Saturday, July 24, 2010

Inspection Time

Oh Boy, Oh Boy Oh Boy…this is really good news. I know I whine and complain a lot but this is REALLY good news.

I just this morning, this very morning, had my 15-year-old Buick inspected and retagged for two years and it is not only not even the end of the month but it only cost me $85!

This may seem like a minimal boon to those unaware of my relationship with Steve, my mechanic, or his capacity to hold my fate in his hands but around here it is a big %$@@**&$ deal?

For 15 years I have, at the very last minute, thrown myself upon his mercy and he has always managed to save me from pedestrian life by simply adding a few sets of brakes, new mufflers, a new tire or two etc. And I, whipped and beaten by the State and my own procrastination, slumping across his greasy counter, would commence to write a check that he and I both knew might bounce at least once.

Strangely enough these checks began to assume a terrible similarity in that they all exceeded $100! Over the years even our conversations on this matter have begun to be a little redundant.

“See these little wiry things sticking out of the side of your tires here, Laura?” says Steve, my mechanic. “Well, yes I noticed that.” say I, “What do you suppose the matter is?”

And Steve would say, “Well, the matter is Laura that this car won’t pass with these tires.”

And I would try not to let Steve see how rattled I was at the possibility of the cost of a new set of tires but he must be a good guesser because he would say, “I might have some used ones around here good enough to pass and other than that it’s just a few replacement bulbs and a new wiper blade on the passenger side…(I never replace that passengers are better off not seeing anything.) ..and that should get you by.”

And I say “How much will that be all together, Steve?” and he would get out his greasy little receipt book and figure on it with his Independent Farmer’s Bank ball point pen and it would always come out to “…can’t say exactly Laura but it looks like about $100 or maybe a little more.” And that’s what it would be including the “little more.”

Or he might say, “See how that bungy cord you have holding the hood down allows the hood to flop up and down, Laura?” (That was on the old pick-up)..And I would say, “I plan to get a new bungy cord the very next time I’m in town, Steve.” But he says, “You been saying that for awhile, Laura but you really need to get that latch fixed. It won’t pass with a bungy cord.” And I would say, “Well, can you do it?” and he would say “I think so, but I’ll have to order a spring…(thingy)” and I say, “Well, how much do you think it will be all together?”

And out would come the little receipt book and the Independent Farmer’s Bank ball point pen and it would always come out to “…can’t say exactly Laura but it looks like about $100 or maybe a little more.” And that’s what it would be plus a little more.

And that’s why this is such REALLY good news. I know there’s not that much difference between $85 and $100. Yes, I know that. But it’s the TREND that’s encouraging.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Maggie, an Honorable Partner

As one of a large litter of pups left in a dog kennel to starve following the removal of their mother, Maggie, the only survivor, managed to squirm under the chain link fence and get rescued by a horrified neighbor. The lady happened to have a friend willing to care for her and when she was about six months old, a teenager in dog years, I answered the ad that read: “Blue Heeler needs a home” and Maggie came to the farm.

It didn’t take long for Maggie to become an integral part of the farm and within a year she was what you might call a full partner. My only requirements of her in the beginning were that she not leave the place and not to kill poultry.

Her only requirements of me were that she be allowed to stay as near me as possible as much as possible and that I would listen to “dog reason” occasionally.

She learned immediately that her boundary was the fence line and the open gate at the gravel road but the chicken killing thing was a hard lesson to learn and cost a lot of poor hens their lives that first year.

I learned immediately that she was a companion worth having and that I could depend on her. I also learned to listen to dog reason.

She was an extremely happy dog in those busy years and confident in her own importance and ability to hold up her end. Her favorite entertainment was walking the pasture, for whatever purpose, 15 feet ahead of me, tail brush wagging, pretending that she was the leader and I was the follower. Maybe she was. I never could figure out how she knew where we were going. If the plan was to check the gully off to the east for a missing heifer she struck off in that direction. If the idea was to run the south fence line checking for downed wire she headed straight for it.

I learned very soon that she had a few strong hatreds. She passionately hated pigs and her aversion to large sticks in my presence turned her into a totally different dog that you really would not like to meet. And she had a primeval hatred of guns.

We were both young then, in those years when my own strength and determination would be tested to the max, and the work was hard. In the beginning there were disagreements, as in any partnership, mostly regarding what Maggie thought was in my best interest.

