Farm Tales

Naming Farm Animals
Yes. Yes. Yes.  Naming your farm animals is not the best idea when it comes down to reality of market day. 
Of course, growing up on a farm, this just did not register to an 8-10 year old.
And I really did not name that many livestock.
But when I did…boy, did I have the imagination.
Binky the calf, Lucille the lamb, Fernando, Frosty…

 I did, however, name each and every one of my farm cats.

Farm cats were rampart.  I believed that God personally shined down on me each and every time I found a new clutch of kittens hiding in the hay mow.  It was my one pure  joy.
I knew the signs.  Mom cat would go missing and then show up at milking time, much thinner, with a freshly wet underbelly, glowing pink and swollen.
The hunt was on!

They really could be anywhere, so the easiest was to stake myself right outside the barn gate and watch where mother cat would go.  They were particularly sly about leading me to their brood however.  No wonder.
I had a very hard time waiting for those little ones eyes to open…as if the poor mom had enough trouble getting rest the way it was.  She didn't need a wide eyed, screaming little girl invading her quiet nest, pulling out one kitten after another to coo at.

I was very good at my detective work.

Maybe too good… one mom cat caught me in the act too soon.

This was Calico.

Calico had actually birthed her brood under the milk can cooler right out in the barnyard.
The cooler was a flat, big blue rectangle box that looked like a huge freezer that opened at the top, but instead held water, cooled by electricity, that held, what 8-10 … 4 foot cans of milk?
It was on a nice sturdy wooden understructure, a perfect hidey hole for nesting kitties.

I found Calico’s kittens when they were only hours old, way too young for me to be touching them. But there  I was, face down in the barn yard, crawling my upper body half way under the cooler as soon I heard the first little mewlings that my dragon ears picked up.  I could hear a kitten from yards away.
Once I made my dad stop the car after pulling away from the mail box because I thought I heard a mewling noise.  Sure enough, someone had left a kitten there for me to find.

Dad always warned me that mother cats will move their kittens if you go disturbing them too soon.
Did I listen?

Calico’s kittens were gone the next day.

It was a particularly bad time in my young life when that happened.  My one joy was brutally torn away from me

I just remember seeing Calico a few days later at milking time.  Here I was sitting down on the cooler crying my stupid little eyes out, speaking directly to her asking why she took her kitties away?

What follows really did happen.  I swear it.

Calico looked up at me while I was petting her and jabbering away, asking her all this nonsense about why she took the kittens away.
She got up, looked at me.  Meowed.
Took a few steps to the gate. Looked at me.  Meowed again.

My sniffling stopped.  I started following.

She meowed and walked a few more paces up the driveway from the barn, past the gate looking back every so often at me.  Until we got up to the house and she disappeared under the porch.

Soon her little brood followed her out. 

Never try to tell me cats have no souls.

Singing to the Stars
I miss singing to the Stars.

Back on the farm, on a beautiful star studded evening, I would take a walk down the country road and sing, low at first, then at the top of my lungs, Amazing Grace.
Our nearest neighbors were about a half mile away, and I am sure if someone was out, they must have heard.
But of course, after milking cows and finishing chores, most farmers were sitting inside relaxing and watching tv anyhow…so I never really worried about it.

It was wonderful just belting out a song to the sky.

The Milky Way was just enormous above and made everything else seem so insignificant and ok.

I miss being able to sing to the stars here in densely populated California.

There is a 100 acre park up on the hill.
I may have to take a walk there one of these nights.

I can sing low

Petting Bumblebees
We had nasty bumblebees on the farm  in Wisconsin.
Big buggers, the size of your big toe.
You see them coming out from the hole on the side of the hill and you turned around and walked in the opposite direction.           

I just remembered.   We usually set up cans for target practice right in that general vicinity.
From that perspective, I can guess that did not help.

Here in California, bumblebees come in different sizes, but all downright small.

Bumblebees visit my line up of blooming lavender in the backyard each year.
The first year I saw this phenomenon, I stayed my distance.
The next year, somehow I tripped and practically fell face first in the lavender and ... wow, nothing.
No mean buzzing of chainsaws as a herd of monster bumblebees swarmed about me. 

After the initial scrambling to get the heck out of the danger zone, I realized, they didn’t even noticed me.
So, I do what a farm girl usually does when faced with such a quandary.
I stick my nose back in to see what’s up.

These bumblebees, maybe 4, 5 to a bush, were just going about their business, hopping from one bush to another, doing a wonderful job of distributing pollen on their back ends in the meanwhile.
And these guys were small, like bees…and stranger still….cute!
California is strange!

I was mesmerized and plopped a pillow onto the ground and watched them eye to eye for quite some time.
One day, I was out checking on my little busy herd of bumblebees and saw they were just sitting there.
..not bouncing around like the happy little buzzers they usually were.
It was towards the end of the blooming season, the evening sun low on the horizon, and my bumblebees were just little zombies in the shade, just sitting there.
This did concern me, so just to be sure they were ok… I poked one.
Well, gently of course!

