Thanksgiving Week on the Farm

Outside the kitchen window at Goose Hill is a blur of whites and grays, ending on the far side of the pond in near-black due to the shade of the pine trees reflected in already dark water. The first morning, looking out at the snowy hill down to the pond, we drank apple cider from the apple trees that grow in the fields closest to the house. Tomorrow morning, we will use the farm’s applies to bake a Thanksgiving pie.

We trudged through the snowy woods to investigate the year-old maple project, lines of light blue tubing crossing down the hill connecting the maples that we helped mark and count while the decision to launch this new business was being considered. The beech trees have been felled since we were here last, opening the path to the sky, the trunks and logs on the forest floor setting the agenda for next summer’s trip here.

We toured the maple shack where it gets processed and bought a case of real maple syrup made from the farm’s own trees. Good Christmas gifts for our friends and teachers back home who will nevermore be content with Aunt Jemima.

Yesterday, we moved a pile of rocks dumped at the edge of the road to build a Cotswald-ish wall along the shed, where tractors and ATVs sleep. Then together, the seven of us gathered – and counted – more than 5,000 black walnuts scattered across the path between the house and the barn. Grandpa promised 5 cents for every 20 walnuts, and a quick online search informed us that 100 pounds of hulled walnuts get you $15, maybe enough to pay the gas to the hulling station. So, the kids made trips back and forth in the ATV to dump them in the ravine, where they will fatten happy squirrels.

The boys have gone sledding, played football in the snow, used trees and the big red barn’s roof as targets for their snowballs.

And yet, the week feels sleepy. Nourishing in some way even before we carve the Thanksgiving bird, knowing that the comical turkeys peering in the window while we feasted last year have gone wild in the woods.

The Turkeys Grew Up

This summer, when we visited Grandma and Grandpa at Goose Hill Farm, you could hold the baby turkeys in your hands. The boys took charge of feeding them and locking them up for the night to protect them from the hawks and other wild animals prowling for meat in the dark.

Now visiting for Thanksgiving, the turkeys have grown waist-high. They are cautious, but curious. The male leads the females up to the kitchen windows, and they peer in at us from so close you can see the short hair on their heads. There are shades of pinks and light blue in the male turkey’s face. He struts and fluffs his tail feathers, a hundred different browns.

Abandoning her flock hiding from the snow, the only white chicken comes adventuring with the turkeys. We are told she prefers them and follows them around like a little sister. “Hey, wait for me!” Shorter legs racing to keep up.

But with “Turkey Day” only two days away, we expected this crew to be gone. Isn’t that the turkey’s sad story in all the picture books? In fact, for third graders at our sons’ school, the Thanksgiving homework is to take a cut-out paper turkey and “disguise” it so that it does not become part of the feast. Using any mix of materials and creativity, the kids dress their turkeys as football players, clowns, pilgrims, lions, mermaids and more.

Our youngest disguised his as a tomato plant. Very unusual and sneaky.

But the three Goose Hill turkeys don’t need a disguise. They are members of the family this Thanksgiving: the crazy uncle with warts on his nose, the cousin wobbling around the table after too much wine, and the vegetarian sister who every year, loudly mourns the poor bird.

A Summertime Social Studies Review

It is ninety degrees. When the ATVs are at rest, you can hear a hawk overhead, a deer or raccoon or fox rustling in the brush, the hum of western New York’s seasonal flies. At the top of the hill sits a white farmhouse next to an old red barn and a new shed that houses tractors, mowers and ATVs. The apple trees are failing to put forth last year’s abundance, but the blueberry bushes are showing off plump purple splendor in preparation for U Pick Free days. The hay is being harvested for the second time this year, and it is only July, promising a third cutting. And the smell of a burn pile tended by Grandpa drifts across the new north field, mingling with the scent of freshly mowed grass.

Next to the barn is a coop for the chickens, and a fleet of baby turkeys being raised to replace their wild cousins who mysteriously disappeared over the winter. They share the coop with seven motherless ducklings, who need to be coaxed to the pond at the bottom of the hill, where they merely dip their webbed feet before high-tailing it back to the safety of their coop, stumbling over eachother’s bodies in the short race uphill.

Three boys cool off in the pond. They play a war game with the goal of knocking each brother off his raft. The middle brother – inventor of games and pied-piper of fun – stands precariously rocking on a hot pink raft and yells, “This is Athens!” before collapsing off the side.

