The pleasures of feeding and fitting in

Thursday, June 20, 2002

June 20, 2002

Dear Julie,

For many years after DC and I moved back home, we remained homesick for California. I think we missed the grandeur most of all. The West is all about soaring landscapes, Death Valleys, Joshua Trees, the prickle of ocean in the nostrils.

Reading Jerry Martien's poetry, I yearn for Trinidad Head and Mad River Beach.

"The continent rises and moves west in the morning. Rises over this last ridge and lets itself down and out onto the Pacific.

From this room in the house on the last ridge looking out.

House looking out over the mouth of the river.

The white roses by the porch. White cats.

Then the Pacific.

House at the end of the continent.

Room where we waken and rise in the morning ..."

Once in awhile as we're eating dinner or readying for bed, DC blurts out the news that she was homesick today. But it happens less and less. I think we have settled in as Missourians. We fit into the landscape.

Missouri is more rounded than California, the contrasts are more subtle, the land and waters more compassionate and motherly.

The farm we're caretaking this summer is like that. The land seems to embrace us in soft greens and browns. The farm is wider than deep, one arm stretching north along a ridge, the other south along a creek. The lane to the house and barn in the middle welcomes us in.

The summer solstice arrives with us devoting ourselves to the feeding of animals, a pleasure I previously was unaware of. Hank, Lucy and Alvie aren't enthusiastic eaters, and who can blame them when Alpo is the menu every day.

Farm animals seem to have a different point of view.

Edwin, who owns the farm, is an art professor who acquired the place along with a feed store because he loves feeding animals so much. I am beginning to understand.

The chickens in the barn get dithery when the corn slinging begins. The donkeys in the south pasture begin walking toward the gate as soon as they hear us rattling about. The oats mixed with molasses isn't their only motivation. They like getting petted.

Ditto, the male donkey who is penned up for the females' protection, brays at us or at his plight.

The geese make sounds like an orchestra of beginning trumpet players whenever we come near, and they try to out-gobble each other when we put corn in their pen.

I am in love with the two Great Pyrenees dogs, Mickey and Benjamin. There is a spiritual dimension to these animals, a wizenedness. They seem shy but maybe they are just yogis from Western Europe seeking solitude.

I hope to find some of the same at the farm, a refuge from the blather of car stereos and talk shows that drown out thought. The sounds at the farm do not displease my ear. They make me want to listen.

Every day at the farm promises surprises.

We were getting hay out of the barn to mulch in the garden when DC emitted the high-pitched scream that often means she almost stepped on a snake or can't believe something she just read. This time she'd almost stuck her pitchfork in a hen that was sitting on some eggs under the hay.

She also discovered a new litter of kittens in a tiny room behind the feed bin.

Edwin planned the farm so it would take care of itself. The donkeys are there to keep the coyotes away. Castor beans are growing in the garden to keep moles out. So far we have found nothing to keep us away.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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