Farm Daze

I’m a grad student (recent grad student, actually. You may now call me Master Sully), and I will do anything to make some extra money. Well, not anything – get your mind out of the gutter. One summer I worked as a waiter. A singing waiter, actually. It was pretty fun, but it’s a significant stretch to say my singing outweighed my awful table service skills. There were a few months last year when I made phone calls for a telethon at my school asking alumni to donate to the institution’s annual fund. I did a lot of finger-crossing during that period, hoping no one would pick up on the other end of my calls. I’ve done custodial work (pick up after yourselves, y’all, people work hard to keep your facilities clean), helped people move from their apartments (third floor apartments, to be precise), and babysat cats (ask me about my severe cat allergy sometime). Basically, if there is a job that needs doing, I’m your man…and if I don’t know how to do it I will pretend I do because of my deep-seeded need to please and then frantically ask Siri for help the moment your back is turned.

My greatest challenge, however, came when my brother and I tended to his boss’s farm while he was on a week-long vacation in Europe. Just to give some context, hearing my brother say “Next week we’re going to tend to N’s farm while he is away” was kind of like hearing him say “Next week you’re signing with the New England Patriots” or “Whoa George Lucas really hit the mark with Star Wars Episode II.”  The extent of my farm knowledge at this point was simply that there was once an elderly man named MacDonald who had one (E-I-E-I-O). But I like animals and I read Charlotte’s Webin the third grade, so I felt I was up for the challenge. 

N, the owner of the farm, went above and beyond to make sure that two incredibly inexperienced farmers would not kill any of his animals. He left a ten page instruction manual that I read more carefully than I’ve ever read anything else. He also gave us a list of emergency contacts; everyone from the town veterinarian to N’s mom two states away. He made sure the animals would be in good hands. Even if my own hands were bitten off by a goose.

Despite my reservations, my first farm-sitting experience went off pretty smoothly. I learned that geese are terrifying and stay that way, but they won’t attack you if you’re the one they rely on for food. Or if you throw spinach the other way when they start to come near you. I found that saying “You’re a chicken and I’m a human and I’m bigger than you and you can’t fly” makes picking up a chicken less intimidating when you’re collecting eggs. I discovered that goats are basically big dogs, but there is a huge difference when an animal with paws jumps up to hug you than when an animal with hooves does. All in all, the week was a success. My brother and I didn’t kill any of the animals, and they didn’t kill us.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “But Sully? I came here ready to hear a fun story about how everything went to pieces when you tried to run a farm for a week. I wanted to laugh at you as you chased rogue animals (or while they chased you). I’m a nice person and I didn’t want anything to go wrong, but I certainly didn’t expect everything to go according to plan.”

Just you wait, my friend.

My brother and I must have done a decent job looking after the farm, because N asked us to do it again. Having successfully located my inner farmer, I’d have said this time would be no different from the last. But it was. So, so different.

For one thing, it was February. In Massachusetts. So when my brother and I opened the front door of the farmhouse on our first morning, we looked out on (I’m not kidding you) two feet of snow. We couldn’t see the path from the house to the barn or from the barn to the farmyard. I’m no Dr. Doolittle, but when I looked into the eyes of N’s sweet old bulldog Lucy, her message was clear: “If you think I’m going out in that snow to do my business you have another thing coming. I should also add that I have not trusted you for a second since you first entered this house and I have no problem going to the bathroom in some obscure corner of the house for my owner to find when he returns so he thinks you are lazy and neglectful.”

Actual footage of the farm in February. Ok, maybe not actual footage, but it’s the same idea.

By the time I had shoveled a patch for Queen Lucy the Skeptical, the rest of the farm animals were up. Nothing says “DIG FASTER!” like twenty-two chickens, five geese, four ducks, and five goats screaming at you across the yard because it’s breakfast time and you can’t walk in the snow, much less carry six food dishes, an egg basket, and a five-gallon jug of water.

