I heard this the other day and it stuck with me, "That's what's wrong with this country, too much concrete." It seemed fitting that we were only a day away from making the trip into the mountains to visit Grandma and Grandpa. It had been a long week, a longer month, and the trip always sets all four of us at ease, a kind of "breath of fresh air" to blow away the stress and unwind a little. During the drive, we, as a family, have time to reconnect, talk about our misadventures during the week past, discuss upcoming events, and make plans for things that we would like to do after everything else is done. It also allows us to ready ourselves for the week's worth of farm chores we will try to accomplish in just 24 hours. Sometimes we can pull it off. Other times we simply sit and relax. And so it is with this weekend, a nice mix of doing some simple, quick chores to check off the to-do list sprinkled with rocking chair sitting.
A lot of the stress-free atmosphere has to do with the lack of concrete. The feel of the damp grass beneath bare feet tickles not only the soles but the soul. The fragrant wildflowers fill the air and the lungs with life. The bubbling of the creek as its water rushes over the rocks fills the ears and drowns out the white noise of the cityscape left behind (my ears seem almost superhuman without the throbbing pulse of city living constantly drumming in my head). With the city's haze left behind, everything seems clearer.
On Saturday, my daughter began her wildlife checklist for the weekend, a test to see how many different kinds of animals she can see during the weekend. My test was merely to see how sparse I could make the concrete that surrounds us all week. The world obliged us both, and in a single day. We always spy plenty of birds (eagles, turkey buzzards, and a variety of songbirds), squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and groundhogs. But this day would allow even more possibilities. A stop at our local farmer to buy some fresh butter and milk brought cows, farm dogs, and pigs. It also brought that wonderful pound of fresh butter sold by the crock on the side of the road that comes with a down-to-earth conversation with the folks that make it. The only concrete here is in the foundations of the barn and home on the land, and the road that passes by them.
When we pull off that road and on to the 4 miles of gravel that lead to our driveway, we spot beaver and geese making their homes in a local pond. We wave to our horses out in the pasture and call to our goats as the "Baaaaaaaaa" at our truck's approach. Roxy, our chocolate lab, meets the truck in the driveway, awaiting our little daughter's emergence from the passenger door. The concrete has disappeared and with it the need for shoes. Pants get rolled up to dip toes into the pond and dip the net into the water in awkward attempts to catch newts. Water guns appear as if by magic and wet everything in sight, triggered by children's laughter, or is that the other way around, I am not quite sure.
A break in the action is the perfect spot for a snack, a quiet interlude on the deck munching on fruit and veggies, some chips and dip, interrupted by "accidental" water gun discharges and fits of laughter. My wife has brought a bucket of dandelion heads to the table, recruiting fingers to help pluck the petals, preparing for a try at making dandelion wine. The weedy flowers grow here like a yellow carpet, (no handful of weeds sneaking between concrete cracks). That is when we are visited by our chickens. Instead of noisily chasing bugs in the garden, however, they are frantically dodging here and there. This chaotic dance reaches a crescendo as one chicken breaks from the flock and heads for the pond and a mangy fox leaps out of the high grass at the pond's edge. Grandpa was already in motion as the fox made her dash for the tiring chicken. The shotgun went off and the fox slumped. Grandpa dashed for the chicken coop as my daughters came running out of the house with their Crickett .22. They would dispatch the writhing fox as Grandpa cleared the perimeter and put the chickens away to unwind from the excitement.
With a full day of chores and checklists complete, my wife laid out a feast for grumbling stomachs. Homemade on Saturday night is the only way to reflect on the day. Grandpa and I retire to the comfort of the couch to catch a bit of the baseball game. Beer in hand, my muscles untangle and my mind drifts. The evening eases away, Grandma and the kids retire to the big bed to read and sneak candy and giggle. My wife curls up under the covers as the night's chill creeps through the window with her own book. As the moon brings light to the choir of spring peepers, Grandpa and I are contentedly pretending to watch the game between eyelid tests. The quiet is shattered by the dog, hair-raised, growling at the door. She is spooked by the intruders outside. We spring from the couch and pile out the door all at once, dog, Grandpa, and I, ready to defend our homestead. The intruder cloaked in black gives out a growl and heads for the trees. The bear cub stares at us in bewilderment, highlighted by the spotlight in Grandpa's hands. Momma bear voices her discontent and wanders back into the woods, cubs in tow. Our animal checklist is complete for today.
The lack of concrete does not mean a lack of action. It does, however, mean the action is different. The life lessons are different. The attitude different. The people different. The view is different and will continue.....