Early in the mornings, on my way to the gym, I drive by a dilapidated clapboard house and a few outbuildings that declares itself a farm judging by a sign near the mailbox and boasts it was built circa 1875. (Use of the word 'circa' is very big in the states.) During the summer the family arranges a few scrappy-looking beefsteak tomatoes or zucchinis for sale on a rickety table by the roadside and they also have a sign attached to a barn that states 'Brown eggs available', presumably laid that morning by one or other of a bunch of scrappy brown hens I see wandering the yard. I'm convinced the farm's a bit of a ruse and they aren't really farming for a living, have in actuality just fenced off their couple of fields and call it a working farm so they can claim the benefits of one or more of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's tax laws--maybe even getting an IRS (federal tax) concession or two into the bargain.
Propped against the barn is a lifesized model of a deer made of foam that has been shot through the heart so many times I can see through to the barn siding. Of course, we're now in the peek weeks of the deer-hunting season so I sometimes see the men of the family (plus one pugnacious-looking women with biceps I'm working diligently to acquire who's a wife of one of the sons or a daughter and favors a scary looking bow and quiver of arrows rather than a rifle) dressed in their camouflage and piling into a couple of rusty pickups with their friends to go for a spot of bonding and killing in the woods.
Also on the property is a squat, sun-bleached windowless shed that looks sinister. I think it's used for processing. Yes, processsing. My suspicions are probably correct because in an adjacent field that's really more of a back garden, there are usually two calves grazing for periods of six months. In the field there is also a pen where said farmer/hunters train the calves to approach and get fed grain from buckets. This family appears to have a a voracious appetite for red meat; four cows a year, in addition to the legally permitted two, three or four deer...and let's not forget the brown eggs because I'm sure people don't stop to buy them...oh, and I'd imagine any of the scrappy chickens that have the misfortune to become unproductive.
About one year ago, the family had Aberdeen Angus and tan Hereford calves. The Hereford's face was white, unblemished and it had those long cute eyelashes calves have. Though I grew up in the countryside and do eat a little meat, I grew distantly attached to the Hereford to the extent I even considered driving there in the dead of night and releasing both it and its companion, but of course I did not give foot to my consideration. I didn't because I rather feared getting an arrow or two in my back and ass. The day came six months ago when the white-faced Hereford and Aberdeen were no longer there. Two Aberdeen Angus calves arrived a few weeks later. Like their predecessors, they too were cute and innocent. Throughout the summer, I've watched the pair transform to sleek, fat bullocks whose coats look coppery in the late fall sun.
Christmas is now soon upon us, the radio's playing carols, people are drinking and partying, and another of those days is coming again. Very soon. Next week or the week after I will drive past on my way to the gym and the field will contain only dried hoof prints, the pen only the two pails side by side, and the door of the squat windowless building will be shut.
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