Down on the Farm / Up at the Cabin

Becoming a Farmer: First Steps


A farm dog -- for companionship and protection.

Monica's daughter had two dogs, both lab-crosses. Together, they could get into so much trouble!! If they weren’t locked in their kennels each and every time the family left the home, disaster would greet them upon return: upturned garbage cans spilling their contents, pillows and sofa cushions strewn about, shoes chewed, once they even managed to open the refrigerator door and raid the contents. Mocha and Ice didn't have a bad life, but their weekdays were relegated to their kennels. Ice was a sweetie with those he knew – but a car accident had left him with only three legs and abuse made him untrustworthy around strangers, particularly men. Mocha was an easy girl with a wonderfully loud, deep, (and often too frequent) bark. After a few lessons at PetCo, Mocha knew basic commands and actually followed them on occasion.

Mocha absolutely loved her new-found freedom. She followed Monica everywhere, although she kept a safe distance when the chainsaw was in use. The rule of "No Dogs on the Couch" was quickly forgotten – when Monica was on the couch, Mocha was there. When Monica was in bed, Mocha was there. The two spent many hours outside each day, and she was Monica's constant companion.

Cats – for amusement and critter control. Monica is adventuresome and brave, but when it comes to rodents and snakes Monica reacts like a typical girl.

Never mind that Monica fearlessly drove her 4WD Jeep over / through trails (and creeks and large rocks) in Minnesota and Wisconsin with the Dakota Dirt Diggers. (An important lesson that would also serve her well on the farm: “If you aren’t getting stuck, you aren’t learning anything.”) All by herself, Monica traveled 49 states and several Canadian provinces on a Goldwing motorcycle. In 2005 she volunteered to be deployed with the Naval Reserve: ten days later she was on a plane to CENTCOM in Tampa for paperwork and immunizations; two weeks later she was on the long flight to Qatar.

Brave, yes. But when it comes to snakes and rodents, Monica actually believes she can levitate when startled by either. Perhaps it is the scream that gives the extra lift. Cats, for critter control, were absolutely essential.

So four kittens came to the farm: two from CraigsList, two from a friend. Each grandchild was tasked with naming one kitten. Cuddles and Tippie were siblings (who hated each other and hissed whenever the other drew near). Shelley and Oliver were lively, curious, and chased each other all over the house. Slowly, the kittens were given greater outdoor freedom as they grew.

One dog, four cats, and dozens of boots (Monica, kids, grandkids, friends of grandkids) can bring in a tremendous amount of dirt and mud from the outside. The barely-nice house with easy-to-clean floors was appreciated.

Autumn turned to winter. The days got shorter and colder. Claudia, who for decades had heated her homes exclusively with wood, assured Monica that the fire could burn all day without supervision. It could burn all night too. If the grandkids wanted to find the kittens, the fireplace was the first place they looked.

Every January, the fifth grade teachers and students headed to Eagle Bluff for a three-day field trip. This was the first extended "vacation" Monica would be away from home. (Not really a vacation, having to supervise all those children – and their parents.) But it was a wonderful learning experience for the kids, many of whom had lived their entire lives in apartments with hundreds of TV channels and piles of video games. Mocha returned to Ice's house for a three-day sleepover. Thermostats for the electric heaters were set to 55 degrees. Food and water was left for the kittens ... although one wasn't looking well. Shelly was lethargic and showed little interest in food or water. Either she would be okay, or she wouldn't. Monica left for the field-trip, hoping for the best.

The internet was slow at Eagle Bluff, but Monica looked up symptoms of feline diseases. She asked for advice from the teachers. All symptoms pointed to feline leukemia – a death sentence for Shelley and probably the other three. It was a long three days and a dreaded return home.

Mocha was thrilled to be out of the suburbs and back on the farm where she could run free again. Three kittens seemed fine, but Shelley was seriously ill. Monica still had two days before the weekend to consider options. Her colleagues sympathetically suggested that Shelley be taken to the vet for a confirmed diagnosis and to be euthanized. All the suburban friends agreed.

But Monica resolved: wasn't she a farmer now? Farmers don't take their cats to the vet to be euthanized – they do it themselves. Farmers do not let their animals suffer. It was a difficult, agonizing, painful decision. But when she got home from school that day and saw the pitiful state Shelley was in, Monica knew what she had to do. It was a rough, rough weekend – but she knew she had done the right, the farmer thing.

Several months later, Oliver started going downhill — the same symptoms. This time the decision was no easier, but farmers do not let their animals suffer. Oliver’s suffering was shorter, and the decision was easier, though no less painful.

Monica felt she had just passed a huge milestone in becoming a legitimate farmer. The first, difficult steps had been taken.