A Day Nobly Spent

A white horse grazing next to white flowers

“How to spend a day nobly is the problem to be solved…” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

A farm does not know what day it is. The fields know weather. The animals know routine. Nothing and no one knows what day it is. Monday, Thursday, Fourth of July, Christmas. To the farm they are all the same, the sun coming up, going down, and coming up again. That is not to say each day is the same here. Few are. A day may be unexpectedly spent recapturing a colony of swarmed bees. Another to digging up and fixing a broken water line in a pasture or replacing an industrial-size fan in the greenhouse. A Friday afternoon set aside to can a Summer’s worth of tomatoes might be taken up instead by a truckload of hay hurriedly delivered to beat the rain. Or a Sunday morning hoped to be selfishly enjoyed sipping hot coffee while reading the New York Times could be interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Hi, my name’s Rick, do you have a big white horse?”

Anyone who has never lived on a farm might think this a strange introduction. But anyone who has, lived on a farm, might now be recalling the time one or more of their pigs, or sheep, or goats wandered off to wreak havoc about town. We have a friend (not Nancy, you remember Nancy, Dan’s wife) who wrote a highly entertaining, but more importantly, profoundly enlightening, book about her wanderlust pig, but that’s another, and far better told, story.

“I was driving by here and there’s a beautiful white horse walking up the road. You’re the only farm around so I thought he might be yours.”

He was, ours. So were the other two horses and the mule walking up the same road, a hundred yards or so ahead of the one about which Rick was kindly inquiring. On Sundays the Times is not so much news as it is well written stories and other journalistic pieces that keep quite well over the course of a week, so putting it aside to go fetch the horses was no sacrifice at all.

Not long after, the horses repatriated, the thought of “You’re the only farm around…” gave pause. Old maps of the road the horses were walking, the whole town actually, show farm after farm, each defined, more or less, by long, remarkably straight, stone walls. Many of them still exist. The stone walls, not the farms. In another friend’s book (we have a good many, friends, the genuine kind, the kind you laugh with, commiserate with, share meals with, we’re talking B.F. (Before Facebook), but anyway…) this other friend’s book considers those undefinable qualities and that sense of presence that make a place sacred. “Dwelling places” he calls them. The farms now gone were likely such places, swept away, or more literally, plowed under. When that happened, where went the spirits that had made them sacred? You might think that a lazy Sunday afternoon would be a good time to contemplate such things, but a farm does not know what day it is. The pigs are fed in the afternoon. They know routine.