Greatest Chase

For an avid cyclist, country life beats city life hands down. The roads are wide open, have little traffic, and there are virtually no stop signs or lights. The few times I’ve visited big cities and rented bikes, I’ve come home with an even greater appreciation for country roads.

However, there is one downside to riding in the country: dogs. We tend to have a lot more of them running loose, and even those “invisible fences” don’t always work. We’ve gotten a pretty good idea of where every loose dog lives along our favorite routes, and are usually prepared for the inevitable chases. It’s usually not a big deal at all. The dog gallops along, barking, making a big show of ensuring you exit his personal territory as quickly as possible. As soon as you reach his invisible border line, he breaks off the chase and trots home. It’s virtually always more theater than genuine threat.

Last night, we had a very different experience. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one.

My seven-year-old son and I were out for a nice, easy, evening ride on our tandem. Just pedaling along, enjoying a wonderful rural road, canopy of trees overhead. I was somewhat familiar with this road, but hadn’t ridden it in a long time. I chose it for our tandem ride in part because it was especially isolated and low-traffic.

About a half-mile down this particular rode, we came upon a run-down house, with four State Police vehicles parked in front of it. Cops everywhere. My first thought was “meth lab,” but there was no hazmat team. More likely, they’d tracked a fugitive to the house. I commented to my son that there sure were a lot of police cars there, and somebody dangerous was probably inside. We smiled and nodded at a young state trooper, and kept cruising along at about 15 MPH.

We pedaled on for a bit, everything seemingly normal. I heard and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I got an uneasy feeling. Something told me to look over my shoulder; in retrospect, I’m sure it was my guardian angel (and my son’s). Lo and behold, a huge dog was closing in on us like a heat-seeking missile. He immediately struck me as different from the typical “country dog” who’s just making a show of escorting us through his territory. For starters, he wasn’t barking. He was just running, and doing so with a sense of singular purpose. The way he was looking at us, and the intensity of the way he carried himself, he appeared to be a deadly serious professional. He wasn’t going to quit until he’d taken us down.

germanshepard

Stock photo. No, I didn’t take this picture from the bike.

I noticed something else that was different from the typical country dog: he was dragging a leash. That’s when I put two and two together, and realized this must’ve been an escaped police dog. He’d somehow confused me for the fugitive, and broken away. This dog actually had the skills and training to take me (and my seven year old) down hard. And that really scared the hell out of me.

Behind the dog, I could see a blue police car already joining the chase, but I doubted the cop could call the dog off in time. My son and I were on our own. I stomped on the pedals, and cranked like our lives depended on it. Problem is, it’s not easy accelerating a tandem with a young kid on the back; his power-to-weight ratio just hasn’t developed enough to be of much help. Still, thanks to a crazy adrenaline rush, I managed to get up to about 29 MPH, all the while glancing back. The dog closed to just behind our rear wheel, and was in the middle of the street, looking like he was trying to find a way to strike.

Fortunately, the police car was closing in as well. He was blowing his horn wildly over the PA speakers, doing everything he could to get the dog to break off the chase. As the dog got a bit winded, I was eventually able to pull away a little, and it looked like the cop pulled his car in front of the dog to cut him off.

I glanced back a couple of times, to make sure everything was contained, but otherwise hightailed it out of there and went straight home.

We never did find out what all the police activity was about. Coincidentally, just as we reached our driveway (several miles away, along a more major feeder route), the first couple of state police vehicles came cruising past. I thought about flagging one of them down, and asking if they’d caught whoever they’d been trying to catch — and, more importantly, how in the world they’d let that dog get loose.

But I supposed it didn’t matter, and it wasn’t worth raising a ruckus about. We’d made it home safely, and my son and I got some excitement we’ll never forget. This was definitely a dog chase for the books.

Got Nothing Against the Big Town: The Yeoman Farmer’s Urban Adventure

We’ve been living on rural properties for nearly sixteen years now (hard to believe it’s been that long), and at this point I’m not sure I could ever again live or work in a city – or even a suburb. Once you get used to having this much open space, this much quiet, so many wonderful country roads, such beautiful night skies, and such terrific home-produced food … it’s not an easy thing to give up. We’re especially fortunate in that we live just outside a small town. Our township is rural and unincorporated, but we’re still close enough to town for high speed DSL internet — and we’re still just minutes from a hardware store, a grocery store, and a freeway to even more resources.

As much as I love country life, I do look forward to — and thoroughly enjoy — visiting bigger cities. Business travel takes me mostly to Washington, DC; when I’m there, I try to carve out some time to see the Smithsonian or other historical sights — or rent a bike and explore even farther.

