It Is Not a Toy

For a farmer living in seasonal suburbia—where we are surrounded by farm-themed places, where it is OK to lick all the equipment providing you pay first—the rhetorical question is just how far you let the trespassers go.

Using the word “trespasser” gets people’s attention. It is a word that implies menace if not malice. It is the additional charge they throw at a criminal when he is caught in the act of doing something much naughtier. What happens on a farm is different, and those I have apprehended say this: that they were appreciating the beauty, that they were just taking it all in, that they couldn’t resist and meant no harm. The sun going down, the uninterrupted horizon and the vast spread of fertile ground before them is an unplanned pilgrimage; a great spirit beckons them to get out of the car and descend, or ascend, into it. How can I blame them? When you are moved, how can one stop to ask permission?

Tractors are magnets to children, and maybe it isn’t fair to park them on our front lawn; but that isn’t a lawn, that is where we park the tractors (suburban words don’t translate well). Still many people use their children as a foil to do something wrong. They will explain that they just had to let their harmless child—who by no fault of its own was not born on a farm—touch, climb on, sit in, a real tractor. For my part I cringe when I see the flash of fleshy, chubby skin near the Case IH, and I shoo them off, saving them 10 stitches and me a lawsuit, saying, “It is not a toy.”

Another kind of trespasser is the one who dons his camera as if it were either a ticket, or a magic cap, something to make him invisible enough that he may snap pictures of barns and shadows and broken equipment that hasn’t moved in 20 years. It is hard to repel these folks and families, because in your heart, or at least in mine, I am thankful that they think it’s worthy of a memorable minute or two. I want that child to be bitten by the farming bug right then, I want the snapshot to inspire restraint. But is there any chance of that happening? Isn’t it more likely that this place is no more significant than a souvenir shop, where they have stopped while trying to grasp the significance of something quasi-historic; a working farm.

I would not have written this article were it not for the fact that most of these trespassers are indignant when I point out their indiscretion. They are actually in my backyard, which is a chicken yard, with lots of chicken “spas.” These dusty excavations for avian repose are ankle breakers for those oblivious to the uneven footing of farm life. It looks safe, and pretty, but it’s busy and private.

 Marilee Foster farms and writes in Sagaponack.