Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Farms Fading

The town I live in used to be dotted with small, family farms. When I moved here almost thirty years ago, you could drive down Main Street and see herds of cows grazing in fields of timothy grass, red clover and Queen Anne's lace. It was a place of simple, pastoral beauty. There were several horse farms with riding rings and paddock buildings. Most of them are gone now. Some sit with "For Sale" signs swinging on posts in the yards, some are empty and all boarded up.

There was a dairy farm, with trucks that delivered fresh milk on dawn doorsteps, and a bustling little store. When my children were small, I would take them there on fall afternoons. We walked past pumpkins and cornstalks into the big barn where the cows were milked, and we spent some time petting their velvety noses. The milking machines clicked and whirred while the cows chewed their cud. The air was full of the sweet smell of hay, the sharp smell of manure and a hint of sour milk. The lowing of the big animals and the tinkling of their collar bells filled our ears.

My children and I would walk the length of the barn, trying to choose our favorite cow. The black and white one was the biggest. The brown one looked like she was wearing eyeliner. The black one was the kindest. If we were in luck, some of the cows had little calves beside them; the babies were the ones we loved most of all.

After our visit to the barn, we'd go over to the dairy store and buy a quart of chocolate milk to take home. It was a special thing, but I took it for granted. I guess I thought the dairy would always be there, but it's gone now.

The barns and tractors are still there, but the cows no longer stop traffic every evening as they cross the street on their way back from the fields. The store is permanently closed down and the milk trucks sit rusting in the yard and the driveway.

Just down the street and around the corner, on the route that Rigby and I regularly walk is an old house with a big, fenced-in yard. Years ago, it was a little farm. A nice old woman lived there, and she had a pony named Strawberry and a little brown donkey that was Strawberry's best pal. The two beasts shared a corral together, and my kids would poke carrots and apples through the fence for them on summer afternoons. Chickens and ducks wandered about, clucking and quacking, nibbling at the grass.

When the old woman died, some of her relatives moved into the house and the pony and the donkey soon disappeared. Only a few goats and chickens remain there now, and a pair of brown and white ducks that look like bowling pins. The ducks always manage to get out of their enclosure and they hurry down toward the road, side by side, looking almost as if they are attached at their shoulders, to have a look at Rigby and me when we come by.

The once brightly colored garden gnome on the doorstep is weathered and fading to gray, like the paint on the moldy clapboards of the old house.
The little goats stand on top of their wooden houses, calling out to be fed or for companionship. Their bleating echoes like the distant sound of children's voices.

There are a few farms left in town. One is a pig farm down in a valley near the corner where our town meets the border of three other towns. It is pretty well hidden though, and you never see the animals, but on hot days, if the wind is right you can sure catch a whiff of it as you walk through the parking lot of the supermarket.

Another farm still has a herd of Hereford cattle. Those are the ones in the picture above that I took last Saturday. They were lounging in the field, enjoying the warm day amid the asters and blue chicory flowers as I drove by.

I also took a ride over to the old dairy farm for the photo of the red tractor. I met a man in the field who had obviously been working. As he walked up the hill toward me, I asked if he minded me taking some pictures. "Not at all", came his reply, "Do you want to buy anything?" I told him I wasn't in the market for any farm equipment, just some pictures to go with my farm story. "Take all you want, then." he answered.

I have a great sadness about our loss of the small farms. Families can no longer sustain themselves by working the land, and the land itself is valued more for real estate, rather than for what it can produce.
But it must have been wonderful, to coax food out of God's earth and live in close symbiotic harmony with the animals, the farmers relying on them, as they in turn relied on the farmers. To live by the cycle of the seasons and literally reap the rewards of your own hard work must have been such a good, simple, and satisfying way of life. I'm sorry to realize that it is a way of life that seems to be passing into history; fading into the mists of time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Atlantic in Autumn

Equinox today, the autumnal shift. The daylight is rapidly fading and the sun seems cooler somehow, as we tilt towards winter.

Last Sunday, Mac and I journeyed down to the sea for what may be one of the last times this year. The sky was a deep, cerulean blue, unmarred except by the yellow sun and a few airplanes. The atmosphere was so crisp and dry that the short, white con-trails the jets made dissipated rapidly, making them appear like distant comets, arcing above the horizon, following the curve of the earth. No clouds seemed to form at all that day.

Through the fringe of my half-closed eyes, I watched as sandpipers and plovers dodged the surf. Glistening, clear jellyfish dotted the wet sand between multi-colored stones and clumps of seaweed. Gentle, coke-bottle green waves rolled in to shore, breaking into cascades of lacy foam before retreating back out to sea. Cabin cruisers bobbed on the surface of the bay and white sailboats shimmered like ghosts on the horizon as we luxuriated in the warmth of the late September sun.

