County Agent Guy
I feel sorry for urban children. Most of them seem to lead normal lives, although what passes for “normal” nowadays often means being attached to a video game console immediately after emerging from the womb.
Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to operate common household appliances. For example, I recently discovered that you cannot cook sliced bologna in a DVD player. This seems like the gross underutilization of a perfectly good laser.
The main reason I pity town kids is that none seem to have access to the one resource that’s essential for a fulfilling and thrilling childhood: a barn.
A barn is commonly thought of as a confinement facility for livestock. But it’s also one of the best places for kids to grow up under free-range conditions. A barn contains a universe of playtime opportunities; the only limit is a child’s imagination.
When I was a mere youngling, our farm had a rickety old barn that was home to a menagerie of animals, ranging from the mighty (cows) to the lowly (pigs) to the clucky (chickens). And that doesn’t count the multitude of freeloaders such as cats and pigeons and sparrows and mice. That old barn sheltered more species than Noah’s ark.
The barn contained its own unique ecosystem. Our cattle and pigs ate the grain that we fed them and we, in turn, dined on pork and beef. Mice and pigeons scavenged leftovers from the livestock and the cats, in turn, operated a booming business that focused on the acquisition of rodent- and avian-based proteins.
We kids knew all about the circle of life long before anyone heard of the movie Lion King.
The main rule of playing in the barn was that there were no rules. My seven siblings and I could do almost anything we liked as long as it didn’t involve getting hurt. “If you fall and break your neck, don’t come running to me!” was the only guidance we received from our parents as we trotted toward the barn.
This lack of regulations was liberating. For instance, we were free to climb the barn’s wall ladder to whatever height we liked. If you were a smaller child, a rung or two might be enough. But if you were a testosterone-addled adolescent, the sky (in this case, the rafters) was the limit.
Driven by juvenile bravado, I once climbed the ladder all the way to the top. Upon reaching the apex, I clambered onto the rafters and glanced earthward. A mistake. I had stared resolutely at the barn’s wall during my ascent. Looking down, I was able to see exactly how high I was. My younger siblings seemed tiny, as if they were little kids. Which they were, but they appeared so much smaller from up there.
I realized that falling and breaking my neck wasn’t an option. Several dozen things would fracture if I fell.
I decided to go for the holy grail. Ignoring years of pigeon residue, I crawled across the diagonal rafter braces until I reached the cupola. I had gazed up at that gothic wooden structure innumerable times. At last I would get to see it from the inside and enjoy a pigeon’s-eye view!
A sweeping vista of our farmstead spread below me. The Holsteins in our cattle yard were pint-sized toys; our Leghorns looked like two-legged cotton balls. A passing cloud seemed close enough to touch.
Peering downwards, I could see the entirety of the barn’s yawning interior: the kingdom of cows and cats.
The game Hide and Seek was invented in our barn. As soon as we noticed that a mother cat had transformed from a furry cantaloupe into a four-legged stick figure, the game was afoot. Whoever found the new litter of kittens was awarded naming rights. We were lightyears ahead of modern-day corporations who expend vast sums for the privilege of slapping their names on impersonal, non-purring sporting venues.
Our Leghorns also liked to hide things. It was our mission to find the clutches of eggs that the hens had concealed throughout the barn’s labyrinthine nooks and crannies.
Some hens were surprisingly cunning, and we wouldn’t find their nests for quite a while. In those situations, we learned to be careful when collecting eggs. An egg might feel unusually light, as if it were filled with an extremely stinky gas and was about to explode. A muffled “pop!” would announce the bad news. So it was that we invented the maxim, “Last one out is a rotten egg!”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to investigate something. Because I’m pretty sure that a guy can cook bacon in a document scanner.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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