Yesterday I baled hay for the first time. I know at least a couple of you are likely chuckling at this and thinking “Uh, I did that when I was 12. So?” I hasten to add that I did this by hand, if that grants me any farm cred, since we don’t have a hay baler, and more importantly that up until now I’ve lived almost entirely in suburbs and cities. I will confess that I wasn’t even entirely sure what hay was, or how it differed from straw, or what one did with either besides decorating for Halloween, for some reason.
Go ahead and chuckle. I deserve it, though I also hasten to add that you’re never too old to learn something new, and that’s a pretty great thing that should never be ridiculed.
I baled hay because we are now the proud and delighted keepers of four tiny cloven-hooved weed trimmers. The zoo where K does veterinary work has an excess of baby goats, so we took home four of them to romp around our land and munch on the burdock and velvetleaf. They are preposterously cute. They have been around people their entire young lives, so they love to be petted and will follow us around constantly, bleating with anguish whenever we’re out of eyesight.
We named them after four ultramarathon races we’ve done. McNabb, K’s 50K PR race, is the biggest and the friendliest; he’ll stand very pointedly in front of me, like a puppy, begging for affection. Kettle is the brown one, sort of like a copper kettle, and appropriate for a hilly Wisconsin race, he likes to climb. Berryman is another well-named climber, and he and the littlest goat appear to be best buddies, which works because both are St. Louis-area races. The littlest goat is Double Chubb. Double Chubb likes to eat. We totally win at naming goats.
Did I ever think there would be a day I’d be standing in an old deer pen surrounded by chickens and goats while a bright red macaw perched above me on a post, surveying the new residents with a wary eye, all of us in the middle of rural Illinois? Obviously not. Twenty years ago, in the middle of the East Village of Manhattan, you might as well have told me I’d be colonizing Mars. (Never say never, but I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. I like potatoes, but not that much.) But listen: forty years ago, playing hide-and-seek in a banana grove on Oahu, I’d never have believed I’d be working on Wall Street and dining at Le Bernardin. (Well, once I dined there. It takes a while to pay off the loan.)
When a Manhattan friend once suggested we travel to Europe one summer and I said “Sure! I just have to get a passport!” she stared at me and laughed like I’d said sure, I just have to figure out how indoor plumbing works. She’d been all over the world already, and my being a nearly 30-year-old woman who had never left the country marked me as a first-class hick. Since then I’ve met many people who got their passport for the first time when they were even older than I was—some who had never been in an airplane before. There’s no shame in it. Nothing says you have to do any of this stuff by a certain time or you doomed to loserhood forever. You can always have new experiences—and they don’t all have to be on an epic scale, either. You can pick up a pitchfork—a real one, not some toy that accompanies a devil costume or an “American Gothic” backdrop—and slide its tongs along the ground, lifting a loose thatch of pale gold strands. You’re not 12 years old, no, and that’s fine. Your 12-year-old self wouldn’t have imagined or appreciated this quite the same way.