Farming for fun, donkeys

Thursday, May 16, 2002

May 16, 2002

Dear Pat,

One of DC's favorite photographs is a snapshot of her beloved grandfather in his garden. It's one of the reasons she has always wanted to live on a farm.

This summer, ready or not, her dream will come true when we take care of a friend's farm outside town while he spends a few months in the West.

We are about to spend some time at the place where idealism and reality meet.

Amity Hills Farm is only 25 acres, which real farmers probably think of as an extra large lawn. But to us denizens of boom box territory the farm seems like Eden.

A creek runs through it. A wild rose bush grows near the creek, not far from the little farm house, a weathered barn and the animal pens. Our friend, Edwin, currently has donkeys and geese and guineas and chickens and pigeons, two pot-bellied pigs, two Great Pyrenees dogs and "a few cats," meaning he doesn't know how many. I may have lost track of a few other animals.

The donkeys run free over the back of the farm. A few days ago, DC discovered that two of them are pregnant. This could be fun.

Hay grows in the two pastures. Above one rises a grassy meadow with little ponds that are wet now but will dry out in the summer. Even further above runs a ridge of trees shading an old trace, the remnant of an ancient road.

Edwin hasn't left town yet, but last weekend we went to the farm belatedly to rototill our garden. The phrase "too wet to plow" described April and much of May in Southeast Missouri. The ground was still too wet Saturday but we wrestled the rototiller up and down the rows anyway, stopping after each one to unclog the blades.

One hundred years ago, farmers and mules or horses did the same work from sunrise to sunset without the aid of a motor. No matter how much we complain about how busy we are, life in 2002 is soft.

Sunday we planted instead: just sweet basil, carrots, tomatoes, corn and some wildflowers so far. DC already had put in some squash.

While working alone in the garden one day, the thought occurred to DC that she was making her grandfather very happy. She thinks he's going to be watching over the garden.

The learning curve is towering for me. I did work on a farm one spring in Big Sur at the end of the '80s. We planted strawberries that never appeared, potatoes we couldn't stop from growing. We picked snails off the lettuce and sold them to a gourmet restaurant in Carmel.

You know you're living in line with universal law when people pay well to eat your pests.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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