Are you all right, I said.  It moved a bit, but generally just stayed put.

I think my little bumblebee family was high and stuffed on nectar! 

Being the idiot farm girl, animal lover I am, I just could not pass up the opportunity.

I petted the bumblebee.

Little tickling of hairs on the pad of my finger…kinda springy.   I went from one bush to another and petted another and another and another, then went back inside.

The next morning they were gone, but were back that afternoon, buzzing around as if nothing unusual had occurred, doing their duty as usual.

 They advertise on TV, California has Happy Cows. 

Add bumblebees.

June Bugs
On hot summer nights, the front porch screen door would be open to the world until the last person headed off to bed.  The most comfortable chair in the house, an upholstered rocker, sat next to it.  Us kids did not usually sit there, since dad had commandeered it from the start and very pungent barn smells had settled quite nicely in the interior of its fabric early on.  But every so often if free, I would sit there and listen to the sounds of the night.
In the corner of the front yard, dad had installed a huge pole with a halogen light that came on when darkness fell.  It loudly buzzed to life each twilight and there was always a slight high pitch hum in the air as it chased the darkness away.
The other sound you would hear in the early evening was another type of buzzing, June Bugs.
Some of the farm cats would lounge on the porch after milking, stretching themselves out, exposing as much of their body as they could to any cool breeze that might filter thru the humid, hot summer air.  They would hardly move.
But once the yard light came on, they were out on the hunt for a nice after dinner snack. 
I would watch as the buzzing June Bugs would appear out of their ground boroughs and slowly start their way swirling up to gather in an endless circle of dance around the yard light. 
Many would not complete the journey, since the farm cats were doing a ballet dance of their own. Leaping up and standing on their back legs, paws and claws extended, many a June bug succumbed to the ever diligent farm cat before ever reaching a safe distance.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Fitz. A True Story.

I found Fitz sitting on a rock next to a tree under a bridge about two miles away down a country road from where I lived.
I had gone to check out a house for rent.  It was a beautiful fall day, just a little chilly and since the house was easily in walking distance, I thought I would just go on down, check out the neighborhood and peek in the windows like any good, nosy, prospective renter would do.

I don’t know why, but after seeing the house, having had good vibes from it, I thought, why not, let’s explore the neighborhood some more.  I like this house.
When I start exploring, I have a hard time stopping.

And that is where I found my Fitz, a mile more down a gorgeous, bucolic, country road.

I had thought I heard something as I passed over that bridge.  Were my extra sensory, extraordinary kitten meow sensors springing back to life from way past in my childhood?  Noooo?? 

Kitty?  I said in a soft, whispered question. 
Up pops a face from behind the bridge post, a beautiful light grey kitty looking at me with big blue eyes.

No, I shouted to myself in my head!  No, No, No!
I will not have this happen to me.   I am not ready for a cat.  

I had tragically and stupidly,  lost a pure black stray, Hollingsworth, to feline distemper, that I had adopted, but never truly tamed more than a year before.   I was still hurt and very angry at myself for not getting him corralled and into the vet for shots.  Never again.

I turned around and kept walking up the road.  Do not look back, I told myself.
My next cat was going to be a yellow, tigered striped male I was going to adopt from the shelter when I was good and ready…all tested for feline distemper…all shots given and ready to go!
That cat at the bridge had a home on one of the farms or houses here, I was just sure of it.

And yet in my heart, I just knew.

Walked about a quarter of a mile and then turned around.

Looking around the corner of the bridge, there he was, sitting on a rock, practically hugging a tree.  He looked up at me in surprise, then started meowing like the dickens and ran up to me.

He did not stop meowing.

He meowed as I scooped him up in my now discarded jacket.
He meowed as I dragged him to each and every house and farm nearby, nearly losing him in the process into the jaws of a home owners 2 huge dogs…asking him…whether he had ever seen this cat…which was in the process of frantically crawling up my face to the top of my head.

Oh, no, he said, but he did know that there was a problem with people dropping off unwanted pets in this section of the country.
Out of site…out of mind.

That cat continued to meow, every second, as I walked with him bundled up, trudging all the way back to my apartment two miles away.  

He was a cute, if annoying little bundle of fur.  Could not believe he would not shut up!

I would call the animal shelter when I got back, do my duty and make sure he got his forever home with the right person.

Opened the door to my apartment, unwrapped him onto the chair.

Not one meow.

He just looked around and promptly curled up in the quilt, very content.
Cats know when they have come home.

PS…I actually did call the animal shelter soon after.  They were not open that day.
Oh, and that cute house.  Well, they did not allow cats
Too bad for them.  They had lost out on a really good renter who owned a really fantastic cat.

                                                                              all stories copyrighted 2011/2012 Stepka