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How the Family Farm Stole My Sense of Self—For the Better

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Bike ride at the farm.

On Sunday, there is a break in the rain. There is a lot we could be doing in that break: painting beehives, knocking back the weeds around the grapes and blueberries, mowing the lawn, taking the girls for a slow amble to one of the nearby ponds, catching up on needed sleep.

I wanted my accomplishments. I wanted my identity. I wanted them more than love itself.

We are doing none of those things. We are down at the farm. The girls are inside having breakfast with Grammie and Pop Pop, while Bob and I run around with lists in our back pockets, pulling meat from the freezer, grabbing blankets and yarn and stacking them in the back of our trailer, counting change in the money box.

We don’t customarily take on Sunday markets, as it is our only true day off during the growing season. But this year, we’ve chosen a few special-event markets to attend. It is looking like Ula will need weekly vision therapy, which will increase our monthly expenses by about $600 for the next few years. We’re not exactly panicking, but we are scrambling.

I have just left the freezer in the garage, where I filled a cooler with ground beef. I am hauling it out to the trailer when the clouds shift and the sun spills down on a patch of tired ground in front of the grain room, spotlighting Foie Gras, one of our resident ganders. He is mounted on top of his mate. With his beak, he pins her long neck to the ground in a tussle. His own serpentine neck uncoils while he inches backward until he is finally able to initiate the coital kiss that will fertilize her eggs.

I feel as though I shouldn’t be watching, but I am transfixed: an agrarian voyeur. It is not the act of mating so much that holds my attention—it is what happens next.

Evidently boasting of his virility, Foie Gras begins to perform a circle dance around the barnyard, singing out to all who will listen the details of his magnificent feats. But the goose’s role in the dance is different. She hunkers down and waits for him to get close, then launches a surprise attack, seizing his neck in her beak, latching onto his throat as he attempts to shout his headlines.

An ornithologist might have an explanation for this behavior. But in my view, she’s pissed. She recognizes the commitment she has just fallen into for the next few months. As the days grow warmer, she won’t be free to splat about in the mud puddles or paddle through the stream. She won’t be able to frolic along behind Pop Pop on his way to feed the chickens, picking up the bits of grain he scatters en route. Her life is no longer her own. Her life is about the nest.

Foie Gras turns quickly and ducks to the right, giving her the slip. But she is not yet avenged. She grabs his tail feathers and proceeds to bite his behind as he honks his victory to the wider world.

My mind jumps to a similar spring morning several years ago, when I was still in grad school. One of my best friends from high school was getting married in her barn down in the village. I went to the wedding alone, hunkered down in my yellow slicker as I tried to disappear along the back wall. A few years away from marriage myself, I was lukewarm on the idea at that point, and found it hard to believe that a bright young woman would surrender herself to matrimony at such an early age. And then the minister read this line from Matthew 19:6:

So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.

When we choose marriage, when we choose family, we surrender a degree of individuality.

Hearing that verse, my stomach began to turn. My palms began to sweat. After the ceremony, I went up to my radiant friend to offer her my congratulations with moist eyes. I think she thought I was touched. In truth, I was frightened and horrified to the point of tears. I left the wedding as early as I could and climbed up the mountain, where Bob was at the farm.

I begged him never to marry me. I begged him, in the event that we should one day marry, to never ever let that Bible verse be said in my presence. I would never be of one flesh with anyone. I would never promise it. I wanted my accomplishments. I wanted my identity. I wanted them more than love itself.

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