She was determined to keep a safe zone between me and anything larger than me and at first this made caring for the stock a little difficult. However, as my hard-earned herd of sale barn heifers grew and the danger of being smashed or trampled as the individuals in the herd fought for the first bite increased, I learned to appreciate Maggie’s wisdom and depend on her protection. She never failed me.

She hated to see me climb and this battle, which I finally won because of the necessity of the thing, caused me a few bumps and scrapes. The cattle were separated from the hay storage side of the barn by an ancient stanchion topped by woven wire fencing and I had to stand on the stanchion and shove the hay bales over the wire fencing. To Maggie this was double jeopardy. I was not only three feet off the ground but at some risk of falling into the pen with the cows.

Her whimpering pleas ignored, she would brace her feet in the dirt of the barn floor, grab the cuff of my cover-alls and hang on with all her might while I did the haying as best I could with a 40-pound dog attached to my leg. More than once I lost patience and kicked out at her, cussing a blue streak, winding up flat on my back on the floor. This had to stop so I did win this one.

Maggie was a perfect mimic. She was like a canine mocking bird. I guess you would call her a mocking dog. More than once I jumped from my bed thinking I had coyotes right under my bedroom window only to see Maggie sitting there answering the yip yips of some far off coyote pack just for the fun of it.

Or I would hear the tinny bark of a very small dog by the barn and go out to see her sitting in the drive answering the neighbor’s terrier or a deep full bark of what I was sure had to be a St. Bernard in the neighborhood and it would just be Maggie woof woofing away.

I don’t know how she did it and am not sure why she did it but I think she just thought it was fun.

She did, however take her responsibilities very seriously. In fact she was a dedicated worrier. Beneath my bedroom window, guarding through the night, she could not keep her worries to herself and would often, when the coyotes were running or stray people were out and about, trouble my sleep with her pitiful grumbling, mumbling whimpers and this would go on and on only to be silenced by my loud shouts to “shut up that damn whining” and my banging on the outside wall by the window beneath which she slept.

Our only disagreement that seriously threatened our arrangement and Maggie's place at the farm involved a gun. Like I said she hated guns. The merest glimpse of a gun, or any facsimile of one, resulted in the morphing of a very gay, amenable, hard working companion into a rigidly intense, deadly serious canine stranger.

I kept a gun. It was a rifle and kept for the purpose of some emergency that might arise for a woman living alone in a rather isolated area. Of course and fortunately, no such emergency ever did arise and hasn't to this day.

The gun's actual use, with a few rare exceptions, had been confined to the two occasions when I, fortified with three or four ounces of Vodka mixed with a tablespoon of orange juice, performed necessary mercy killings. It had also been waved wildly at stray dogs and one errant fox seen carrying off a fat Peking duck five mornings in a row.

But a neighbor's dog, having made friends with Maggie, who was a total push over in that regard, had persistently ravaged and killed throughout the poultry population and was arrogant enough to come into the yard in broad daylight while I was standing there to repeat his acts of destruction right in front of me.

I looked at the bodies strewn across the yard and I had had enough. I got the rifle and standing in the driveway with the intention of either scaring the be jesus out of him or killing him dead which ever my aim served, was banging away while Maggie's wildly piteous pleadings and whimperings fell on deaf ears. As a last resort, from her way of thinking, she stood on her hind legs and clamped down on my left hand that supported the gun while my right worked away at the trigger.

I was stunned. First by the pain of it and then by the fact that she would actually do this to me. She did not bite, or tear..just clamped down hard and hung on, her whimperings and whining, louder and louder, ascending to a frantic pitch going up and down the scale while her grip stayed firm. I dropped the gun. She dropped to the ground and rolled belly up in one motion, crying so loud I could hardly hear anything else. Her despair was total. It was obvious that every instinct bred into her told her that this was a death warrant.

My hand hurt where one of her long canine teeth had met the lower teeth in the web of my thumb and forefinger. I stared at the fat puncture wound seeping blood. But I had had enough of killing.

"That's alright Maggie." I told her. "You were right, girl," I said, "We'll never use the gun again, but don't ever do that again either." and because she knew I had forgiven this unforgivable act, (which after all is what forgiveness is all about), and after at least thirty seconds of subdued body language..the head hanging the drooped tail..and so on, she became her old self again and was happy to go on with chores.