And there is no other city quite like New York. I could never live there, or even work there on a regular basis. It’s far too large and too crowded for me — and not to mention extremely expensive. But what an amazing place to visit! What I’m always most struck by when I go there: New York seems to have a little bit of everything, and it’s all mixed together, and it’s all happening all at once. Every street is a kaleidoscope of sounds, different ethnic groups, languages, shops, restaurants, and activity. There never seems to be enough time to see everything, or to take everything in.

Continue reading

Springing Forward with the Clothesline

The calendar says Spring is still more than a week away, but the weather forecast here in mid-Michigan is saying Spring’s already here. Sunny, and should get into the low 60s this afternoon. Homeschooled Farm Girl and I are planning to take a long, much-anticipated bicycle ride.

The other way I’m celebrating may sound a little odd: I’m hanging laundry out on the line! Sure, it’s a little more work. And the cost savings for this one load probably don’t amount to a lot. But today, it’s about The Principle of The Thing. It’s sunny enough. It’s warm enough. So, I’m putting that laundry out to take advantage of it.

It’s actually kind of interesting, riding around on a bike out in the country: you notice a lot of houses with clotheslines. Much more so than in suburban housing developments (and don’t get me started on the planned communities which actually ban clotheslines). Having a clothesline is one of those unexpected advantages that we’ve discovered about living on a farm. There’s nothing quite like pulling a line-dried shirt on over your head, and smelling its authentically fresh scent. I haven’t had that experience in months, and am looking forward to getting it back.

IMG_20160312_104539037

Wildlife

When a person begins raising livestock, it’s remarkable how swiftly one’s attitude toward wildlife — especially potential predators — changes. Overnight, “cute” becomes “Quick! Don’t let it get away!” Especially after a time or two of witnessing the mayhem that those “cute” little critters are capable of inflicting. I’ll never forget the mornings I’ve followed a trail of blood and feathers into a field, trying to locate the spot where a predator finished off his victim.

Several years back, when we were living in Illinois, our farm was separated from a small housing development by about a mile of open fields. One morning, while driving along the road running in front of that development, I noticed a new homemade sign. It read, “SLOW! BABY FOXES”, and had an arrow pointing down to a culvert where a mother fox had made a den. My first thought was: Whoever made this sign so doesn’t have livestock. My second thought was: I wonder how many of my chickens the mother fox will make off with to feed these babies. My third thought was: I wonder how many of my chickens these babies will make off with once they grow up.

Fortunately, we haven’t been hit with predator strikes any time recently. But I did spot a raccoon in a large tree across the street a couple of nights ago, peering across at our farm, so I suppose it’s just a matter of time. (I didn’t have a clean shot at him, and he wasn’t on our property anyway.) And while Homeschooled Farm Girl and I were out on a long bicycle ride this weekend, we saw a mother raccoon with six little ones run across the road in front of us. I made a mental note to re-bait and re-set our traps once I got home.

Needless to say, I got a smile out of this article that I recently stumbled across:

A man was biking to work one day when by the side of the road he noticed a poor fox that lay dying. Here is his account of what transpired:

I’m sure the person who posted it thought it was heartwarming. The overwhelming majority of people who commented on it certainly did. I’m also confident that few — if any — of them raise livestock.

And I suppose on one level this is a heartwarming story — but don’t blame me for being conflicted. I’m just hoping the fox in question gets to live out the rest of his days being cared for in a very secure zoo or other wildlife facility. Far from my farm.

Just a Couple More

If you’re like me, you’re probably “Nine-Elevened Out” and overwhelmed by the number of remembrances that commentators have been offering up in recent days. The History Channel in particular has been wall-to-wall with 9/11 for some time. (If you watch just one program, make sure you catch their “102 Minutes that Changed the World.” It is phenomenal.) But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to offer just a couple of quick memories of my own.

By way of background, we’d just moved to our first farm, in Illinois, from California, a month and a half before 9/11. We were still figuring everything out, and hadn’t even ordered our first batch of chickens. Our house was a couple of miles outside a town of 420 people, and about 7 miles from a town of 4,500. We’d met a handful of people, but still didn’t have many friends. We’d decided not to hook up satellite TV, and were so far from the nearest broadcast tower that we couldn’t even get signals from the antenna. We had dial-up internet, which was pretty slow.

