The view from the breakfast table, 8:30 AM, several days before the Kalends of August, AD 2012, (2765 Ab Urbe Condita “after Rome’s foundation”).
Hoc erat in votis: modus agri non ita magnus,
hortus ubi et tecto vicinus iugis aquae fons
et paulum silvae super his foret. auctius atque
di melius fecere. bene est. nil amplius oro,
Maia nate, nisi ut propria haec mihi munera faxis.
This was among my prayers: a piece of land, not too too big,
With a garden, and a spring near the house,
And above them a little bit of forest stand. More and
Better the gods brought to pass. It’s fine. I ask nothing more,
O son born of Maia, except that you make these gifts last.
Horace, one of Rome’s greatest poets and perhaps second only to Vergil, once wrote a wonderful satire that contrasted his harried life in Rome with the quiet retreat of his Sabine estate. Now Horace moved in the highest circles in Rome, and the ancient biographer of the Caesars, Suetonius, could actually cite letters that still existed exchanged between Augustus, Rome’s first emperor (if one does not count Julius Caesar), and Horace. Maecenas, a friend of Augustus, was Horace’s patron, and for his exceptional talents and poetry bestowed upon him an estate in the Sabine land, and he celebrated the peace and beauty of his land in his works. Presumably there were plenty of slaves to help work it, so of course, for Horace it was a quiet retreat. Our place in the country is a bit different: the only slavery is that self-imposed on ourselves, we have no time for poetry, and no patron bestowed our farm on us – we have a mortgage. And this past week more closely resembled the hustle-bustle life in Rome rather than the dulce otium of Horace’s terra Sabina.
For starters, we were and are dealing with a major outbreak of scours among our goats and suspect either worms or coccidiosis, so are spending an hour and a half or so each day administering sulfa, probios, and electrolytes. Lori holds them and opens their mouths and I squirt the meds into their mouths. They are remarkably cooperative and patient, especially given that we need to withhold grain to give their rumens (okay, I’m a good Latinist so I should say rumina!) a break. Bleach and Clorox rule our lives as we try to maintain a healthy level of sanitation, and to wash off the sticky baths we take in molasses and stevia which we use to help sweeten the medicine and make the situation more pleasant for the goats. Again, all I can think about as I do this is the wisdom of the ancients and it is quite humbling. Goats and all livestock are both incredibly robust and incredibly fragile. Even modern organic farms need to worm and treat for coccidiosis regularly, and for us it is just a matter of the welfare of our animals. But the Greeks and Romans (or any other of the ancients) did not have ivermectin, probios, or sulfa dimethoxine – they had herbs, transhumance, and strong animals. They changed pasture to avoid illness (caused by parasites about which they had no clue) and culled weak animals mercilessly. We instead administer meds and try to keep clean pens and feeders; milk stands are bleached, as are the rags we use to clean animals messed up with runny manure. We spend time talking to friends about dosages, composing emails to them asking about how many days to medicate, and to seek advice on homeopathic remedies. And that is just the goats.
Then there are our obnoxious ducks, who are verging on “processing”; before we do that, however, we really want to fatten them up with some nice succulent fruit to give them a good finish. We give them the now overripe cherries from our trees and they love them to the point where they will fight and brawl over them. The juicy black cherries transform a flock of beautiful white ducks into creatures that look something like Lavinia in Titus Andronicus post mutilation. We are waiting for the pears and apples to come in but I want the apples to make our own hard cider, so the ducks may be out of luck on that score unless we keep them long enough to turn them alcoholic, which might be an idea if we want them for fois gras. The chickens are much easier by comparison – let them out of the coop and they are content to scratch on pasture for the day as they go after bugs. They are in fact singularly dull except for the fact that they are gorgeous and regrettably underrated birds in terms of their sheer physical beauty.
The garden has also been a challenge this week – windy and dry and now that we are watering the whole thing we’ve been puzzled by problems concerning how much to water the individual crops and by what method. The only sure thing is that we can let a rainbird do its job with our oats, which take up about 25% of the garden and which we sowed this week. Monitoring moisture levels and delivering water to everything has seemingly taken over our life. In addition we are besieged by critters – and I can’t honestly tell whether it’s a rabbit, vole, or slugs – who are devouring our carrots, chard, spinach, and cabbage even as they come up. With only about 60 days chance of getting things established before winter, we are going to need to resort to trying to do the chard, spinach and cabbage from starts. Aaaargh!
Not that we are complaining; it’s more of a Maxwell Smart lament:
Chief: You know Smart, on this mission you’ll be in constant danger for your life.
Smart: And, loving it!
Because at the end of the day we are not in Rome, we are still in the Sabine land. And our commute to the barn, and our office window in the garden, and the view from the lunch room is non iam in votis sed in vitis nostris (no longer in our prayers but in our lives). So raise a toast to the chubby bald poet, the one with splayed feet and a pot belly with a slightly bawdy temperament, the one with the garlands on his temples and the cup in his hand who took his goat to fons Bandusia and taught us all something about what is best in life. You will find his wet clothes in the Temple of Neptune, a votive offering of thanks for his rescue from life’s storm.