making steers

Thursday, April 4:

   The three little bulls in the white barn have been scheduled for castration for over a week.  Today the deed was finally done, and as it happened, done by the farm science class, who are to a man (woman) a game bunch.  They were in the thick of things, hanging on to kicking legs and tossing heads, loading the castrator with its thick little bands like tiny rubber doughnuts, passing gloves and taking the lid off the jar of caustic (nasty stuff if you get it on your skin), and with never a sign of the revulsion or squeamishness which characterize the usual stereotype “city” or “feminine” response to violence, surgery, or poop.

   Not that I was surprised.

   Perhaps if they were not so obviously interested in the work, so demonstrably eager to experience and learn, perhaps if their attraction to an elemental connection with their world and their food were not so obvious, this lack of squeamishness would be surprising.  As it is, these women have been showing up week after week to get splashed with urine, daubed with manure, smeared with blood — and other things; to get mud on their boots and dirt under their fingernails, to be poked by inquisitive steers and stung by defensive bees, to introduce various bacteria into various plant and animal products, watch the resulting mixture ferment, and then eat it; what’s one more encounter with biology in the raw to them?

   One box of tomatoes was pricked out into flats; there are three more to be done, and about thirty little bell pepper seedlings.  It is interesting to note that while the tomatoes, once their leaves begin to touch those of their neighbors, will put their energy into vertical growth, the peppers seem to have no such need for personal space, and jostle one another in dark green glossy familiarity.  This would seem to lend some peripheral support to the account of one prize pepper-grower who, asked why her peppers were so productive, indicated their close planting space and said simply, “They like to rub shoulders with their friends.”

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