I tucked my Christmas pajama bottoms into my bright purple galoshes and tightened the belt of my fuzzy bathrobe that covered my nightgown. I sighed, mouth askew in a grimace, and pulled my work gloves on while balancing the shovel. Poised over the dead creature I tried to hold my breath while finagling the blade underneath the hardening body of a skunk who did not see it coming.
I love ignorance. It’s the best. Kind of wish I could get back to it. Ah, the mystique of becoming a farmer. The love of the land, the fresh air, the bright dawn, the sound of a baby goat, the feel of a newborn chick, the taste of fresh eggs with gorgeous orange yolks. The urban farm with the front yard completely gardened. Beds filled with corn and pumpkins, rows and rows of chilies and tomatoes, and dozens of other herbs and beans and cucumbers and other delights fill the space where a lawn ought to be. A rooster crows from the backyard.
I guess what I never prepared for, and what no one could really express to me, is that death and cycles of life were going to become quite apparent to me. The emotions that one might feel day to day in the suburbs would morph into much more intense versions of joy and grief. That becoming a farmer means becoming privy to the real natural world.
See, in a high rise apartment or other such place, one might see a fallen bird from a nest or a cat that has been hit by a car. We sniff and pout our lip and then move on with the day. Styrofoam cartons and air sealed packages line shelves neatly labeled. Beef tip. Short ribs. Chicken breast. (Where did the rest of the chicken go?) Away from a farm is an easy place for Utopian ideas to thrive.
Last night the skunk was apparently on his way to have appetizers and cocktails in the chicken coop with the ladies when he was swiftly taken out by a monstrous being, that at first sight might not be taken for a swift sort of creature at all. But the massive bite to the spine without being sprayed proved that Gandalf was on duty and was not allowing frolicking with the chickens past curfew. The chemical, nauseating smell permeates everything but the dog.
Now, if the pup was not there, the skunk would have made quick work of the chickens without a smidgen of remorse.
The Cornish chickens can barely stay alive as it is. Since my post three days ago, another chicken’s legs are breaking and one of the hens that seemed fine died of a heart attack. They are scheduled to meet their maker in two weeks (because it is the humane thing to do) but we will see if they even make it until then. My own Utopian ideas of compassion and living in a world without death backfired with meat chickens that were never meant to live this long and are suffering.
Over the years I have held a screaming goat as she died. My cat, two chickens, a robin, a sparrow, and my dear friend’s ashes are buried in my yard. A dead skunk is in a plastic bag in the alley until I can think of something to do with it. Death is real and it is not necessarily not compassionate. Not necessarily unfortunate. It just is.
But where there is death, there is new life. New baby chicks, and wobbling ducklings. Baby goats taking a bottle, and finches learning to fly. A farm- whether in the city or in the country- teaches us what working in a temperature controlled office after driving in a temperature controlled car, after picking up a quick breakfast could never teach. That life in its whole is a natural process of birth, delight, strength, illness, sustenance, death, grief, reality. And in every cycle, it is beautiful and sacred and real.