A Farm, In Five Senses

by Robert A. Miller


The barn, the weeping willows, the long winding dirt road that curved past the chicken coops, out beyond a swinging gate, alongside an abandoned green barn, and out straight to the shimmering fields beyond. The crystal clear, blue lake, half covered by concrete, half mud, with lily pads in the back, and frogs and sunning snakes. The green flat grassy ground with blankets all over it on weekends, with families sitting and picnicking. The sky, blue, with wispy mare’s tails. The farm house, white, long and sprawling, with stone steps down to the kitchen where the men ate, and the clanking of cups and metal pitchers was the sound we all longed for after a hard morning. The house—long, white, a line of windows along the ground floor, looking into the sitting rooms that had games to play and fat cushioned chairs. The back porch, with a fine black screen, looking out at the asphalt, the tennis court, and the barn.


The fragrant morning air, tinted by flowers and soft breezes in summer. The barn smells, which hit you like a blow at the entrance to the dark cool interior. The dry smell of hay in the hay barn, reached by either climbing up a wood ladder from the barn, brushing away cobwebs and  breezes of hay bits; or the same smell walking into the huge open door, accessed by trudging up an incline that trucks and wagons backed up on to deliver the hay. The clean water smell at the pond, sometimes poignantly accented with chlorine. The fresh grass smells in newly mowed fields, especially a field on the right of the path to the lake—long stretches of lush green grass that the cows ate—once until several of them that had wandered into the field died from eating too much.


The full woody taste of beef in cream sauce during the lunches in the downstairs kitchen. The taste of ice cream and ices that we sucked on and licked walking in the dark of night along the road back to the farm, having bought them at a machine outside the grocery store in the nearby town of Wallkill. The taste of my first kiss, outside the farmhouse, behind the garage. How sweet were her full lips, the blond girl from town who made the beds and cleaned up for Mrs. Lucht. The taste of fresh corn on Sundays, when all the dads were still with us—Sunday lunch, the dining room crammed with families, perhaps 50 or 60 people, and calls for more corn, more corn. And the full yellow kernels, bursting with my bites, with butter dripping and salt sprinkled. The water, warm and noncommittal, in a flat puddle in the middle of the dirt road, on the hottest day of the summer, and I, so thirsty, thirstier than I had ever been, breaking through my inhibitions, leaning over, putting my lips on the surface of the puddle, and drinking with the greatest satisfaction.


The prickly ends of cut hay, the long side of a hay bale, biting into my forearms as I lifted the bale to muscle it up onto the next level of packing. These sharp ends left scrapes and cuts in patterns on my arms, which took days to heal. The incredibly painful sharp blow—the sting of a bumblebee in the top of my head in front of the chicken coop on a hot summer afternoon, me standing in the dirt and in a rage, jumping up high enough to stamp down to his death the large slow moving appearing to be stupid bumble bee. The feel of the coolest clearest water ever on my lips, as it shimmered in a tin cup left by the side of a tiny pool in a hidden place in the fields. The feel of the wind in my face as the red farmer’s truck sped along the road with me riding in its bed.


The wailing, the lowing, the high, despairing and resigned mooing of cows in their pens in the long barn. The sounds in the barn of tin milk cans clanking along when they were empty and clunking along when they were full. The laughter of the men, of great fat Ollie Atkins, a kind of braying, loud and unafraid—a kind of hee haw hee haw that stopped everything in its tracks. The sound of the rustling tall grasses in the fields when we ran through them, six or seven of us kids, and our laughter and screams and excited talk. The growl of the truck when it started in cold mornings, exhaust pluming from its tailpipe. The sound of my mother, calling me—her voice cutting though the day or night. The clucking of  hordes of  chickens in the chicken coop,  as I approached them—first at normal rhythm, then, as I got closer, slower, warier, and finally nearly suspended until I ran at them and they exploded in shrieks of clucking. The quacking of geese, especially the tiny ones that followed me in a triangular formation, thinking I guess that I was their mother. They followed me day after day, clucking happily, I hope.

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