Although my parents grew up on farms, I didn't come into farming until my 30's and then I dragged a city boy husband and kids into it with me. My middle girl has a birthday rapidly approaching and as I was standing in a different barn, in a different life, earlier today, I was thinking about her and animals, farming type stuff and her birthday.
I was thinking about when she and I were first hauling stuff out to the provinces. We were toodling along in a pickup that had seen (many) better days when she said, "what's that smell?" All I could smell was decaying leafy matter and late spring standing water so I said it was mold. Apparently she heard "moles". It took a year or two before she actually told me that she thought we had been smelling moles that day. Lord, I hope not.....I'd like to think that you can't smell moles at 50 mph. Skunks are bad enough.
A year into our new country adventure, we decided to get a couple of steers. A fine idea if you want to raise your own beef but not such a great plan if you have really shitty fencing. We had the latter, in spades. However, that was not the deterrent it would have been for a rational person so two steers arrived and left, and arrived and left. You get the picture.
However, when they first arrived, the soon-to-be birthday girl asked if we would have to take the cows for walks. That one was lost on me until I finally figured out she was thinking walks in terms of walking dogs. I got a helluva laugh out of that we embarrassed her in front of her friends for several years with that tidbit. Or I would have had that laugh had we had good fences, but since we didn't have anything close to good fences, our steers went for many walks. Mostly they went to the dairy farmer up the road who would then call the Sheriff's office who would then call me - at the crack of dawn - and point out that my steers were at the neighbor's again. We'd haul our butts out of bed, go on down to the neighbor's place and haul the cows home. On chains. Behind the dilapidated truck. Guess she wasn't so far off after all, huh?
We were the people with the cows on leashes. Seriously.....if you were from that part of the county at that time, you'd know exactly who we were. Just as now people know my husband and I as the moose people, back then in that place, I was the lady with the cows on leashes. It wasn't a conscious decision mind you. We put up electric fence which held for about a year until a neighbor got a cow of their own. A cow which really liked my steers. A cow which was decidedly bigger than my steers and a lot stronger than my electric fence. So much for the fence.
Being resourceful, we pounded metal fence posts into the pasture and tied those steers to them with halters and chains. The steers would eat around their respective posts and then we'd move them to a new location for more eating. We looked like we had crop circles. I'd love to have an aerial photo of the pasture that year. My girl got really good at putting in and taking out posts. She also got really good at bringing steers home when they broke the chains.
Once her post pounding and pulling skills were fine tuned, she and I got to spend a most memorable day fixing fence in probably the second worst place possible. The first worst being a swamp. We, of course, chose the hottest, muggiest day of the summer. 98 degrees, 95% humidity, not a cloud in the Sahara Desert type sky. A stretch of overgrown, brushy, swampy, not easily accessible stretch of 400 year old barbed wire that crossed a creek in two places. We cut brush, hacked weeds, sweated, tried not to pass out, tried not to shred ourselves on old and new barbed wire and did it all the old fashioned way. Definition: without any useful tools. Armed with a knuckle-knocking weed trimmer, a bolt cutter, a pair or two of pliers and her brute strength, we cleared, we pulled posts, we pounded posts, we trudged through water, we became a mosquito and gnat buffet and finally, we pulled enough barbed wire to keep the damned steer in for a few months. She did most of it. She didn't complain either.
And yet, the joys of small farming didn't end there. I'm of the burning off pasture set. It's good for the soil, it's good for the grass, it kills off noxious weeds after a couple of years and it makes things look more tidy. So given a chance, I burn off pastures. We had a couple of brush piles on that place. Old brush piles...although "pile" doesn't quite describe it. Let's call them brush mountains. Prussian men who came before us piled brush so high we'd have needed a pretty good sized ladder to see over them. Anyway, my father, one of said Prussian men, came out one weekend to help burn off pastures. He chose the weekend based on a forecasted lack of rain. He was right, it didn't rain. What the weather guy neglected to mention was that we were going to have 200 mph winds. Okay, so I'm exaggerating...but not by much.
So the weekend of my girl's 16th birthday, we hopped out to the pasture to burn off last year's uneaten grass and the brush mountains and, well, it burned. Man, did it burn. It burned FAST. Toward the illegally built structure next door. FAST. Armed with a leaf rake and a couple of stout branches, birthday girl and I ran to the neighbor's to try to keep her illegally built, piece of crap home from burning into the ground (where it belonged). We saved the trailer. Birthday girl got a soot covered face, singed hair and several large, painful and not so attractive blisters for her trouble. Happy Sweet 16.
Now it's 10 years later and her birthday is upon us again. I'm sure this one will be less stressful and will be enjoyed while in the company of fun people, doing fun things, instead of putting out a runaway field fire but some of my fondest memories of her, and her birthday, are events we shared that weren't fun if you look at them from the outside. They weren't really happy times but they were times when we were together and we tried to make fun out of a situation that otherwise wouldn't have been. We did what we needed to do. We did it together, and so while I was standing in the barn a while ago thinking about her and her birthday, I was thinking about the years we spent together, good and bad, how much I love her, respect her, am proud of her and the life she's built, and how much I hope this birthday, and all those that follow, will be happy memories for her to carry, regardless of how they're spent.