I MET HAROLD BRIGGS yesterday. It was unusual because I’ve lived in this town for four weeks already and met most of the other near neighbors, not that there are that many. Also, Harold had become something of a presence because of the stories other people tell.
|Self-portrait by B. A. Nilsson, c. 1990|
Harold is the one who told his next-door neighbor Sherrie about putting an egg in with her goat’s milk. That is, with the milk for her goat. She adopted a kid a couple of weeks ago, a foundling (if that’s the right work) that needs bottle feeding for its first few weeks.
She named it Fahrvegnuegen, after the Volkswagen ads she hears on WGY. It was a pretty shrewd idea, because she’s doing that old trick of putting radio down in the barn where she had the goat pen built, and the radio plays WGY all day and night. So the animal is likely to hear its name spoken every so often, and I expect that’ll be something of a comfort to it.
The kid was feeling poorly the other day, and let everyone who came near it know about it, although I’ll spare you the dirty details except to say that a mop was required.
Harold suggested the egg, and he also gave Sherrie some milk from his Brown Swiss, a cow that gives a richer, pre-homogenized output. Fahrvegnuegen is doing just fine now and even gobbled up some oats yesterday.
Pets are important out here. That may seem odd what with all the farming that goes on, but I’m noticing a system of attachment and disaffection. Some of the beasts are being raised to be eaten, but that’s a business, it’s been part of the business of this area for as long as anyone has been here. Urban people get so used to buying their meats wrapped in cellophane that they forget that dinner once had big brown eyes.
Maybe we shouldn’t forget it. I’m not saying we all go vegetarian. I suspect it’d be healthier in the long run, but I don’t want to see my neighbors going out of business. It’s just that being carnivorous has with it a certain responsibility. To understand that someone, somewhere, raised that animal, If you’re lucky, it was someone with compassion, like Harold.
There’s a cow barn that came with this property, all set up if I want to put in a herd of milkers. But I don’t think I could meet the twice-a-day demands of the cows. Someone suggested I put in a herd of beef cattle, but I’m still too new at all this to consider it. I wanted to get chickens, or a goat, or a sheep. My wife wasn’t too crazy about the idea.
We got a puppy. It was a good compromise. And we were planning to get rid of some of these carpets anyway. Susan named her Asta, even though she bears no resemblance to the “Thin Man” dog. I wanted to name her Spot but I got shouted down. Asta it is.
She’s eight weeks old. She’s already been helping me in the garden. I was cutting away some old corn stalks yesterday and she figured out this trick whereby she seizes the cut stalk and drags it into the tall grass. That’s a good start, don’t you think?
I have to remember to tell Harold about that next time I go over for some eggs. He loves animal stories. “I love animals,” he says with the world’s biggest grin. “Better than I like people. And I trust a veterinarian better than I trust a people-doctor. A vet has to find out what’s wrong and cure it in something that can’t even talk, only whimpers. A people-doctor listens to a whole tirade of symptoms and still can’t do anything about it.”
— 3 April 1990