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Category: farm

if not a silo, well, then a bale of hay

for days, i drove around with my little bundle of mowed-up field in the back of my old wagon. i kinda liked pulling into quasi-upscale parking lots with straw spilling from my rear. rear end of my car, i’m talkin’ ’bout. puh-leez, people.

fact is, i liked everything about that country bundle. smelled like farm. made me sneeze like farm. gave me license to make-believe i was steering my stout john deere down row after loam-clumped row, instead of here along the leafy shore where streets are lit by antique lights.

i plunked down seven bills for that bale of hay. a sum that’d make my farmer friends laugh out loud, i do suppose. but this here is no longer farmland. paved over long ago, and now we pay an import tax, or, more aptly, pretender’s fee.

but i, city girl wishing on a star to look out her window and see a farm appear out back, well, i thought that seven bucks was a flat-out steal if it brought me one inch closer to the bucolia for which i long.

perhaps, i sometimes think, i am descended on all sides from farm people. perhaps that cock-a-doodle-doo once woke my great-great-great-great granny. i do know that my very own irish granny, the one i never met, i know she was famed for the way she could wring a chicken’s neck.

i tell you, i swelled up with holy pride the day i heard that tale. never mind all the business ’bout her being the first kentucky miss to graduate from college. give me the backyard chicken yarn, and you’ll see my feathers fluff.

so, the way i frame it, the equation is uncomplicated: if i can’t plow under my quarter acre, can’t bring home a laying hen, or a cow that’d moo me to sleep, well then, at very least, i can claim a bale to call my own.

it’s all part of my compost operation, that hay is. an operation i am milking, quite frankly, like a bulging bovine at sundown, when she’s throbbingly engorged and near spurting from her beet-red teats.

fact is, i read in one of my composting magazines (yes, i sneak off to the library these days to read such earthy slicks) that if the, um, perfume from the bin gets to bother, say, your next door neighbor–or, worse, the ones two doors down–why you just grab a fistful of hay, toss it there atop the rotting apple cores and, voila, the eau de dump is gone. replaced by eau de farm.

only thing is, i’ve yet to haul the hay to where it belongs. it seems stuck right out my tall french doors. i can’t bear to budge it one more inch. and not only because my palms near tore from tugging on the twine that ties it up.

seems it’s stuck because it is my latest bleary-eyed hope. goes a long way, that stash of dried hay does, to deluding me from where it is i really dwell.

oh, it’s not that i don’t like the land of garbage trucks and mailmen who mark their routes on foot.

it’s just that i’d much prefer to live out yonder where the stars and moon are reachable, where seasons are marked by what stands or falls in the fields, and where you eke a living from mama earth by tending her, coaxing her, wholesale depending on her miracles, and those of sky as well.

i know a farmer or two. even blessed to call them friends. and they are among the wisest, most poetic souls i know. they don’t mince words. don’t double talk. don’t do the city soft shoe.

seems they’ve absorbed the hard lessons of the earth and moon, of rain and sun, right through their dirt-stained hands. and worn-down bones, as well.

maybe it’s, more and more with every passing sunrise, i wish my days could be spent, my hours steeped, in what the winds whisper to me, what the clouds roll in, and what the gnarled branches reach for.

in the gospel that beckons me, i sense the turning of the seasons and the slanting of the sun holds something i should know. to live the cycles of the fields and woods, i’ve come to think, is to soak up perhaps the purest truths.

the one preacher i ache to hear is the one whose parables rise up from furrowed earth.

but for now, i’ve only one square of dried-up straw. not even a mound. surely not a silo full.

i’m old enough to know i might never land my dreamed-of farm, my milking barn, my henhouse.

i’ll make do–and more–with that blessed bale right out my window.

for now, as evening wraps the day in purple-gray, i watch a flock of soft brown sparrows, pecking at the hay. they seem to think it’s all part of a vast country buffet. bugs and field bits, on the supper’s menu.

even my old fat cat has taken to perching there like it’s a throne. that cat, born of the farm, seems to sense it’s home that’s come to find him.

i imagine just how he feels. since i believe i feel the same.

and my imaginary hay stack–humble as it is–it’s not going anywhere. except the places it becomes in my imagination.

have you an imaginary life you wish you lived? an apartment in paris, perhaps? a new york city brownstone? a woods all to your lonesome? or a cottage on the shore? what dreamscape speaks to you? or are you utterly content right where you are? anyone else a would-be farmer?

the egg lady

doorbell rang the other afternoon. dozen eggs dozing there, asleep in two rows. one, the palest shade of green, laid by a south american mama chicken. all the rest, variations on caramel. or these days, you might say variations on mocha skim latte.

it’s not everyday eggs come rolling to your door. not in the dead of winter. but not everyone knows the egg lady.

