Home & Shop Companion #0041
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
It is a bright clear morning here, the grass whitened by the first light frost of the winter. Being a warm and pleasant morning, I decided to stay outside a bit longer and put some more wire guards round the trees which are planted in rows down the field, before a horse has the chance to eradicate a couple of years’ growth with a single bite. As I cut through the netting with the fencing tool, make a circle of wire to nail to the post and fish down in the depths of my coat pocket for another staple, Lucy is happily grazing a small patch of grass in the far corner of the field, beyond the track which otherwise follows the field boundary. The previous owner called this the horseshoe field because of its shape, Lucy now grazing the nearside heel, out of sight of the road. Meanwhile Molly is at the other side of the field, near the barn eating her protein- and oil-rich feed which for the elderly matron she is, helps her keep some weight on.
Before going out to the horses, I turned on the radio while I ate my breakfast, because as I write this, it is the morning of the 4th of November, the day after voting in the US election. Although the sun here is rising in the sky, in America it remains dark with most people still asleep in their beds. As I turned on the radio, they were talking about something else, then it was the weather forecast, so after eating my breakfast I swept round the kitchen floor until the headlines came on, reporting an as-yet unclear outcome. It’s a worrying time, because as the biggest democracy, what happens in America also matters here and everywhere else that aspires to fairness and freedom.
For many people, the image that encapsulates America’s promise to its population, and provides a beacon for others is that icon of hope, the Statue of Liberty. It was a gift from France, a gift which recognised the communality of democratic values between the two countries, but underpinning French democracy, the French have an additional pillar; besides liberty [freedom] and equality [justice for all] which they share with the US, the third constituent of their national motto, their national conscience, is ‘fraternité,’ which translates as fraternity, brotherliness or fellowship. Whether it is written into the constitution or, as in America, it rises out of the hearts of the people, without fraternité a nation is like bread made with just flour and water, hard and indigestible, lacking the yeast that brings lightness, softness and life, allowing it to rise to a higher level. If freedom means we all have the right to take part in the obstacle race of life, equality means we start at the same place, but it is fraternité which allows us to surmount those difficult hurdles which we can’t manage on our own, whether that is raising a barn, helping change a tyre or accepting someone for their humanity even when their opinions are different from our own. My guess is that fraternité is in for some heavy lifting over the next few weeks, no matter what the outcome of the election.
Back at home, once again we are unable to fraternise; with coronavirus cases projected to overwhelm the health services unless more stringent measures were taken, the people of England, following more timely interventions in Wales and Scotland, have to stay at home. It was inevitable really, and for me I don’t mind; it is a temporary loss of some small measure of liberty, while fraternité takes the leading role in protecting others. And although I usually push it to the back of my mind, I know full well that I could easily become one of those ‘others,’ one of those infected by the virus. Luckily for me, staying at home is what I mostly do anyway, but I will miss seeing friends face to face; distance communication isn’t quite the same thing.
In the field Lucy has been having a similar problem, which has also created a problem for me. The area in the corner where she is grazing, on the wrong side of the track, is not a place she likes to be. At the furthest point away from where I usually feed Molly, if I confine Lucy there, she runs up and down until hot and sweaty, turning the fence line to mud. Instead I allow her access to the central part of the field, so if she is worried, she can come back to safe territory, but when hungry she needs to graze in the corner. But a couple of weeks ago she repeatedly barged through the electric fence to get to some other areas of grass to avoid braving the dreaded corner. For a habit-forming animal this is not a good development, so I checked the charge on the fence, replaced a bit of dodgy wire, and the same thing happened again. Being busy, I got my other fencer unit with a bigger shock and attached it to the length of wire that was most vulnerable, which helped, but not completely. Frustrated, I started to question my thinking, because when I get frustrated or am unsuccessful it is usually because I am doing something wrong, usually there is a better solution. Thinking about it, I realised my actions to restore the status quo were all stick and no carrot; I was trying to control an unhappy animal rather than addressing the cause of the problem. So for ten days I have been carrying Molly’s hay round to the far corner, an inconvenience for sure, but now Lucy will happily graze while Molly eats her hay in the trackway, just the other side of the fence. Now when I turn Lucy into her space in the evening after a few hours of socialisation with Molly, she even canters off to the far corner to graze, at least until she decides that she has been brave for quite long enough, then the ground resonates to the thunder of mighty hooves before she skids to a halt a few inches from the fence and the reassurance of Molly’s unflappable demeanour as she tucks in to her evening hay.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.