The other day I was forging ahead in the battle against gravity and mutant genes and musing about the way time warps.
I was out for a walk to get some air and circulation of blood and life force and inspiration from nature and trees and things. I saw a bumper sticker on a car that said, “Keep the country country.” Good, I like that. Yes, there is something about fresh air and sunshine and trees and things. Yes, we need to breathe. I, too, like the country.
Ah, Topanga. Yes, it is a little bit country here, but as I walked, I thought about the time I spent a summer in the country. Our neighbors down the street had moved there from Topanga. They got a little farm with a few fields and a cow for milk and cream for making butter and ice cream. I will never forget that beautiful Jersey cow, because one time, to go with the chocolate cake, we drank her delicious cream by mistake instead of the milk, and because I grew three whole inches that summer— that’s a lot of inches for me—so ever since then, I am convinced that the most right and best thing in the world is fresh milk and to be a farmer for a living.
I’m sure there must have been chickens, too, because I seem to remember gathering eggs, but I can’t remember where. There was a barn and I think some pheasants or guinea hens lived in there with the cow when she wasn’t out to pasture. There were goats, too, in the front field along the street. I remember because we would ride the ponies there with no bridles and let them go and do whatever they did and just hang on tight. My pony would chase and herd the goats, whether he had been trained that way or was just a natural born cutting horse, or just liked annoying goats, I can’t say.
Oh, and there were doves. Of course, I remember the doves because one day there were visitors and while my friend was demonstrating “Hi-O Silver, Away!“ on her pony, Tiger, her little sister and I accidentally let a dove out trying to play with it and catch it. When the discovery was made, it caused quite a stir, and though the dove was eventually re-cooped, the parents were really hot to to set things straight and we were too scared to say anything. At the time I wasn’t aware, but Johnny their brother was the one who got the whoopin’. I still owe John for that one.
One day a small herd of calves was added to the menagerie, that had to be bottle fed for a while and that was one of our chores. One young guy didn’t like the idea and we had to wrestle him down and pretty much stuff his face. He fought like crazy. Funny thing was he was the one who made the most noise when it came time to wean them. He cried and cried for his bottle. Creatures are funny.
When I think of that, it reminds me of how my dog would escape and disappear and go and visit with the neighbors when she got wind of the fact that it was bath time—like she was about to catch heck for all the disgusting and potentially fatal things she tasted and rolled in while out sniffing and then coming and trying to slurp it across my face and rub onto me. Once apprehended, after tons of groveling and being heavy as she could be while being lifted into the tub and bathed, it was funny that she was so happy to be all clean.
Despite the lack of civilized diversions on the farm there was plenty to do besides the chores. There was the pond where we could swim when there was enough water in it for about a week or two after the irrigation water came ‘round in the ditch every month to fill it and the cistern and flooded the fields. There was another pond, too, that had water in it all the time, along with some sort of inedible fish and a lot of plants and things, but you couldn’t swim or even wade in that one, no matter how hot it was, because there were also leeches in there.
There was also, of course, my pony pal, Bear, from Topanga and horseback riding. These were memorable times when things happened. One time we were galloping along full speed, which was not uncommon—and, Lo! Suddenly, right in our path is a cattle guard, one of those pits dug across the road covered with a bridge of slatted boards with huge gaps between them. A pony running across one of those would surely snap a leg when a hoof went in a gap. I screamed bloody murder as we approached and so Bear took a flying leap and cleared that thing like a steeplechaser. Somehow, he seemed to know what the screaming was about or else he already knew what a cattle guard was. Well, I never felt so much relief in all my life. Shooting a horse with a broken leg would be a terrible thing, especially your best pal in all the world.
Bear did seem to know a lot. Like another time we were out riding, he decided that he had enough for the day. You always knew when Bear had had enough because he would go into “go-home” mode. Go-home mode started when, suddenly, wherever you were and whatever you were doing, he would come to a sliding stop, drop his head and spin. If you were still on his back or his neck or wherever, all you could do from that point on was to hang on as best you could and hope you made it home alive. Even if you were pretty far away, it usually didn’t take very long because of the speed and because there was nothing could stop him and because he would take shortcuts.
This one time, Bear cut this big corner in the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] road by going across a field and somewhere in the middle of it was this big mess of barbed wire. I didn’t even see it in the grass until suddenly he stopped and wouldn’t move. Then I looked down and was horrified at the thought of what kind of shreds his legs were in. I got down, almost in tears, but was able to get him untangled and out of there unscathed. I marveled at his wisdom in not moving, as he seemed fully aware of what he had got himself into. He really did seem to know a lot. In fact, my Dad used to say that everything I knew I learned from my pony.
So, as I walked, I thought about this other time and other things that happened in the country. The overnight rides when my friend’s sister’s sleeping bag fell into the water as we jumped over the irrigation ditch and how it froze in the night. And the time we trailered the horses way up in the mountains and rode to where there was this high valley with a beautiful lake where I took Bear swimming. That was an awesome ride. And there was the ride to the little airstrip and the trips down the road to the hog farm and the taxidermist.
What a wonderful adventure that life in the country, such as Topanga, offers a taste and a longing for. I remember going to town in those days, and how surprised I was that the new supermarket had this thingy that read the price label mark on products right into the cash register by way of a new-fangled device. Wow! I remember how my friend’s mom had just got a microwave oven. A what?
Funny how, in those days, that country town was way ahead of Topanga time! I wonder what it’s like there now.
By Alice Vickers