After being away on a family road trip last week to pick up our daughter from sleep-away camp in Maine, I returned to a pile of payback. Last week was filled with gorgeous Maine weather and panoramic views of mountains, oceans, islands, and lakes, swooping bald eagles. A ghostly full moon rising being towed up by a setting sun. Several days spent exploring rocky trails, foraging wild blueberries, cruising on lobster boats, and chilling out over fresh baked popovers at Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park. Upon return, this week was all about extinguishing fires, plugging holes, chipping away at a pile of unanswered messages and mostly playing catch up. Whatever I was trying to catch, however, definitely got away. Each morning my objective was to head out to the farm, but halfway there I would have to rush back to the stands to extinguish some fire or cover some shift. This week I learned how it must feel to be a yoyo.
At the stands there seems to be this tinge of sadness, end of summer blues mixed with a hopefulness full of promise and the excitement of change that is September. Every day we seem to bid farewell to yet another employee heading off to college and on the shelves in the appearance of honeycrisp apples and bartlett pears edging out the summer tree fruit with farmer’s warnings that days are numbered for peaches, nectarines and melons. At the farm this feeling is echoed in spent fields of wilted vines, crumply paper bag leaves and sun bleached remnants of reject peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. But then there are these young, green, healthy beds which we haven’t even begun picking; freshly plowed plots ready for cover crop and strawberries plants, baby arugula starting to germinate; broccoli and cauliflower getting established. Most enjoyable is strolling between the rows of towering and mighty triumphant sunflowers, as tall as trees and the whispering corn.
Looking back at this week, I’d have to say that what I will remember most has little to do with the business of growing and selling food; running in circles at the stands or staring at a computer screen figuring out schedules and orders. Rather it would have to do with something I’ve been putting off for some time but knew that I was going to have to get around to taking care of it. Riding in the darkness in the back of a stuffy box truck bouncing down a long gravel road blindly with an oversized, terrified goat huddling close with his head in my lap. Wondering what he was thinking about and if he knew where we were going. If he knew what was waiting for him on the other side. And if he knew that it was time to say goodbye. My sense was that he was expecting the worst. There was a scared sadness and resignation in him as I stroked his side and remembered how small he was when we first got him and he was 8 weeks old and we had to bottle feed him several times a day. He had become the shy one that always kept his distance. As the truck bounced and shook just after being separated from his kin, metal walls rumbled like thunder, cracks of light flashed from the locked yet bouncing gate like lightning, branches screeched and scraped the side of the truck like nails on a chalkboard and that poor, sweet, little (180 lb) goat was curling up beside me like I was his mother. I contemplated how other farmers could do the deed and how at grocery stores neatly packaged and wrapped we take animal life for granted. My coworkers have no qualms of seeing this guy on the spit. But that was all neither here nor there, because this mission was about the liberation of goats. As the truck gate opens and the world comes into view, there was no butcher or processor or blades of shiny, cold steel, rather a huge open pasture with other goats, a babbling brook, and an old stone house on perhaps one of the prettiest farms in Howard County. Little Shy Guy was reunited with his family as well as another herd of goats as we hummed the theme to Born Free, and they lived happily ever after. Farewell oh mischievous ones. Good luck.