This is a great time to mention that my brother had to leave that day for an out of town work obligation, so after he helped make a path through the snow to the farm yard, he was out. I was alone. I was alone in the snow with a bunch of hangry animals. Basically, I was Leonardo DiCaprio from The Revenant. Where is my Oscar?

While tending the farm during the summer with my brother had been a quaint, Instagramable holiday, caring for it by myself in two feet of snow was not quaint. And definitely not Instagramable. Any rapport I had developed with the geese, for instance, vanished when the door to their house froze shut overnight. When I broke the ice and wrenched the door open, they made it perfectly clear they were super mad at me as if I had personally covered their door with ice just to mess with them. Or there was the time I was giving everyone their dinner and slipped on the ice in the barnyard. To give some context, I’m writing this blog post three and a half months after the fact and my knee still hurts. I’m 100% sure the animals had a secret farmyard meeting that night to decide what to do about the crazy substitute farmer who spent five minutes lying on his back in the snow yelling four-letter words at the sky.

And then there was Lincoln. Lincoln and his twin sister Ruby were the two youngest goats. They were sweet and little when I first took care of them over the summer. Now, however, Lincoln was going through his rebellious phase. I guess he is a Game of Thrones fan, because there were several times when he was feeling amorous and I had to stop him from pulling a Jaime Lannister and getting frisky with his sister. 

Lincoln is a free spirit and he longs to roam the outside world. He didn’t tell me this himself, but I surmised it by his constant attempted escapes. Every time I entered the farmyard, I locked the gate with a carabiner so none of the animals got any ideas. During the summer, this was a great system. During the winter, however, the carabiner froze, making it difficult to use. One morning, I entered the farmyard carrying the usual assortment of baskets, dishes, and pitchers. The carabiner was frozen and I thought, “If I close the gate and go through the motions of locking it with the carabiner, none of the animals will know the difference.” So I went about my business and fed everyone. Everything seemed to be in order.

Then I saw him.

Picture those old movies in the Wild West where the two cowboy rivals stand at either end of mainstreet staring at each other before they battle it out. Now replace the saloon with a chicken coop, the tumbleweed with snow drifts, and the townspeople with farm animals and you’ve got this scene. Oh yeah, the two cowboys are me and Lincoln. I was having a standoff with a goat. 

He looked into my eyes and I looked into his, and I knew what was going to happen a second before it did. Lincoln gave me a sassier look than I have ever received from a person, turned around, and ran toward the unlocked gate. 

I’ll let you picture the next five minutes. 

Goats aren’t the fastest runners, but neither am I. Especially when I’m leaping through snow deeper than my knees. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I guess I didn’t think silence was an option because I made myself hoarse shouting, “COME BACK HERE, GOAT! I AM NOT PLAYING AROUND!” Everything about this situation was off the syllabus.

Finally, Lincoln decided the life of a wanderer was not for him and he calmly returned to the farmyard. While the other goats rejoiced in the return of their prodigal son, I locked the gate and wondered if my boss at work would believe me when I told him the reason I was late was because I was chasing down a runaway goat. 

Now that my first solo farm-sitting adventure has come and gone, Massachusetts temperatures are consistently in the sixties, and I haven’t seen a goose in months, I can look back and let hindsight show me the things I learned from this experience. Bulldogs can be divas when it’s potty time. Adolescent goats can be as obnoxious as adolescent humans. Whoever manufactures those Christmas puzzles with pictures of peaceful, snow-covered farmhouses has never been on a farm a day in his life. 

And often, when you step out of your ken, beyond the safe boundaries of your comfort zone, you discover strength, patience, and skills (does goat herding sound weird on a resume?) you didn’t know you had. All you need is a little push…or a farmer who left you in charge of one dog, one cat, two rabbits, twenty-two chickens, five geese, four ducks, and five goats and who wants to return to one dog, one cat, two rabbits, twenty-two chickens, five geese, four ducks, and five goats.

One thought on “Farm Daze

  1. The best part of the story is picturing all of this in my mind with you as the star! Thanks for sharing. Loved it!


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