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Monday, December 11, 2017

What Do Farmers Do When They're Sick? The Same Things They Always Do, Just Slower.

This morning I was curled up on the couch with my computer, a can of Coca Cola, and a sleeve of saltine crackers (time-tested family remedies for a sick stomach). Mark had gone out to do a few chores - run hay to the ladies and to fill water tanks. Right around the time I was starting to wonder what was taking him so long I heard him come through the front door. "Babe, can you put on your warm clothes and come out?"

Oh sh-t.

He witnessed my stomach convulsions this morning and would not be asking if it wasn't serious.

"What happened?" I asked as I got up and headed for my Carharts.

"We've got an emergency."


An emergency here can mean any number of things. It might mean the hydrant is frozen or that the tractor won't start but he wouldn't be asking for my help today if it was something like that. I went outside to see the Kubota at the bottom of an icy slope, a bale of hay laying down a section of barbed wire fence, a broken wooden fence post, and a crowd of hungry cows trying to get to it.  My first thought was thank goodness he didn't roll the tractor. My second thought was how long before the cows realize that fence is down and they are scattered all over the property?  What now?  Being far from mechanically inclined, my job in situations like these is usually to run and get what he needs and to generally be an extra set of eyes or hands.

For the next 2 hours we worked on getting the Mahindra started (of course today of all days it doesn't want to run) so we could pull the bale off the fence and move the Kubota. He got the Mahindra limping along and dragged the bale with a strap into the pasture where it stalled again. We walked back and forth over lumpy, frozen ground that you can't possibly imagine unless you've been in a frozen pasture before, and with every step I'm whispering under my breath, "Please don't hurt your knee." The last thing we need right now is Mark to be injured and his knee has been giving him a little trouble lately. The cows were in the way the entire time. Did you know I'm afraid of the cows? I can hang out with some of them, feed them treats across the fence, and snuggle up to the sweet ones but I panic at the thought of walking within 10 feet of the bull or the general population crowded around a bale, not to mention trying to jump starting a tractor surrounded by cows frantically trying to get to hay, pushing each other out of the way, and slipping and sliding on the frozen earth as much as we were.

We got it fixed, hauling tools out and fixing it in the middle of the cow yard. We got the bale moved and both tractors out. The cows are fed and the fence is still mostly intact, stretched but intact. That repair will have to wait for spring. The other day I posted on Facebook the statement, "What do farmers do when they are sick? The same things they do every other day, just slower." I wasn't trying to get sympathy or complain, I was just making a comment on reality. This is the reality of being a farmer. Some days you are getting a wet kiss from a calf and others you are trying not to puke as you work because the work has to be done. It's not even that there are good days and bad days. There a days. They are all days. Any day we are here is a good day.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tracy's Got a Gun

I was so excited about the gift my boyfriend got me for Valentine’s Day, a .22 rifle, so like most people do when they are excited about something, I posted it on Facebook.  “Nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a Mossberg 715 Tactical .22 Long Rifle”.  Most of my friends got it.  They understood what that meant to me and why I would be excited to share it.  A few did not.  One commented, “No thanks”.  Excellent!  I hope your husband got you something you love, whatever that might be.  I love my gift.  Another asked, “Why?”  Knowing this person to be a thoughtful individual who might actually be seeking to understand something from another person’s perspective I decided to explain the “why”.  I’m guessing she’s not the only one asking this question.

Mossberg .30-.30 lever action.
To my friends who don’t have and don’t want guns - I get it.  I respect your choice and understand the many reasons to not own a gun.  For many reasons, that was also my choice until the last few years.  I lived in a quiet suburb with very low crime rates.  The chances of encountering a fox, coyote, or other animal that would threaten my safety, that of my child or my dog on our daily walks was slim to none.  But, if I am being completely honest, I was afraid, and my fear came from a lack of experience and knowledge.  I did not grow up with guns, my family didn’t hunt, and it just wasn’t part of my upbringing.  My parents didn’t teach me to hate or to fear guns, they were just something I didn’t understand. No one I knew had them, or if they did, they did not talk about them.  From my limited view, only cops and criminals had guns.

A few years ago I moved to a farm to live with my boyfriend.  I learned very quickly that the thinking about guns is very different here.  Out here, just an hour from my former suburban home, just about everyone has guns the same way just about everyone has a tractor - another thing I didn’t understand or need in the past.  What I want my city friends to understand is that for some people, guns fall into the same category as tractors.  They are useful tools.  Yes, we sometimes collect interesting guns the way some farmers collect old tractors and target shooting can be enjoyable but guns have a legitimate place in homes here.  We have different guns for different purposes.  We take care of and value them.  We teach our children to use them appropriately and safely.  We also take them seriously.  We have locked safes and there are no toy guns or video games with guns allowed in our home.