I’d been in Washington, DC, on business the previous two days, speaking at a conference. I’d flown back to Chicago the afternoon of September 10th, and driven two hours home in my vintage Italian project car as the sun set over the prairie. Everything seemed perfect. Only after getting home did I discover I’d left my sports jacket on the plane. I called United Airlines, asked them to look for it, and went to bed late.

Tuesday morning I slept in, and it was lazy. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and the kids had gone to town for something, and I enjoyed having the house to myself. Sometime in mid-morning, I got around to signing onto AOL for the first time, to check email. I was puzzled by the welcome page, which said something about America under attack and the World Trade Center no longer being there. It seemed so outlandish, I dismissed it as some kind of speculative “what if” scenario. But after a little more browsing, I figured out what’d really happened. And was shocked to the core.

And I’d never so badly wished I had a TV. I switched on the radio, and tried to get some news, but even that reception was pretty bad. I then called Dish Network, and arranged to have satellite service hooked up. Something told me we were really going to want it in the coming days and weeks.

When MYF and the kids got home, we called one of the few friends we had in the town of 4,500 (a family from our parish). We asked if we could come over and watch TV, and they said “absolutely.” We sped into town, and spent a couple of hours glued to the footage while our kids played with theirs. Particularly striking was the reaction the husband of this family had to the events. He was an auto mechanic, and about as strong a guy as you’ll meet. He’d come home from work for lunch, and watched the news with us as he ate. As he was preparing to go back to work, even he had tears in his eyes.

Anyway, I’ll cut right to the biggest thing that struck me about being in a rural community that day. The town of 420 had a Catholic church so small that it didn’t have its own priest. The pastor from the larger town drove out twice a week to say Mass: once on Sunday, and once on Tuesday evening. I’d attended that Tuesday evening Mass pretty much every week, and there were usually about four or five other people in attendance. But on Tuesday the 11th, I counted fifty-five people in that little white frame building. It looked almost like a Sunday morning. Somehow, as the events of that day unfolded, a lot of people were getting the same idea: I need to get to church. I need to come together with other people. I need to pray. It was nowhere so pronounced as in that little town on that night. The sense of “togetherness” in that building was palpable.

Then, after Mass, as we began driving home, I spotted something strange: a long line of cars at the one gas station along the highway that cut through the town. There were so many cars, they were backed up for a long distance around the block. It looked like pure panic-buying of gasoline, but I couldn’t help thinking if maybe all these people knew something I didn’t. Would gas soon become scarce? Would prices go through the roof? I decided it’d be better to be safe than to be without gas, so I got in line and waited a half hour or whatever until I could top off my tank. All the employees were working to get people through quickly, but I had a chance to chat with one of them as our gas was pumping. “You could probably raise your prices and make a fortune,” I commented. “Supply and demand, and all.”

“Oh,” she replied, almost taken aback, “we would never do that. We’re just going to pump until there’s nobody left or we run out of gas.”

As I drove home, I reflected on how strikingly different this place was from Los Angeles. How much the community had come together. How much people seemed to be looking out for each other. And how very glad I was to be living here.

in the closet, I gave the pockets a closer inspection. And found that, in addition to my business cards, I’d also left my boarding ticket there. The date was printed right in the middle, and jumped off the paper at me: September 10, 2001.

I stopped and shook my head. September 10th seemed like an entirely different country, in an entirely different world. Everything, it seemed, had changed. And I was deeply grateful I’d be getting to spend the post-9/11 world in a rural community like the one we’d found.

Something You Knew Already

This story won’t come as any surprise to followers of this blog, but it’s always encouraging when the “hard” sciences provide evidence to back up what we know:

Scientists have confirmed what every urbanite has long suspected – life in the city is more stressful.

Researchers have shown that the parts of the brain dealing with stress and emotion are affected by living among the crowds.

The findings help shed light on why those who are born and raised in urban areas are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and schizophrenia than those brought up in the countryside.

The team of international scientists behind the finding are unsure why city life is so bad for the nerves.

However, past studies have shown that exposure to green space reduces stress, boosts health and makes us less vulnerable to depression. The findings come from the brain scans of 32 healthy volunteers from urban and rural areas.

Go read the whole thing.

To be fair, we’ve found that life in the country isn’t exactly stress-free, either. Livestock and gardens produce stresses of their own. Whenever you’re trying to cultivate or nurture living things, life is unpredictable and can lead to worries or difficulties: A surprise late frost wipes out your seedlings. A surprise early frost destroys the tomatoes you were going to can for a winter’s worth of sauce. The barn cat finds a way to go hunting in your poultry brooder, and feeds five baby turkeys to her kittens. (Five baby turkeys that, I might add, every hatchery is now sold out of for the year).