I never used the gun again and was eventually happy to find a home for it with one of the boys..I can't remember which one. As for Maggie, she kept her end of the bargain and never in eighteen years ever met a human being with anything other than friendliness and love.

Maggie was a fine, fine dog and an honorable partner.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Maggie's Gone

Well, Maggie’s gone. She was eighteen years old and a fine, fine dog. If ever a dog deserved rest it was Maggie. But humans are a complex sort and being no exception I find myself angered by her leaving. Not at her..just mad in general. Eighteen years is a long time to have someone sitting by your porch door or under your bedroom window. Maggie always had my back.

Last Wednesday at the morning feeding time she was very bad, wobbly and wouldn’t leave her spot beneath the shade of the elm tree ten feet from the back door. I spoke to her and took her water and a handful of food which she ignored. She was impatient with my hand upon her head and rose stiffly to turn her back to me. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that her mind was now on other things.

Sometime during the day she left the elm tree and I thought she probably went to the cellar, which is left open for her and Pansy the Pyr in this heat but when she was not at the back door Thursday morning of course I knew why. I checked the cellar, both sheds and the barn without finding her. I checked the edge of the pasture for any sign of a fresh dog path in the tall grass. I found it but did not follow. I couldn’t believe she chose to do this thing alone.

In my humanness I wanted it different for her. I wanted to do better by her. But she wanted the privacy of the tall grass whispering and the cool brown earth and sky to look at and I didn’t follow.

To me dogs are of two kinds. There are the face watchers and the hand watchers. Hand watchers are the terriers and hunters motivated by games, food and directions for the hunt. Face watchers are the herders, the nurturers, the lovers of humans in all their folly.

Hand watchers are tons of fun and full of energy and are often extremely loyal and protective.

But I believe it’s the face watchers that can see into the human heart….every brave or cowardly smile, every tear that never falls… is reflected in the eyes of a face watcher.

Maggie was a face watcher.

Can good really come from evil after all?

If this is at all possible is there a clearer demonstration of it than in the unfolding events surrounding the personal and professional assassination of Ms. Shirley Sherrod, and her subsequent rejection by the very people who should have defended her most vociferously.

By now it is clearly evident that the original attack on Ms. Sherrod was not only blatantly fraudulent but orchestrated and manipulated by those whose sole objective is to cripple and embarrass all minorities including and most particularly the current president and this administration.

In this case, the administration’s commitment of zero tolerance regarding racism and scandal resulted in a careless over-reaction and neglect of inquiry. The instigators of this event and their FOX friends could hardly hide their glee!

However, Ms Sherrod’s personal story of life as it was in Baker County, Georgia in the 1960s, (and it could have been any one of many other southern counties in several other southern states,) retelling the horrific details of the conditions under which Black Americans strove to survive and raise families is a powerful one and worth hearing again. Her story reminds us that civil rights is much more than the right to strap a gun onto our leg or avoid paying taxes.

The opportunity thus granted her by this debacle to speak to a national audience, whose members may still be young enough to have no clear perception as to what civil-rights is all about or how vigorously they must be defended, is priceless. They now are reminded that IN THEIR PARENTS’ lifetime a sheriff could murder and rape with impunity, hooded men could rob and plunder and the poor and/or black had no recourse whatsoever.

Just when they thought we had forgotten what really went on in those enclaves of “social superiority”, Ms. Sherrod, a lady who has heretofore lived quietly and serviceably, in her community, has been given the opportunity and the grace to retell the remind make us remember…

I think this one is going to bite the perpetrators of this little saga in the backside.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

..a Godly Maid..

Remember the recent PP account of family history in which it was necessary, for reasons of historical purity, to mention the wayward daughter of one of our first immigrants, Thomas Lewis? The irrascible Mary Lewis whose husband spent his fame and a lot of fortune defending her sullied honor in New England's Puritan courts?

Well, thankfully, our family escutcheon has been unbesmirched by our Lamb ancestors, also residents of New England in the 1600s.

(To those of you unfamiliar with the word escutcheon used in this sense it has multiple meanings, according to Wikopedia's wiktionary:
One being a shield displaying a coat of arms representing a family's honor and two: ..the distribution of pubic hair. You may have only been using it in the latter definition while in this instance I use it in the former.)

Anyway, as indicated by the record from Early New England Migrations below, we are vindicated.

