Thor, our two-year-old steer, has been jumping the fence lately (we patched it this morning). During our potluck dinner last week, for example, someone looked out the window and said, "A cow is out." Without any ado, Don and the girls and I donned our mud boots, grabbed our push poles, and herded him back where he was supposed to be.
"Do you need any help?" asked one of our neighbors as we set out.
"Nah, we have this down to a science," I replied. In less than five minutes, we were seated at the table again.
Sometimes I forget that herding recalcitrant cattle isn't an everyday occurrence for everyone.
Younger Daughter and I were walking to the mailboxes the other day (a three-mile round-trip). Spring has been hitting north Idaho, and the sun was shining, the temperatures were mild, and the meadowlarks and robins were singing. "My English penpal never believes me when I tell her I have to log off to go herd cows," Younger Daughter commented.
"Aren't there farms in England?" I asked.
"Yes, but not in London, where she lives," Younger Daughter replies. "That's why I'm never sure if she believes me, or just thinks I'm making a weird excuse to get offline."
Sometimes I forget that not everyone lives on a farm.
Older Daughter and I were talking about New York City recently. I visited there once, just an overnight trip, back in 1987 or so, and that's it. "I wish I could spend an entire month in New York City just to see the sights," I commented. "I wonder what it would be like to live in a place like that?"
"Yet people in New York City probably wonder what it's like to live on the prairie with the nearest neighbor a quarter-mile away," Older Daughter replied.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone doesn't live in an area of twenty people per square mile.
With spring upon us, I've been bitten by the gardening bug. It's far too early to plant anything -- harsh experience has taught me that putting anything in the ground prior to June 1 is a mistake -- but I've been trundling wheelbarrows full of compost onto the garden in order to refresh the raised beds. The compost area is a pen about twenty by thirty feet in size, adjacent to the barn. On the other side of the fence is where we feed the cows. Though it was past noon, several cows lingered over their breakfast. Chickens rooted around the barn until the moment I started forking compost into the wheelbarrow, when the entire flock comically rushed from the barn toward me in order to scratch around for worms.
And then it hit me. For some reason, it just hit me that this scene was unusual. Cows at my back, chickens at my feet, a spot the footprint of a small house for compost. Sometimes I forget that not everyone lives like we do.
To us, feeding cattle or forking compost or cleaning stalls is ordinary and everyday. To someone in, say, New York City, this kind of pastoral life is probably as remote and exotic as life in NYC is to us.
Rural life used to be the rule, not the exception. Everyone understood the cycles on a farm, even if they didn't live on one, because everyone was (of necessity) far more connected to the earth.
There's nothing wrong with either location -- urban or rural -- they're just different. But now it's possible to live one's entire life without ever getting one's hands dirty or boots soiled. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.