In our old stanchion shed in the United States, there was a large fan built into the wall. The blades turned quickly and the image of the calf hutches outside flickered behind it. One of the first lessons I remember being taught, as a child, was not to stick my hand inside. At the same time, I also recall sometimes finding pieces of cat next to the fan. It was more puzzling than upsetting, even at that age.
I had always considered the typical farm cat to be a steady, grounded animal that was still around because of its savvy and will to survive in a tough environment. Nonetheless, every once in a while, one would feel compelled to jump through the fan and all that would come out might be a head and a front leg. “Cat,” I would ask as I bent over the remnants, “what were you thinking?”
There’s a video that’s been floating around the internet for the last several years of a man baling himself into a large square bale. The resolution is low and the video is shaky, which somehow makes it more convincing. He sets the tractor into gear, jumps out of the cab, and then takes his pants off and flings them into the air. Then he climbs into the baler and disappears. In a few seconds the bale rotates out with him inside it, only his limbs sticking out. He runs around flapping his arms, while the camera man giggles uncontrollably.
“Man,” I ask out loud to my computer screen, “what were you thinking?”
My sister’s bike was sitting on the porch. It was small and pink, and probably had the word “Princess” or something like it painted on the frame
When I was younger, another enigmatic event occurred. It must have affected me, because the memory still stands clear. Our family was going out to do chores, as we did every day at that time. My sister’s bike was sitting on the porch. It was small and pink, and probably had the word “Princess” or something like it painted on the frame. There was a metre drop off from the end of the porch to the lawn.
All of a sudden, my father jumped on the bike and pedalled as fast as he could. He gritted his teeth, hunched over, his knees sticking out. The handlebar streamers flapped wildly in the draught.
He rode the bike off the porch.
He landed squarely. For the briefest moment, we thought he would be ok – until the momentum of his weight flung him over the front tyre. He was lying in a pile on the ground. The rest of us gathered and stood over him silently. I knew, then, that farming was a complex act.
Farming, in all its kinds, contains rhythms that repeat every day and every season. One is feeding something every morning, or planting something every spring, or harvesting something every day there’s good weather, just to do it again the next time. It requires a stable, composed man to hold up under the weight of such consistency. This person must also make logical decisions daily, without much margin for fancy or whim.
Some people turn middle-aged and buy a convertible. Unfortunately, that’s a cliché most farmers can’t afford
As humans, we create structure to organise our lives, but, at the same time, we can be overwhelmed by it. Those same rhythms of farming can wear a man down. Some people turn middle-aged and buy a convertible. Unfortunately, that’s a cliché most farmers can’t afford.
I never had much of a mechanical mind, but eventually I had to reason that a man could not survive going through a square baler. The video is probably a fake. Still, for a few moments I allowed myself to believe that it was real.
While the comments below the clip mostly capture the what-the-hell-feeling in a variety of languages, I could picture a man baling hay, as he did throughout the last few weeks and the last few decades, become overwhelmed with a feeling that he had to do something ridiculous.
I can’t claim to know what would send a steady man off the porch on a pink bicycle any more than I would of the psychology of dead cats. Still, I can imagine the need to act out and resist, in a simple and absurd way, before going back to the daily grind.