MARRIAGE: (1) By 1624 Elizabeth _____ ; "Elizabeth the wife of Thomas Lamb" was buried at Roxbury 28 November 1639 [NEHGR 6:183].

(2) "He afterwards married Dorothy Harbitle, a godly maid,

Recent family history aside, I choose to believe we are descended from "the Godly Maid".. So there!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Brave New Word for Today!!


(meaning "government by all") was an utopian scheme devised in 1794 by the poets Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge for an egalitarian community. They originally intended to establish such a community on the banks of the Susquehanna River in the United States but by 1795 Southey had doubts about the viability off this and proposed moving the project to Wales.

Ironically, the two men were unable to agree on the location and the project collapsed.

This inability to agree probably explains so many of our currently collapsing projects. Either the "government by all" concept is flawed or we just have too many darn poets.

Both options are painful to me, an admittedly bad poet and an unreformable utopian dreamer.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In Memory of a Goat Named Zeptha

These hot, hot July days always remind me of Zeptha, an honorable goat and a fine lady. She died on such a day..a hot golden day..and a sad one.

Farming is always hard work and not always fun and the death of Zeptha was a low, low point in farm history. The piece below is a repeat in memory of a great goat lady.

In Memory of a Goat Named Zeptha

In full sunlight, full of new babies and a loving steady heart she strangled her last breath against the toe of my boot.

With absolute and total disbelief I watched Dr. Rainey pocket his stethoscope and disappear up the path toward his truck.

I thought she would live for ever and of course she couldn't.

It took forty-five minutes. He had said it was a shame. He had said she evidently had some kind of allergic reaction to a new grass that closed her throat. He had said, meaning to be kind, that he knew she had a "cared for life" by the way she leaned into me even at the last and "turned her head toward me" and was so "obviously glad I was there for her". He meant to be kind but he might as well have stabbed me with a hundred knives.

She depended on me and I let her die.

I walked the field for awhile sobbing like something out of Shakespeare until, stricken with a panicky thought that the problem might have been not enough available water buckets, I spent the next half hour refilling all the buckets I could find and spacing them around for everyone but Zeptha..

I bought Zeptha at the sale barn five years ago. She was old then according to her teeth, but was a loving, gentle old thing and had the most beautiful doe kids. She never picked on the weaker and newer, as many others did. She was patient and steady. She was as good a goat as she knew how to be. And she liked me.

Well maybe not JUST me… she liked.period. She liked her feed and hay and visitors, (even at very private kidding moments) and hard toast and soda crackers. She liked sunny mornings and misty evenings and gentle twilights.

She did absolutely despise and abhor rain, snow, sleet and mud. She was very beautiful.

Goats are extremely familial and I had always suspected that Rachel and Zeptha were related. Rachel, the pampered darling of a two-goat family and Zeptha, my sale-barn reject, were close companions here at High Faith Farm. Their markings and breed traits were so similar. But even more telling, Zeptha and Rachel always bedded together and Rachel's children, and Zeptha's, also bedded together.

Any doubt I had had about the relationship between Zeptha and Rachel, my prize Nubian, disappeared today, when Zeptha died.

Because of Zeptha's imminent birthing I had gone for hay, ten bales. Five bales of last-year's first cut brome/alfalfa and five bales of the better, second-cut brome/alfalfa. Because of her unknown, but obviously advanced, age I was planning on bringing Zeptha into a small pen and hand feeding her for the last week of her "troubles".

There is no way I can ever sneak around, in or out, without the herd knowing, and today as usual, when I turned in the drive, a herd of goats flew to the barn, hoping for some attention. I watched and named to myself each one. But I did not see Zeptha..or Rachel...or Hero, the buck.

When the engine of the truck died another sound was higher and louder. It was Zeptha, still at the fenceline 100 feet from the barn, making the most awful strangling noise. Rachel was "mothering" and "smurfing" her and Hero, male that he is, was attempting to offer the only life-giving thing he knew.. Half her size and several years younger he moved from nose to tail in an effort to motivate her to life. Rachel moved from side to side, supporting Zeptha as she stretched her neck and strangled and cried out to me and for air. I ran to her, ran back to the barn for grain to coax the others away from her..all but Rachel went easily..I had to drag Rachel away and literally push her into the barn.

I called the vet and he promised to come A.S.A.P. , which he did do,.

But Zeptha died today.

And I don't think I want to talk about it anymore.