Feeling Alive

Sitting there on the front porch, with a dog under each arm, I felt my throat close tight. Oh, how I love life on the farm, enough to cry for joy.

From Thursday to Sunday I babysat the animals on this little hobby farm—the goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, chicks, dogs, and cows. I awoke early every morning, six to be precise, honeyed light pouring through the windows. Tugged on jeans and stained boots and out the door went I, a grin on my face. With Ruby, Lucy, and Pickles clustering around my legs, their tails wagging, I marched to the barn with metal pails in hand. Soon enough, the rooster would be crowing, the goats and sheep bleating, the cows lowing. After doling out grain to all, I entered Dot’s pen with the pails, crouched in the straw, and began that most therapeutic activity that few souls are blessed to experience these days: milking a cow. Her baby, leery at first, soon enough settled into the straw beside me, ruddy beneath the glowing window. And for a time, the barn was filled with the music perceived only by those with ears to hear: one creamy stream after another singing into the pail, fodder being munched, rustling straw. I do not think I will tire to hear those simple, rustic notes.

After stripping Dot down to the last drop, then followed the awkward releasing of the animals into the pasture. Awkward because certain creatures (ahem, Rose the Jersey) are very curious creatures and like to stick their noses where they don’t belong, such as the sack that holds the pig feed—or the goat and sheep pen, darn it. Just as in learning to dance, toes were stepped on before the colorful herd was finally shooed out to where they would spend the day grazing on lush grass or dozing beneath the trees.

I mucked the pens, threw down dry straw, and refreshed the water pails. Afterward came the chickens. I was never pecked, but there were a few close calls—particularly from one large brown hen, made larger still when she ruffled her feathers and fixed me with a blistering glare as I reached to collect the eggs beneath her. One, two, three—six eggs I tucked into my pocket from the nesting boxes, and each one varying in tone: brown, cream, white, pale green, pale blue. And then, with the dogs and cats perched here and there to observe, I couldn’t resist the swing: a thick braid descending from the loft above, a board-seat fixed to its end. I sat, pocket bulging, and pushed off. In the dusky barn-light, I contemplated my heart’s desires as I swayed back and forth like the pendulum in a clock.

Back in the old farmhouse, chores complete, I poured myself a glass of milk, fried up some homegrown bacon and sausage and an egg, cut up a little tomato and cucumber, and sat in the sunny kitchen to eat the amazing food that makes all the hard work on a farm worth it. With a heart made happy to overflowing, knowing the animals were fed and watered and content, I then jumped into Wallace, the dogs barking good-bye as I sped away to find adventures on the island.

Red-and-white lighthouses, sandstone cliffs, barnacle-covered rocks extending into the ocean, mucky back roads (where a friend and I may have found ourselves permanently stuck but for a kind farmer and his green tractor), my first raw oysters, tea at a roadside café, seafood chowder and ice-cream by a quiet harbor, antiques and thrift shops in Charlottetown. Whatever I felt like doing, wherever I felt like going, with Wallace as my wings.

At noon, I would return to the farm to top up the blue tub with water, but then I was off again, not to return until evening, when I would again tend the animals. Supper and tea and cherries were consumed in the living room, where I treated myself to a movie (My Fair Lady is really quite funny). Bed was sweet—because the day had been full and good, but also because the next day promised to be the same. And the promise was true.

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