His brothers laugh, but they are not yet drawn in. He clambers back to his standing position. “This is Corinth!” Again, he splashes to his presumed death laughing in the face of a soldier’s fate.

Then again, “This is Thermopylae! We are the Greek city-states!”

His older brother, lying lazily in a tube, thoroughly un-warlike until now, raises his fist in a call to arms, “We are the Mycenaeans!”

And the little guy, not to be bested, thrashing arms and legs in a rapid paddle toward his brothers, yells, “This is Olympus! The immortal gods will destroy you all!”

Ancient battles reenacted in a pond. The birds and flies – even the breeze whispering through the maples – fall silent awaiting war’s end.

Will Work for Apple Products

It is tough to know what will motivate a thirteen year old boy. For our oldest, we have learned, it requires a lightning-strike-blue-moon combination of something he really wants and a task he thinks worthy of his effort. I used to worry that such a mystical thing did not exist. I was wrong.

He will cheerfully do farm work – hours of it – for an iPad.

Prior to our trip to Grandma’s farm, he decided he needed an iPad. We decided he needed to pay for it himself. So Grandma promised to pay him for field labor. He boasted of five-hour days in the hot sun, heavy lifting. Given the state of his room, we were doubtful.

We arrived at midnight on Saturday, and he woke early Sunday ready to get going. But Sunday at Goose Hill Farm is reserved for reading the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. We toured the property – new leases, new projects. We discussed plans for a maple-tapping venture. We met the new baby chickens, ducks and turkeys. Watered the vegetable garden from a bucket and working well. The boys rode the ATVs.

It was a slow, easy morning. But as we walked back to the house for lunch, our son grinned proudly, “only three hours of work to go!”

The concept of “work” clearly had to be redefined. Ten minutes of watering plants? Yes. Two hours riding ATVs across the gorgeous countryside? No.

“Then what can I do?!”

Day Two. Fed the birds. Collected eggs. Watered gardens. Hauled logs. Helped clear fields and put out a very dramatic brush fire. Transported tools. Drove the tractor. Wrote out his invoice. Five hours of real work.

Day Three. Up, dressed and out to the chicken coop while the coffee was still brewing. He is a boy transformed.

I Almost Forgot

Family life stole something from me that I had almost forgotten until this week vacationing on a farm – a place where our three boys run from field to field, play Frisbee and baseball, ride ATVS across the countryside, help split wood for an afternoon…. And then sleep deeply for hours.

Each morning on the farm, I wake up to the sound of birds singing and the sun shining through the window. A cool breeze blowing across the sheets on the bed. I lay there peacefully for ten minutes, thirty or more, soaking it in.

Fresh air. Quiet.

No dog paws clicking across the hardwood floor, or growling at the bottom of the bed. “Time to go out.”

No child tugging at the blanket, morning breath in my face, by 6:00 a.m. “Mom, I’m bored!” “I’m hungry!” “Are you awake?” “Can you come downstairs?”

No list of errands.

Just me. My muscles slowly stretching. My brain turning on one thought at a time. The singing birds. The sun for a few moments before it all begins.

A Little Bit Country

My nine year old belongs in wide, open spaces. I thought it was just the beach – the soothing sound of the waves and the ability to traipse across the soft sand with no one telling him what to do. I thought he was just a boy who needed time alone with his thoughts. He ponders.

But then we spent a week on his grandmother’s farm. It is more than 200 acres of gorgeous hay fields, fruit trees and a big red barn with bats hanging from the rafters. He spent hours on the tractor putt-putting slowly across the farm. He was the messenger, speeding up on the ATV when his Dad got the tractor stuck in the mud. He was independent, unafraid, even heroic that day. He became a larger-than-life version of himself.

At home, in the city where we live, and where his classmates tend to be more sophisticated than he is, he is quieter. He stays close to mom or dad. He seems to prefer video games over real adventure. He sometimes withdraws into himself where, I realized during our week on the farm, his daydreams provide him with a wider terrain — the grassy fields or sandy beaches where the tide recedes for a mile.

My son is a farmer, a beachcomber, a frontiersman.

And knowing that, I count the days for him until our next trip from home — to where the world is as vast and beautiful as the quiet place he typically travels to in his mind.