By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Published: October 14, 2006
For the most part our animals don’t have many secrets from us. The reverse is probably true too, except for the one big secret we keep from the pigs. The horses and poultry are always in sight, and together we all belong to something that is larger than any one of us — the daily routine of this small farm.
Morning and evening I can always feel the animals leaning toward what they know comes next — a walk down to the barn, hay and grain, layer mash, egg gathering and the filling of water tanks. The livestock clock in and out as surely as I do.
But sometimes I take the animals by surprise, and I get to witness how deeply they reside here. It happened the other day. We awoke to the first frost of autumn, a clear bright morning that had not fully lost its chill by noon when I walked down to get the mail. In the big pasture the horses stood broadside to the sun. The ducks and geese lay sound asleep in the threadbare shade of a hickory that had hastened to lose its leaves. Some hens had sprawled in a dust bath, and there was a subcommittee meeting going on in the entrance to the chicken house.
Here I was, cutting my narrow vulpine arc to the mailbox and back, and there, all around me, life seemed to have stopped. We think of time as a cold transparent thing without substance. But here, in this midday pause, time seemed to be giving off as much warmth as the sun itself. The horses were basking in the heat of the sun. But they were also basking in what I can’t help calling their continuity, their presence in the long, floating, unscheduled, middle part of the day. Nothing about their manner suggested that this was a private moment. And yet I felt that I was looking into a private moment.
The reason is simple. Whenever my life intersects with theirs, it is all expectation, a concern for what comes next. But in the middle of the day, the animals drift away into a life all their own. I notice that they are able to follow me into all the haste and bustle of my life. But if I stepped into the pasture, to pause in the sun, the horses would wander over as if to ask, “What now?”