And the moon was full. The air was cold, like the kind that makes your breath smoke when you breathe in and out. The farm was quiet and the hour was early, —it was the time before the rest of the world wakes up. I recall these early morning runs. I recall the moonlight beaming down across the pastures. I remember the mountains around me and the sight of the bog old red barn.
We called this fire watch, which meant that two trusted members from the house would wake up, check the furnace at the main house, make sure it was stocked with wood, and then head we’d over to the barn to check the animals.
In the cold weather, which was tough on the farm, the sheep were herded into the barn. The pigs were in their pens —and if I’m not mistaken, the cows were sold at this point but previously, we did our best to keep them warm as well.
Slowly but surely, the farm was selling the animals to raise funds. First they sold the cows, which was sad to me. I never really thought much about cows before.
Then again, I never thought much about anything farm related. I was not a farm kid nor did I have a farming accent. In fact, the only thing I ever knew about a farm or farm animals was Wilbur, the little pig from the movie Charlotte’s Web. And Wilbur was cute. He was little and friendy
Safe to say, I never knew how big these pigs could be. But I found out. And they were big. Really big.
And the sheep, well, they were less interactive. They ran away mostly. But in they were beautiful to me.
They were especially beautiful when their coats were white and the weather was warm. I watched them prance around along the hillside. And it was nice to see.
I saw life here. I saw birth here too. I watched little piglets grow. I saw the stages of life from beginning to end.
There was something amazing about this lesson. I could not put my finger on what this was. Then again, I could not put my finger on anything back then. I didn’t know how I ended up the way I was. I didn’t know why I always found myself in trouble. And I didn’t know how I ended up here on the farm.
I mean, sure, I knew how it happened. Logically, I understood why I was there.
I knew that I went from one treatment center to another. I also knew the courts remanded me to a long term treatment facility. As a means of punishment, I assumed they would have been one of the different therapeutic communities I heard so much about. Whether it was going to be Day-Top or a place called, Apple, or if I was going to be at a place called, Kids of Bergen County, which (or so I was told) was eventually closed for its abuse; I knew I was going to somewhere.. But there farm was a place I had never heard of.
They cut my hair off, which was only somewhat long when I came in. They took away my clothes and my concert t-shirts. They took away my black leather jacket, which was like a status symbol amongst me and my crazy long-haired friends.
They took away my music. They took my headphones. Of course, this was long ago, which is why I laugh at what I am about to write because the younger generation might not know what a “Walkman” is or a “Cassette” tape is, but nevertheless, those were taken from me too.
I was stripped down of everything that linked me to me and my previous life. I was here, on a farm, and made to do things people do on a farm.
We drank milk straight from the cow. I never knew what kind of process went into this but when I learned, I struggled to drink milk afterwards. I also never realized that cows are not always big, friendly, peaceful animals.
Sometimes, they kick. And they kick fast too. They kick fast and they kick hard. But still, there was a lesson here.
Aside from the lessons I learned. Aside from the punishments I endured as a result in my behavior. Aside from the “Negative Contracts,” I held, which meant I was keeping secrets and living a lie and besides the fact that I needed to “Get honest,” and “Bring myself up,” which meant that I would stand before the entire community and openly detail my dishonesties, if I put aside the times I was made to wear a sign around my neck, or put aside the times I waxed floors on my hands and knees, and if I put aside the slop sink, dishwashing days as punishment, and if I put aside the therapeutic aspect of this place and simplified my time to a farming experience; the truth is I learned about life here.
I saw a cow give birth. I watched a calf walk around just moments after. I saw animals grow old and pass away. I saw pigs give birth to piglets and watched baby lambs run behind their mother in a field at springtime.
There was something wholesome about this. There was something beautiful too.
I can’t say that I liked the late night wake-ups and the fire watch. I can’t say that always liked the farm either. I know I didn’t like the rules and the confrontations. The food wasn’t so great but it wasn’t so bad either. The people were okay —or at least some of them were. In fact, some of the people I met here were lifesaving to me.
I saw life here. I saw real life people going through real life things. I saw what the land is like when it is nurtured. I baled hay. I fed the pigs and cleaned pig pens. I cleaned up the slop behind the cows when they were being milked. And the sheep, well, my interaction with them was minimal, but still, my interaction with the animals was always impactful.
I remember there were two white geese, which were unfriendly. They used to chase after people. They would hiss and threaten to bite.
Kali was the barn dog. She was a good girl and a shaggy little mutt. Every so often, Kali would chase after the two white geese in defense of the others because the geese were aggressive.
I say the geese were aggressive but Kali was the barn dog, which meant she was in charge. None of the animals ever challenged Kali.
By the way, there was a peacock on the farm as well. He was a pretty bird but mainly kept to himself. The peacock screamed once in a while. He fanned his feathers out. But the big bird stayed away for the most part. Sometimes, I would see the peacock by the barn but the two white geese would run after him, hissing, and bullying, and threatening to bite.
One day, kali had to enforce the rules against the two geese. Usually the geese ran away and usually, Kali never bit them. But this time was different. Kali bit one of the two geese on the ass. Two days later, the goose died, leaving the other goose to fend for itself.
The surviving goose was lonely now. It never hissed and never chased anyone. It had no friends and now that the goose was alone; it was no longer brave or a bully.
Kali never chased the goose again. The goose tried to hang around with the peacock but the peacock wanted to no part of it. Instead, the goose waddled along, alone, and in sadness.
It wasn’t long after, maybe a week or two, but the goose was found dead. There was nothing wrong with the goose. At least, there was nothing apparently wrong.
No, I heartily believe I know why the goose died. It died of loneliness. I think the goose died of a broken heart.
And I learned from this. I saw this in my own self. I saw the times I was lonely. I never took into account the way i treated others. And because of the way I treated others, I never took into account that this is why I was alone at the worst times of my life.
I was alone because I was like one of the two geese, always threatening, always hissing, and always posing to bite. Life is like the barn dog and sometimes, life can bite us in the ass. Trust me this is a true story.
I learned that stripped down and without my source of outside protection; I was like that goose, always picking a fight. But the truth is I didn’t want to be alone anymore. However, I found myself alone because of the circumstances I put myself in.
No one wanted to be around me because of the way I treated them. I learned that this is what happens when being mean.
Truth is I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want the barn dog to bite me in the ass or find myself like the solo goose and die of loneliness.
The world can be a lonely place sometimes. Here on the farm and doing things like say, the fire watch in the middle of a cold winter’s night, I learned about the benefit of community.
I learned about togetherness. When it was cold, the sheep would huddle together in the barn. There was warmth in their togetherness.
It’s cold when you’re alone.
and me, I just wanted to stop fighting and learn how to keep warm . . .