Everybody needs a farm.
Not to make a living. That’s one of the hardest things anyone can do with his or her life. No, I think people need a farm, even if they don’t own it, to go and learn how to live. The lessons there are simple, profound and unavoidable.
Last Saturday we visited Sandersville to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. While we were there, we rode out to their farm, about 12 miles outside of town. It’s a great place for suburban boys to get dirty, have fun and do things they normally have to pay for back in the city.
For Barron, it’s a place to practice his marksmanship. Having taken to shooting in his scouting activities, Barron begged like Ralphie for a Red Ryder BB gun this Christmas. When all hope was lost, my parents stepped in and bought him the gift, the last one he received the Tuesday after Christmas.
We set up some plastic bottles and a paper plate as targets. Barron quickly drew up a series of not-so-concentric circles with a Sharpie to make a bull’s eye. It took him and his Poppy several minutes to find the best spot, but it wasn’t long before he was “plinking” BBs off the bottles and popping holes in the uneven rings of his target.
He’s a pretty good shot. He has a fairly steady aim. He’s patient. The only problem arose moments before we left. After an hour or more of shooting, he finally had a BB go astray. It went through the paper plate target, hit the plywood behind it and ricocheted back, hitting Carla in the waist. Although it barely left a mark, we all took note. Never shoot with a firm surface immediately behind your target. What you end up hitting will most likely be you.
While Barron worked on becoming the next “Top Shot,” I drove the other two boys around the farm on Poppy’s camouflaged golf cart. Under Carla’s anxious and omnipresent eye, we slowly traversed the bouncy terrain. I had one hand on the steering wheel and one on Carlton, tucking him close to my side.
It had been a while since I had driven the property, and when we came to a crossroad on one of the trails cutting through the pine trees, we had a decision to make. I chose the one that I thought led back toward the house. Taking the well-worn path proved to be a good decision. At least in this case, the road less traveled led to a ditch.
After safely depositing Carlton on Poppy’s tractor so he could pretend to clear the back 40, Harris got his driving lesson. We found a good wide path with plenty of clearance on each side and let him test his skills. For the next half hour, we veered from one edge of the path to the other as he consistently overcorrected. By the time we finished he was doing pretty good, learning that just a slight turn on the wheel here and there will get you where you want to go a whole lot quicker than jerking from side to side.
As we drove the golf cart back to our van, I noticed one of the smaller goats had his head stuck through the fence, unable to pull back through because of his horns. The boys loaded into the minivan to ride home with Carla and her mother while Poppy and I went to rescue the goat with poor decision making skills.
I asked him if this happens often.
“Aww, I get one or two out nearly every day,” he said. “Sometimes they can get themselves out, but most of the time, you’ve got to help them.”
We pulled up to the fence, got out and Poppy grabbed the goat’s little horns, gently tilting its head so that the horns could go back through the wire. It only took a few seconds, and the little fella was no worse for wear, jumping about and butting heads with his brothers in no time.
There’s always work to be done on the farm. Raising goats and pine trees has its own reward, but maybe, the best crop that farm is producing is three boys. I just hope they are paying attention.