Perfect is…Not

Living life in a Plan “B” world

 John Lennon once said something to the effect that life is what happens when you’re making plans. I used to envy those who seemed to have all their plans locked up tight, marching down a straight path toward “the goal.” Most people I know are a lot like me (law of attraction?) – walking about with some general plans, stumbling onto something, pursuing it, and hoping that it all works out. And when it doesn’t? Well, that’s what Plan “B” is all about.

My daughter, Hannah, and I are crazy about a movie/documentary entitled “Buck.” It details the life an abused boy who grew up to be one of the foremost horse trainers in the U.S. today. In-bedded in the film is a quote from Buck’s foster mom – “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”

Flexibility, though a necessary part of anyone’s attributes, seems to be getting rarer these days. I think it’s linked with compromise in a lot of peoples’ minds and we all know how foreign that concept is. We don’t seem to want our politicians to compromise, we want our food to be uncompromised, and we’ll give no quarter to anyone who negotiates anything. All the sudden, one of the chief attributes of America’s civic life for the last 200 years is about to collapse. We now cater to the extremes.

Of course, there was that Civil War thing. Civil war is pretty much a struggle for a “reboot.” Sometimes those reboots in life are necessary, but they are always costly. And they always involve unintended consequences. In other words, lots of Plan “B’s.”

It’s almost never what we know that trips us up, it’s what we should have known, what we didn’t see, the things we had no earthly idea about. And then we are afflicted with the COWS of life – could ‘a, ought ‘a, would ‘a, and should ‘a. Isn’t it amazing how clear we can see things in hindsight – maybe. Except we keep making the same mistakes.

John Calvin, the Reformation theologian, wrote that the human imagination is an idol factory. Soren Kierkegaard put a little kinder – we’re all walking around with a God-sized hole in our lives that we keep seeking to fill. My observation of God is that he relentlessly seeks us out, destroying the idols we continue to fill our lives with, until we see him.

Like Dante, the Poet/Pilgrim of the Divine Comedy, we find ourselves in a dark wood, with the path to the light blocked by terrors and the only way out is through. And that is when God gives us our Virgil, our guide.

Life is not meant to be lived alone. In the creation myth, Adam is created first purposefully so he can realize the pain of loneliness. Eve completes Adam (Adam completes Eve?). Human companionship is a requisite part of beginning to be whole. As an aside, the reason we are all Plan “B” people is because our first parents – A&E – messed it up. They wanted the still more mythical, mystical “more” – knowledge, and with knowledge, choices. Want to make someone miserable? Give them an overabundance of choices.

The gift that we can give another is the gift of companionship. But therein lies the shoals upon which we run aground. The best description of marriage I’ve run across goes like this – two shipwrecks looking for a safe harbor. We’re like a group of porcupines seeking warmth on a cold night. The closer they get, the greater the chance of pain. Companionship, friendship, love, they all have the same capacity for causing pain.

And so what do we do? Forgive. Woe the person who bears every wrong ever done them. They will destroy everything around them. We all have forgiveness issues, because we are all Plan “B” people. But being able to forgive someone even when they do not, will not, ask for it is the most freeing thing one can do. Forgiveness in this realm is the surrender of the right to vengeance. It doesn’t mean being a doormat. It does entail loving yourself enough to love your neighbor correctly.  And when someone asks for it, grant them the mercy of forgiveness.  “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Jesus always has a way of making the point clear.

It means seeking forgiveness when we inevitably screw up in life.  The Prayer Book states that God’s chief attribute is to have mercy. The COWS of life will haunt us to our graves unless we release the bitterness, forgive, and accept forgiveness. It will certainly mean finding someone to walk the path with us, however imperfect they maybe. And it may mean going through a dark wood, facing the fears, failings, and idols of our lives in order to emerge in the light of an Easter that is waiting for us.





Foxes, Snakes, and Owls: Critters I Have Known

I was on the last of my chores this evening. My job is to gather all the eggs from our chickens while Hannah does the feeding and Grace waters the stock. It’s a pretty efficient operation and one I’m glad to have help with. As I got out of the truck, I could hear the some of the chickens making a rather loud ruckus just on the other side of the henhouse.

As I investigated I saw a chicken on the other side of the electric poultry netting. Nothing unusual there. And then I looked down toward the woods where the gully begins and saw the reason for the loud alerts – a fox at the edge of the woods. He moved back into the woods and I decided to linger. After a few minutes, he came out again, wandering around without a care in the world, a nice size red fox totally oblivious to my presence.

At this point, all I could do was watch. He progressed along, scenting the air and turned to walk away from the henhouse. And so I spoke. Foxes are pretty sly animals, so when I get the chance to startle them, I take it. With my gun hopelessly far away, the fox simply received a lesson in observation. Next time, it may learn a lesson in shot placement.

One of the first things I learned when I was a young boy on the farm is that chickens are vulnerable to attack from a lot of animals. When I started raising a lot of chickens, I found out just how many.

I’ve never had a cow or a sheep kill a chicken. Foxes are a given; raccoons, and possums, sure. But have did you know a black snake will decimate a group of week-old chicks? Or that a skunk will move from the eggs in the nest box to the chicken laying them. And please, don’t let a chicken wander into the pigpen.

Winged predators are a special problem, since most of them are protected by law. But I will say that if one was to shoot a hawk in a tree with a 30-06 at about 80 yds, the feathers will keep fluttering down for a good 5 minutes or so. Owls typically like the heads; they perform a surgically clean decapitation leaving the rest of the body untouched.

And then there are buzzards. Normally a good thing, they can easily become a mob. Last year I had one take up residence in a broiler house. Seems like he wanted to dine in. His invitation was short lived. This year they’ve been worse than any other predator, killing piglets and broiler chickens. It sometimes comes in waves.

But by far, the foxes have been the most interesting. Our farm of 145 acres is well over half wooded. There are very few places that are more than 150 yards from a tree line. We have two types of foxes in this part of the country; grey and red. I’m told the greys are native and the reds were brought in for sport. I mostly see reds, and some that look as though they’ve intermingled.

They are mostly nocturnal; a fox seen after 10am is sick and possibly rabid. They mostly stay in the woods and hunt there. But every once in a while, one gets lazy and calls for a take out chicken dinner. That’s when Mr. Remington and I go to work. I remember going out to the far field one night to check on the chickens there. They had been hit pretty hardly lately and I was trying to get the critter. I turned the corner in the field just behind a fox who was pleasantly trotting along, heading for my chickens. He didn’t make it.

This year I began building a new chicken facility in February. As I began working, I noticed that an old groundhog hole (no, they don’t eat chickens either) had been worked up. The clay dirt stood out against the snow. I went to investigate and confirmed my suspicion – a fox had moved in. All this 200 yards from my new chicken house.

I declared war. Within a couple weeks, the foxes (3) had been cleared out, and groundhogs now happily (?) live in their old residence.

A fox is sly, but it is also curious. This curiosity is what usually does them in. Being one of the top predators in this area, they are not accustomed to running away unless given good reason to. I’ve had them sit at the edge of a field and watch me bale hay in the late evening. I like the company. I’ve also had them stalk me in the woods, as I was deer hunting. I didn’t like that.

The only other creature in our menagerie of predators is the bobcat. I’ve never seen him. But I hear him. He does not live here, but hunts here occasionally. And when he kills, its as though the plagues of Job descend. I’ve picked up over 120 dead chickens after one of his nights on the hunt. If it moves, he kills it. And then he’ll go and I won’t have any trouble for 6 months, 2 years, whatever. But he’s always around, waiting for his turn.