The first gun Mark bought for me was a Mossberg 464 SX Tactical .30-.30 lever action.  I spotted it at a gun show because I liked the way it looked - like something out of the Sci-Fi series Firefly, cowboys vs. aliens.  That was what got my attention but the reason he bought it was because it was a good hunting gun for me.  I have an old shoulder injury that affects the way I hold a rifle and it means I need a very short stock.  Most tactical guns have adjustable stocks which I can adjust to shorter even than that of a youth gun.  I practiced shooting targets so that if I did take a shot hunting, I would be able to make a clean kill.  We hunt to help control the deer populations which would easily grow out of control without human intervention, and use the meat.  I haven’t yet had a shot worth taking.  However, I was extremely grateful for the gun knowledge when I found a dying calf in the pasture and was able to end it’s life quickly and painlessly rather than watching it suffer.  I also appreciate the feeling of safely it brings me to know that I do have protection if I do encounter a bear, wolf, or coyote while out picking apples in the woods, should it choose to do something other than walk away.  It would not be an altogether unusual thing to happen in this area.  Another point of brutal honesty; every once in a while you meet someone who makes chills run up your spine.  I have met a few of these people.  Home alone, where the neighbors are too far to hear even your loudest cries for help and your cell phone doesn’t work, I am not ashamed to admit that I feel more confident knowing there is a pistol in my waistband as I do the evening chores. 

Over the last 3+ years I’ve acquired a few more guns of my own; a better hunting rifle, a shotgun, a pistol to carry, a revolver, and a Deringer that fit into my collection of “unusual, Wild Wild West, steampunk, cowboys vs. aliens firearms”.  I took a Conceal & Carry class, not sure at the time if I wanted to carry or not, but figured it would be useful information either way.  I’ve also had the opportunity to shoot guns owned by my boyfriend and other friends.  I’ve learned that shooting is a sport that requires extreme mindfulness and presence.  Mark has said since we first started talking about teaching me to shoot, “I think you’ll be good at this.  You know how to breathe.”  For my yogi friends, if you let go of the judgement that guns are “bad” and see them as inert pieces of equipment that only do what you make them do, they can appeal to all of the skills we seek to hone as yogis.  Imagine I was throwing a javelin instead of shooting a gun, or practicing sword fighting.  Would it bother you the same way that my shooting a gun does?  A javelin and a sword are instruments of death, used for hunting and war.  It requires skill and focus to achieve the target.  In the hands of someone untrained or with ill intent, they become frighteningly deadly weapons, but in the hands of someone trained and dedicated, can be an amazing show of skill.  As a yogi and a shooter, I can tell you that target shooting; checking your firearm and loading it safely, lining up your sights, steadying your breath, your hands, and your mind, and finding exactly the right moment to pull the trigger are some of the most mindful experiences I have ever had.  

Mark gave me my first pistols as a birthday gift, the Derringer as a surprise just because he saw it and knew I would love it, and the Mossberg .22 for Valentine’s Day.  First, a quick note about this last gun, the one that spurred this explanation. 

It looks pretty intimidating, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  A .22 is what would be used for shooting rats that get into the grain and foxes threatening the chickens.  This gun is the same caliber as a gun called the “Cricket”, a kids gun designed to be used by children to teach them firearm safety and handling.  The AR style is just that, a style.  I like it because it is an adaptive piece of equipment,  It has an adjustable stock which means I can comfortably fit it to my bad shoulder and it has ghost ring sights which work better for me than a regular scope because of my left-eye dominance.  These are some of the reasons why it was a great gift for me.  My love knows how difficult it is for me to find a rifle that I can hold properly and comfortably.  He knew I would like both the style and the fit of the gun.  He knew it would be an easy gun for me, still an inexperienced shooter, to use and to learn with.  This was a gesture of caring and trust.  He picked out the perfect gun for me the way a different guy might pick out the perfect pair of earrings for a different girl, but I don’t have pierced ears!  I know it might be hard for some of you to understand that I truly don’t want flowers or a candle lit dinner for Valentine’s Day.  Shooting is one of the things that my love and I share.  It is time spent together. We go to gun shows and auctions together and look for unusual finds and collectibles.  We watch old Westerns and talk about the different guns they used.  To him, guns have always been a part of life.  To me, they are new and interesting.  For him to share this part of his life, his experience and knowledge, and for me to realize that my prior judgement about what guns and gun owners are, and that it was not a complete picture and was founded on fear, these are truly great gifts to me.