J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 3-7-11
March 7, 2011
Back when I first started farming, I dreaded the sunset. Not its beauty, but the fact that it meant the day was coming to an end.
The end of the day was like an enemy. Not because I didn’t like the day, but because there were so many things I wanted to do and get done, that the end of the day meant I had to wait until tomorrow.
As I got older, however, I noticed that I slowly went from dreading the end of the day, to looking forward to it. After about 20 years farming, I started thinking about my easy chair as early as late afternoon, and when I turned 60, the end of the day became a good old friend. There have been days lately when I started to look forward to the end of the day long before lunch. I guess that, if you get to the point where you start looking forward to the end of they day before you get up in the morning, it’s time to retire.
Well, back in the day when I thought nothing of running a tractor for a couple days straight to work ground ahead of an approaching storm, or bale alfalfa at night, and then bale grass during the day for three or four days in row, back in those days, I sometimes took a nap in the field. The shady side of a haystack was good. I had a net that went over my head to keep the bugs off my face and I pulled the bill of my cap down a bit to provide a little darkness, as, like many farmers, I have a hard time sleeping when the sun is up.
On one of these naps, back in the early, or mid-1970s, I had a good spot on the shady side of a haystack and fell asleep like a tree falling in the forest. Sometime later, I woke up to something nibbling on one of my ears. I opened my eyes on the face of a fawn, the cutest, sweetest creature I’d ever seen that close. It was a dream, of course. Or was it?
I sat up, quickly deducing it was not a dream, which gave me a real startle, but didn’t startle the fawn in the least. Instead, the fawn did a little dance and then came right to me, going for my fingers, sucking on them like a bottle calf.
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I wanted to holler to someone to go get a movie camera, but like many Kodak moments, this one was out in the middle of nowhere with no one around.
I stood, the fawn nuzzling me and then following me to my truck. When I raised my arms and said, “Shoo! Shoo!” the fawn backed up and did the dance again, playing with me. I managed to get into my truck and drive away, but had to hit the gas pretty good to leave the fawn behind.
Mystified by this encounter, and concerned the fawn would make an easy target when it grew up and tried to nuzzle the muzzle of .222, I called the DOW.
“Oh yeah,” said the ranger from our game management district. “We bottle fed an orphan fawn, and released it about a week ago in your area.”
“What about the obvious?” I asked.
“It usually takes a little time, but the fawn should go back to the wild.”
A few days later I saw the fawn in the barrow ditch where she’d landed after being hit by a vehicle.
I buried her at sunset.