Not the Garden of Eden

As the planet’s population more and more migrates away from farming, people must mostly use their imaginations to conjure up what a Farm and a Farmer look like. A garden variety of misperceptions persist, but the one that is pushed most aggressively by advertisers and marketers is the Garden-of-Eden-like romance novel. “Foodies” can unconsciously latch onto this archetype: all creatures are smiling, the sun always shines, and the lush, swaying green growth has always been recently rained upon, the machines always purr and are well-oiled, the fox is nowhere near. Heaven and nature sing.

Bombarded as we all are by negative news/noise, I have been reluctant to join the chorus. But only a dishonest person could paint the picture of the smiling farmer holding his trophy harvest here. We were still reeling from the death of our beloved dog when an army of raccoons moved in to capitalize. I’ll elide over the lurid details, but for a number of days the stench of death resided over the farm. We began the spring with 25 pullets (chickens destined to lay eggs), and at present four remain. We have tightened up chicken houses, and it has now been a week since the last kill, so finally we feel relief from the daily body-bagging detail.

Sometimes the lion, instead of lying down with the lamb and nuzzling with its favorite farmer, gets hungry and ransacks the place. Bugs descend like buckets of rain. Deer have demoralized us before. The plagues of the Bible can seem less extraordinary from the farmer’s point of view. The harmony of nature is sweet but also replete with appalling, gratuitous violence. This is farming. This is the deal we farmers must subscribe to. We dig in deep to life’s mysteries. Inevitably, we sometimes stumble into the heart of darkness.

Every tale of woe deserves a heroic figure, so behold the power of the will to live. Unbeknownst to us, three weeks before Tierra died one of our hens began sitting on a secret clutch of eggs in the barn. She wouldn’t be discovered until the day after we lost Tierra, when she and her twelve baby chicks noisily emerged. They owned the farm, going here, there, and everywhere in one of farming’s most endearing glimpses: the instincts of mother and babies. Even as chickens in other quarters were being slaughtered, the busy family continued its far-ranging discourse.

Until one morning I noticed the sound of a lost chick, then another. For the duration of the morning five 4 week old chicks squawked heart-wrenchingly for their mother. A pile of her feathers was found near the house. We eventually (after gathering up other raccoon-ravaged bodies) moved the orphaned chicks into safe housing for the night.

In the morning, I had trouble believing my eyes. Outside the little brooder house was a bird acting like a mother to two baby chicks. Looking battered and bewildered, missing several chunks, the mother hen had survived, found her two missing, surviving babies, and brought them together with the others. We let the three of them inside.

It was already amazing. The resurrected, raccoon-rebuffing nature of motherhood. The next day Clark came running inside, sad and sincere, to report that the hero’s journey had ended. After having saved her brood and reunited them, the next day she died from wounds that would have immediately killed creatures with no fierce feeling of children to protect.

Good news!

We are harvesting the most beautiful crop of onions I’ve ever seen. The reds are almost all in the barn, Candy onions come next, then our long-storage onions. I’ve been drooling over this crop for a number of weeks now. After two years of rescuing onions from rotting in the field, this is a rewarding triumph to see them coming in so impeccably. Look forward to sharing these lovely bulbs with you for the rest of the year.

Thanks to a devoted group of friends in the field, the garden is looking great. Should no further plagues ensue, we should be in good shape for a summer of bounty!

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2 Responses to “Not the Garden of Eden”

  1. Rick_Pack2 Says:

    Thank you for defining pullets, the excellent writing, and the eye-opening perspective.
    The predatory raccoons were so successful, how do you think the sadly deceased chicken that acted as mother protected the chicks? Maybe was just particularly fierce in her defense even as she suffered mortal wounds?

    • aplaceonearthcsa Says:

      Good question, Rick. Wish I knew the answer. Reminds me of stories about adrenaline-fueled moms picking up cars off of their children. I had no doubt that they were all goners if the raccoons ever found that family. Have you read Natural Born Heroes? There’s a story in there about a teacher fending off an assailant with a sword at school. Some internal genius, survival instinct kicks in and boggles the rational mind.
      Hope you’re doing well, good man. Thanks for writing.

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