Isherwood: “To every farm, to what a farm is, is a farm dog”
By Justin Isherwood
A moment of silence is the right thing here, if not a touch of prayer. To propose all agriculture and farmers everywhere have a guardian. Not a guardian angel, not a spirit but a real guardian. Meaning, the farm dog, without which our lives would be less, and our sense of farm and the farm life diminished, some say by half. Some say three quarters. To every farm, to what a farm is, is a farm dog.
To this end every farm has a back lane, most likely on the way to the back forty. Along this lane is some black oak trees, wild cherry, a clump of lilac, where are buried generations of farm dogs. Dogs as tended cows, sheep, goats, chickens, coyotes, kept the wolves at bay, noxious salesmen, and watched over the kids. The dog slept under the porch, under the bed, in the case of more liberal households, on the bed. For some, it being pretty certain the Constitution of the United States omitted to include the farm dog as a full citizen, to include the right to vote. Including the bed.
It is said a farm dog feared nothing except maybe firecrackers and thunder, this the servant who announced all visitors, all intruders to the air-space of the farm. The dog attended all chores in all weather. Some could ride tractors, some could steer, whose rightful place on the seat of the pickup truck was acknowledged by everyone who had any sense of proportion, art, fairness or God.
To say life on the farm including any definition of a farm family without including the dog would be a fraud. To hope there is a farm town, perhaps in Iowa, surely somewhere in Illinois, where there are sensible people, and there exists a farm dog cemetery. Where a farm dog gets full honors, flowers, the Book of Common Prayer, a flag on the casket, if with a preference for an old quilt. Where psalms were read and at the conclusion of the services all the mourners raised their voices in a collective hymn of “here girl” or “here boy” as the case required. Somewhere in a somewhere farm town is a farm dog cemetery just to say this is so. A somewhere place, a patch of earth set aside for this citizen creature on whose advice and counsel every farmer, every farmkid depended. To admit here the woman I married, who was at best a long shot, was vouched for by my dog. Who agreed, despite the odds, to give her a try, I indebted to that dog ever since.
As much as we may espouse an Arlington for farmdogs, to be honest, the only right cemetery of the farm dog isn’t some nicely fenced in, tended-grass place with marble headstones. Instead some place of real dirt beside that lane to the back pasture, to the farm pond, the deer woods, the creek. There among the thistle, the milkweed, the quackgrass, a nice patch of asparagus, is the dog’s place. Same kind of ground as the warrior Black Hawk comes to mind, a soft maple tree perhaps, whose sap rises every spring to leak from a wind-broken branch.
It is that farmers do have reasons enough to go to a psychologist but we don’t, because of that dog. That dog sitting on the other side of the pickup. There were farm kids who learned no fear, whether rain, dark, cold, wet hay, manure chores, welder sparks or any other of the deadliest-sin chores because that dog was along.
At Garsdale Station in North Yorkshire is a statue of Ruswarp, a border collie found by his missing dead master’s side after a two week absence. The 14 year old dog died soon after. The statue is bronze and according to Wikipedia attracts as many tourists to Yorkshire Down as All Creatures Great and Small. This comes as no surprise to anyone.
There is not a family farm in the continent of North America that doesn’t comprehend the sentiment here invoked, if maybe to think the statue of a farm dog ought be less bronze and more baling wire and twine.
The cow lane of our farm on the way to tour the Back Forty is our dog alley. Something 30, maybe more, generations of farm dogs. My family’s steerage stars have been mostly border collies. Good with cattle, also baseball, not so big as to hog the bed.
They are all out there, next to the corn, watching over the irrigation. Grandfather’s “Bunker” is there, as is “Angus,” “Fluffy” (my sister named the dog), a “Max,” a “Little Mick.” Cats are buried elsewhere … rules are rules, besides there’s a nice spot under the white pines south of the barn.
I have taken to planting apple trees nearby. I hold that all cemeteries would be better for this. Seems I visit more often, and then with an apple of their earth to reflect on their lives. I am of a mind to think my place remains amongst them. To be buried unto the Second Coming, as it may be till the red giant phase of the local star, whichever occurs first, to be among them. Our collars mingled. My heroes.