But would I trade these stresses for those of a city? Not on your life. I visit Chicago, DC, and NYC frequently enough on business; I certainly enjoy the change of pace, and appreciate the resources that cities can provide, but you can see in the faces of passersby the toll that day-to-day urban stress wrecks. I’m always more than happy to return home to the quiet of my farm.

I’d a million times rather deal with the stresses of livestock and a garden than with the stresses of city life. Worrying about the garden getting enough rain, or whether enough broilers will survive to maturity, is entirely different from worrying about whether your packed commuter train will get you to work on time. Because when you’ve worked through and solved the “rural stress,” you get to enjoy the wholesome and delicious fruits of your labors. But when you’ve survived the “urban stress,” all you’ve done is successfully gotten to work in a high rise in a concrete jungle.

I’ll take the literal jungle of my pasture over that any day of the week.

Sunday Morning Excitement

Our weekly “day of rest” got off to an interesting start this morning. While heading to the barn at about 7:45am, I heard an unusual commotion in the distance. About 50 yards down the road to the west, I spotted a man and woman who’d parked their pickup truck near the edge of our hay field. They were thrashing around in the brush with sticks or rods, and shouting.

Given how few people are usually even up and moving around here on a Sunday morning, let alone one as cold as today, my initial assumption was that they were hunters in hot pursuit of something they’d wounded. It is, after all, still firearm deer season in Lower Michigan. But why would a hunter with a firearm not use that firearm to finish off the deer? They were acting more like they were after a pheasant or a wild turkey, but I don’t think either of those are in season.

As I continued watching, now both curious and a little nervous, something truly odd happened: a large dark object began inching up a scrawny tree, like a flag being hoisted up a flagpole. The larger of the two people was shouting and swinging a stick at this “flag,” but to no avail.

Realizing that this “flag” must in fact be some sort of varmint, I ran inside and grabbed my twelve gauge shotgun. Once back outside, I shouted and waved at the pair (who were now both swinging sticks at the varmint), and jogged across the hayfield toward them with the shotgun.

“It’s a coon!” the man called out to me.

“Great!” I called back, jogging nearer. “I’ve got a shotgun!”

The couple, who I assume were husband and wife, explained that they were out early delivering Sunday newspapers when the coon had run across the road in front of them. They’d stopped and given chase with makeshift clubs, knowing that a small child lives in the next house down from us.

“And we have kids and livestock,” I added. “I appreciate it, because we’ve lost lots of chickens this last year. I hate these things.”

I loaded the shotgun with buckshot, disengaged the safety, and prepared to line it up with the coon. The thing was about ten feet off the ground, which was most of the way to the top of the scrawny tree. And the sucker was huge. Wouldn’t have surprised me if it’d feasted on several of our chickens and ducks.

“Wait,” the man said, as I drew the shotgun to my shoulder. “Do you want the pelt?”

“I just want it dead,” I replied. “Why? Do you want it?” I’ve never tanned hides, and had no interest in getting started today.

“Yeah,” the two of them told me. “Can you shoot it in the head?”

I told them I’d do my best, but a twelve gauge is a twelve gauge. And I wasn’t going back inside for my .380 pistol with the laser sight. A buckshot shell contains nine large pieces of metal, which will spray when launched, but the odds were better than using birdshot. I aimed high, and the fairly close range meant the nine pieces of shot would remain pretty much together on impact. With one squeeze of the trigger, the big coon tumbled from the tree like a bag of wet cement.

The man kicked the coon over. When it didn’t move, he picked it up by a hind leg and announced, “Huge hole in the head!” Indeed, it looked like half its skull had been blown off — but the rest of the body was untouched. In all honesty, it was a much better shot than I’d been expecting to make, given the coon’s vertical (head upward) orientation on the tree trunk. The man handed the coon to his wife, who tossed it into the back of their pickup.

They thanked me for letting them keep the coon for its hide, and for dispatching the coon before it could hurt the little boy who lives next door. I told them how much I appreciated their stopping and making so much of an effort chasing the thing down, and giving me the chance to take it out.

They seemed like a nice couple, and pure “country folks” without any pretentions, who really wanted to do the right thing. Which is what I like so much about living out here: no matter what we might do for a living, or what kind of vehicle we might drive, or what kind of property or livestock we might have, we’re all pretty much of one mind about a lot of things.

Like what you do when you catch a big fat coon crossing the road.