seems, apparently, that i do. name’s carol. and she delivers the fruits of the hen. she was out making her rounds. she had a dozen for sophie, the nail lady at some chic little shop. another dozen for marge, who scrubs faces. and a dozen for pablo, who cuts hair. and then there was me.

unannounced, without warning, i was the proud owner of twelve organic, whole-grain-fed eggs.

i am quite sure my heart wouldn’t have pounded harder if ol’ ed mcmahon himself had come to my door, thrust cardboard check in my hand. i mean, i am a girl who dreams of an egg-laying mama with feathers. i even have her a name: lady chanticleer. it’s only the town laws keeping her and her hay from me and my make-believe farm.

i could not get over their beauty, the eggs. ‘specially the green one. so pale it merely whispered of green. didn’t come out and hit you over the head with it. certainly wasn’t the easter-egg green my boys thought that i meant, when at dinner i opened the lid, showed off the twelve apostles, awaited the chorus of oohs and of ahhs.

i’d been told by the egg lady that the yolk was really the thing worth applause. so first thing next morning, i cracked one, two, then three. i applauded, all right. the yolks were like sunrises, all golden, towards orange. round and taut and knowing right where they stood. not the so-so yolks from the grocery store shelf, the ones that wobble and ooze with the softest prick of a fork.

i sizzled the trio in a bath of french butter, nothin’ but the best for these babies. frothed them a bit, gave them time to regroup, then i rolled their new ruffly selves onto a plate. my boys nearly licked it.

well, you don’t go worshipping eggs without knowing a bit about who did the laying, so i put in a call to the egg farmer himself.

denny wettstein’s his name, lives down in carlock, illinois, down in the mackinaw river valley, smack dab in the heart of the heartland. denny and emily, that’s the farmer’s wife, have nine children and about 350 laying hens right here in the middle of winter. they’ve got 500 acres they farm, organically. they’ve got cattle and sheep and goats and pigs, even turkeys until mid-november. until it’s time for the turkeys to lay down their heads for our overstuffed tables. in the spring and the summer, their egg-laying flock grows to 2,000, but that includes plenty of meat birds, as denny puts it, meaning the ones you slather with sauce and toss on your grill.

the egg-layers, they are the lucky ones. they live as long as they lay.

and these hens–rhode island reds, black astrolopes, barred rocks, and the green-laying one, the araucana (a magnificent chilean hybrid with white feathery tufts that shoot from her ears, and look a heck of a lot like the sides of a handlebar mustache)–these hens nibble all day on what must be gourmet chicken feed. whereas the hens that lay the eggs that you can grab off the shelf at the grocery store probably exist on a bland diet of just corn and soybeans, farmer denny is mixing his feed with his very own hands, and he makes for his hens a fine meal of five organic grains–corn, soybean, oats, wheat and this time of year when the pastures are ice, he grinds up hay for his girls. (in the summertime, the hens gulp down plenty of fresh grass, and fresh bugs, too, and denny says a summer egg is even more lip-lickin’ than these in the bug-less days of winter.)

now these hens are not cooped up in some cold crowded apartment. nope. they live in a heated house, thank you, where they can imbibe of warm water and feed 24 hours a day. like an all-night diner.

and denny tells me, the chickens, what with their feathers, don’t mind the cold. but they are rather finicky about snows on their feets.

i asked denny how he likes his eggs best, and he gave me the recipe for egg-and-cheese casserole. when i inquired as to how many eggs i might want to crack for this casserole, he chuckled. told me at his house they use two dozen for breakfast. but then, he reminded, he’s putting eggs in nine little mouths.

you might not need two dozen for your crew.

here’s how denny does breakfast: crack eggs; add cheese, grated; toss in chopped onion, peppers, sausage, potatoes, whatever stirs you; stir. pour into buttered casserole. let sit in fridge overnight. pop in 350-degree oven come sunrise. bake for 40 to 45 minutes, you’ll have to keep an eye on your eggs.

but then, if they’re denny’s, you’ll want to.

the wettstein’s amazing organic eggs are coming to oak park this saturday. they’ll be at the buzz cafe, by the dozen, from 1 to 3 in the afternoon. they’re $4 a dozen when they make the trip up to chicago. but if you want to drive down to carlock, turn in at the farm gate just off u.s. highway 150, and grab a dozen out of the ice box on the wettstein’s front porch, they’re a steal at $2.50 a dozen. the ice box is open six days a week. buzz cafe is at the corner of harrison and lombard, a whole lot closer than carlock. tell denny hullo for me.

p.s. did i mention that the wettstein eggs are, at most, three days from the nest when they slide into the carton, and land on your stoop? the ones you find at the grocery might be as many as 30 days old. oh, what a difference those days make…