Rigby dug a hole in the shade of Mac's beach chair and burrowed into the cool sand to watch the ringed gulls strut by us, searching for scraps and picking at abandoned shells, amid the washed up strands of kelp.

Later, as we watched the sun sinking low over bay, I was transfixed by the flashing diamonds it created, spangling the mud left exposed by the ebbing tide. Suddenly, I realized there was movement on the mudflats; a billion tiny periwinkles were stirring all around us, wondering where the sea had gone, their shiny, wet shells catching and reflecting back the sun's light like little jewels.

There may be other days at the shore in the weeks to come, but I will probably not swim in the ocean again until next May or June. Instead, Mac and I will most likely spend the brief hours walking on the sand with Rigby, greeting other dogs and their people, wearing our fleece jackets and warm-up pants or jeans. This brings a big sigh, because as I may have mentioned, winter is very long in these parts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Orb Spider's Web

We have a little friend spinning her web near our garage now. I looked her up and found out that she is an Orb spider. It's fascinating to watch her work, deftly weaving this beautiful web of hers.

The tall, feathery, green plume is one of the cosmos I planted from seeds that grew taller than me, but never bloomed. I fertilized, and Mac watered faithfully, to no avail. I never got even one flower out of the darned thing.
That's Mac checking out the evening's spinning session.
This is one busy arachnid. She's an accomplished hunter, smart enough to set up right under the garage light where there is no shortage of small flies, moths and beetles that visit and fall victim to her trap.

How amazing that such a small and seemingly insignificant creature can create something so complex and sublime, a thing of beauty that serves such a practical function. Nature never ceases to amaze me. The more I contemplate the natural world, the more awestruck and humbled I am by all it holds.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Time of Transition

The hot, humid days seem to be past us now here in the northeast U.S. and Fall is fast approaching.
This is and has always been a time of transition for me, never more than this year. Within the past couple of weeks, my daughter has moved away from home into the city, and I have started a new job.

Yes, my youngest is all grown up now. Mac and I helped her move into a fourth floor walk-up in Boston, something I don't recommend if you have a weak back. It was quite a trick getting her bed, dresser, desk and a futon up a rickety, creaking staircase in the 90 degree heat and high humidity. To add to the indignity of it all, I came out and found a forty dollar parking ticket on my car for parking next to her building (resident parking only - how ironic).

Last week my girl had her first solo business trip, and she handled it like an old pro, booking a last minute flight and hotel, and renting a car to drive around Washington D.C., Baltimore and Virginia, all on her own. We are very proud that she has grown into a capable and independent woman. Our nest is not empty though. My son who is a few years older still resides with us. Despite having a degree in computer-aided drafting and being a talented artist, he has only been able to find retail jobs which don't pay enough to enable him to get his own place, which he would dearly love to do. So he and Rigby, and the two cats keep our place from being lonely.

As for me, I have been thrust back into the world of 9 to 5, planning what to wear, racing around trying to get ready in the morning, multi-tasking and scrambling to get all my work done, wolfing lunch at my desk while answering phones, and responding to a booming voice constantly summoning me. I've been teaching myself to use new software programs and do new things with old ones. So far, I really like it.

The one draw-back is that I have discovered I was actually bringing in more income while home on unemployment. This is due to the fact that President Obama's economic recovery act was paying 65 percent of my health care insurance while I was out of work, and the governor's medical security plan was picking up the rest. Now that I have taken a 25 percent pay cut in this new position, and again have to pay half of my own insurance premiums, I am making substantially less than when I was on permanent vacation. Something wrong with that picture, eh?(Please, can we have real health insurance reform now?...please?)

Then last week, another complication arose. Back in May I applied for a state job. Since months had passed and I hadn't heard anything, I assumed they had long since hired someone else for the job. I guess I underestimated the plodding pace of state agencies, because a few days after I started my new job as Executive Assistant to the President of my current company, I got the call; they wanted to interview me.

To make a long story short, I went for the interview and although I felt like it went well, I think they must be considering a lot of other people for the job, many of whom are probably much more qualified than I am. I went to a vocational post-secondary school instead of college and earned a hairdressing operator's license, not a degree. I believe my personality and a lot of luck earned me my past two jobs in administration. Although eighteen years of experience must be good for something, I wouldn't be surprised if I am not one of those being seriously considered for the post.

In any case, it could be a long time before I hear anything from them, being that it is a state job. If I do hear from them, that will open a whole new can of worms for Deedee. Stay tuned, my friends!