I just returned home from The Farm where I spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 hours eating, sleeping and taking pictures.
One of my goals was to take a good picture of a cow . You wouldn’t think this would be difficult; cows are not the stealthiest of creatures, nor the smartest. But they do have the middle-of-the-food-chain instinct of recognising that anything that looks directly at one of them is probably thinking of eating . So in order to coax the cows up to the fence I had to do the following: advance a few feet. Turn and face the other way. Look over my shoulder. Advance a few more feet. Turn and look the other way. Look over my shoulder. Turn around and stare off into the distance. Again, cows not being the stealthiest of critters I could hear them advancing, crunching and blowing. When the breathing was about arms’ length away I would do a kind of half-turn and shoot from the hip , so to speak. If I turned all the way around they would shy and turn their heads, and suddenly remember that they have not finished demolishing the wagonload of feed at the other end of the field.
The big news of the past month is that, the day before Halloween, my step-father Don had what we of rural upbringing call ‘an accident’. He was cleaning out a jam in the cutting gear of a combine and caught his left hand on a belt. The belt yanked his hand through some pulleys and, to make a long (and fairly disturbing) story short, he now has eight fingers.
I like to think that thanks to violent video games I am immune to gruesome imagery. Then I remember a friend hosing down the inside of an old garage with Raid, which triggered a mass exodus of hundreds of spiders, all rappelling from the ceiling in a death spasm of silk. That gave me the heebie-jeebies for weeks. Don’s accident disturbs me when I wake up after having slept with my hands curled under my body, and one of them is asleep.
Continuing with my picture-taking odyssey I reacquainted myself with the farm where I spend so much of my youth, rising at 6 am or earlier to milk (sometimes) upward of 200 cows. I wandered around the old piles of junk and rows of discarded and obsolete equipment , watching my step and keeping an ear open for the inevitable farm dog or drunk hunter. Up around the bunker silo, up around the upright silos , into the barn , take a good hard look at the milking parlor and decide not to enter. I contemplate touching an electric fence for old-times sake, but I don’t know what that would do to my digital camera.
The high point of my day was when I discovered the decaying corpse of the Owatonna , a strange, distant relative of the combine. The Owatonna is to the combine as the mule is to the horse. This particular Owatonna had, when I was 12, chewed up my favorite cat, Mello Yello.
Don has phantom pain in his missing fingers, and sometimes he will jump as if he touched the fence. He is reading an article on how to deal with sensations in a part of you which is no longer attached. I once heard that the phantom sensation is usually of the last thing the limb or digit felt, so his accident is echoing in his nerves like a scream in a cathedral.
Farm equipment, which is of a class with construction equipment, comes plastered with a wide variety of warning labels, all of which are immediately covered over with mud and manure, never to be seen again. Some of it, like the warning on a power take-off (an external drive-shaft which plugs into whatever a tractor is pulling), are probably never seen outside of a farm. Others, such as those on silo blowers which warn you that kernels of corn are being shot a hundred feet into the air at near relativistic speeds and could give you a nasty bruise or even put out an eye, would be equally in place at a mining site.
Don is treating his accident with a ‘the worst is over’ stoicism coupled with a ‘could have been much, much worse’ awareness.
“Could have been worse” is always the case.