they are adults or kids - there is a similar delight in doing something new and touching wool or feathers or horse hair or even having the donkey sidle up for an ear rub. Giving a lamb a bottle of milk probably has top billing on the list of things to do, but there are other experiences that are "firsts" too, such as "pooh sticks" played off the creek bridge, collecting turkey feathers, and picking up brown salamanders that favor muddy trails.

The barn is the best. It's not the scary, musty place, in need of some serious repair, we found when we first moved here. It was our first project. Now, there are new stalls and lights, which only help to accentuate the original structure of beams made out of single trees, a steep pitched roof to keep the water running off the shingles, and a foundation set on rocks and old growth logs. The cathedral ceilings in the hayloft get the biggest "ah", followed by 18 tons of hay "ah-ha". But, what really excites some families is the basketball hoop and trying to shoot from the top of a 7-story tall stack of hay bales!

It's funny, but without guests around, I see only vegetable and flower beds filled with weeds, and buildings and fences in need of repair. I see chickens and lambs on the wrong side of the fences and horses in pastures that are supposed to be closed off. It's not that our guests paint a picture of the idyllic countryside, because they all comment on the work we have before us. It's just that they can see what we now take for granted and, try as I might, it is hard to remember what that first glance looked like.

I am reminded of my email I wrote to friends when we first arrived here where I quoted Robert Frost's poem about the "Two roads diverged in the yellow wood..." It was about the choice to go in a different direction, somewhat blindly, I might add. What isn't blind, however, is the view from our guests' perspectives. They allow me to see again, if only for a little while, something that is right before my eyes.

Top photo: guest Harper and Teddy the lamb (photo by her mom); Bottom photo: wagon wheel at entrance to our farm (photo by guest, Jo Ann Conway).

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones
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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Saving Paco

The first time I saw Paco, the burro, he was eating the flower tops off dandelions at Craig's place. He had been acquired as a model for Craig's newest idea in basket making, something along the lines of a Mexican donkey with carrying basket. Craig assured us there was an exclusive market out there: owners of miniature donkeys who would want to outfit their animals in just such a fashion. I wasn't so sure, but I hated to rain on anyone's creative process.

The next time I saw Paco, our friend Craig had died unexpectedly and the burro was locked in a dingy barn stall on the farm Craig had purchased with and for his daughter. What a sad state of affairs. Craig's dream of refurbishing both the land and his relationship had died with the man. His daughter had had dreams too. Grandpa would teach her kids all the things he had never had the time to teach her; she might even get caught up in his passion for plants and basket making.

As the family grieved, Craig's tools were left where they lay in the rain and in the barn, rusting and becoming ruined. There was no minding them. And, there was no minding Paco. It was obvious the donkey reminded Craig's daughter of her dad. Paco was provided with food and water. Other than that, he was ignored as the family dynamics changed and the farm was put up for sale.

Lucky for Paco our neighbor, Dave, has a big heart and took matters into his own hands. He kept noticing the lonely burro corralled at the side of the highway and finally asked if he could give Paco a new home. I think the day Dave got the "okay" was the day he asked me whether the burro could stay at our place until his fences were fixed properly. It was a bit of a sell to Greg who thought we already had too many animals, but I assured him it would only be for a couple days.

Ha! The donkey was delivered out of the back of Dave's truck one afternoon. I have no idea how Dave got Paco to stand in it, but the next thing I knew, they both came walking down our driveway. Picture this...a big, strong logger followed by a miniature, woolly, grey, burro trotting behind him and looking around from side to side. It was a rag-tag pair on a mission, if I've ever seen one.

From that first day, Paco started to work the crowd, beginning with Greg. Rather like a cat picking out the person that doesn't really like cats and sitting in his or her lap, Paco sidled up to Greg just close enough so Greg's hand rested on his neck. Then he leaned on him. Paco had found the soft touch that mattered. Following Greg around in the field pretty much sealed the deal.

It didn't hurt that everyone who met Paco fell in love with him at first sight. Our guests were enthralled with his kind nature, sad eyes, and pure delight at being brushed and pet. I found the animal an easy keeper, with a good attitude and no bad habits, other than the dog nudge-factor, used (primarily by dogs), to indicate a lack of attention being paid and "Please don't stop petting me."

Dave called a few days later to find out what we wanted to do about the "goat". Seems he had moved onto another project and the fence probably wouldn't go up anytime soon, if ever. Not to worry, we said. We think we have a place for Paco here with us. I believe this was Greg speaking! The horses had become used to the burro's funny hee-haw and the sheep didn't care a lick either. Paco was able to hold his own in the barnyard and all the other animals gave his little heels a wide berth. Don't mess with Paco became the new farm theme.

On reflection, I think Paco coming into our lives at the farm helped to close a circle of friendship opened by Craig when we first arrived at this place. He's a perfect mixture of the sad-eyed Eeyore and the happy-go-lucky 'bright moments' man. In an 'anything-is-possible' outcome, the burro has lots of pasture now, lots of friends, both 4-legged and 2-legged, and he waits patiently and expectantly at the gate to be noticed. Who couldn't love the little guy.? Now if I can only figure out if it is Paco or the sheep that keep opening our gate to the barn field, I will be happy. Craig is probably laughing at this. Never underestimate the creativity of a woolly burro wishing to get to the other side.

Top photo: Paco is a miniature Sicilian burro. Guess who is standing behind the stall door!; Bottom photo: Greg and Paco bonding

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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