Existentialism

Following a disappointing loss in a playoff game some years back, then Boston Bruin’s
coach Claude Julien was pressed to explain his team’s lackluster performance. “We
had three kinds of guys out there on the ice tonight,” he said with disdain. “Guys out
there trying to make something happen, guys out there waiting for something to happen,
and guys out there wondering what just happened.” The farm, like every other
workplace, has one version or another of all three of those guys, or gals. The only
difference may be the situations in which it all comes to light.

Benjamin is a fifteen hundred pound Holstein steer. He stands about six feet tall at the
shoulder. The shoulder. His head rears a good foot taller than that. He sports the
characteristic red and white coloring of his breed, wears it well. If something weighing
fifteen hundred pounds, towering over you, can be cute, Benjamin is. Gentle, but not
genteel, he can be gangly. He can also be temperamental. It’s generally predictable
and just as generally non-preventable. He’s an adolescent, any parent need not hear
anything more than that. There are triggers. Benjamin’s best friend is Luke, a
Percheron draft horse. They pasture together during the day, but at dusk it’s time for
Luke to go back to his stall, and Benjamin doesn’t understand why he can’t go with him.
He bangs about a bit. Slipped out one night, just unlatched the gate and sauntered off.
Showed up at Luke’s place. Adolescent.

The morning after Benjamin showed up at Luke’s place, startling the crew that
happened upon him in the dark, we affixed a lock to the latch on his gate. That was
after getting him back into his pasture. He’d spent the night enclosed in the paddock
outside Luke’s stall, that was the best we could do. (In the dark, even from a distance,
you could tell the relative ages of the different crew by whether the light they were
shining was from a flashlight or a cell phone app).

Some people define themselves simply by the questions they ask. Consider the
morning Benjamin and two oxen, Jesse and James, got out of the pasture just as the
whole crew was in the house, sitting down to Saturday brunch (yes, Saturday brunch,
we’re farmers, not philistines). “Is Benjamin out? And the oxen??” This is someone
who doesn’t want to believe what they see. “Where are the dogs?” Someone who
believes what they see, but sees beyond that, past two oxen and a steer moving slowly
about just outside the windows, to oxen and a steer running up the road at full trot,
spooked by dogs running happily behind them. “How’d they get out?” Someone getting
ahead of themselves, not seeing the immediate question, how do we get them back in.
But the most revealing question is “Who didn’t lock the gate?” Not helpful, that one.

On screen it would look something like this.

INT: FARMHOUSE KITCHEN – MORNING – 11:30 A.M.

Crew is sitting around a harvest table, relaxed, sipping coffee,…

ZACH
(looking over his coffee cup, out the window, incredulous)

                                             Is Benjamin out? And the oxen??

All look out.

GARRY

                                             Yes they are.

JOAN
(with urgency)

                                             Where are the dogs?

GARRY

                                             Right here.

AMY

                                             How’d they get out?

GARRY
(getting up, hurrying toward door)

                                             Doesn’t matter right now.

Others follow Garry quickly, except for DON, rising.

DON
(now standing alone, coffee cup in hand, calls out)

                                             Who didn’t lock the gate?

                                                                                                           FADE OUT

Some in the audience will see this scene as man’s attempt to impose order on chaos,
and chaos being the natural state of things, the futility of a man’s life. Others will see
the scene as man’s relentless pursuit of a just world, someone didn’t lock the gate and
they would be held to account, however long it took. Some few will wonder what the
coffee cups represent. Rotten Tomatoes will dismiss the scene as “Unrealistic.”
Farmers would not be sitting down to brunch late Saturday morning, enjoying warm
roasted New England Pie Pumpkin muffins, fresh cut fruit, scrambled egg and sautéed
vegetable burritos, good strong coffee and choice of juice. Diana Krall would not be
playing on Pandora in the background. Wouldn’t happen. “The scene lacks
verisimilitude.”

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup that year, besting the Vancouver Canucks in seven
games. The crew here got Benjamin, Jesse and James back in their pasture. They did
not finish their brunch but it made good leftovers. Never found out who didn’t lock the
gate but it’s not happened since and that’s all that matters.

 

Corrections

“Old Friends”

The October 5, 2019 entry erroneously describes an ox as having slipped on ice. The
ox had fallen off a mound of compost.

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