My nephew Christian walked into my parents house a week or so ago, wearing a smile and a goose and a duck call hanging around his neck.
Farm kids of my growing up days didn't usually go to camp. While I heard stories from my city-raised friends about going to Boy Scout camp or Girl Scout Camp or church camp or Elks camp, I never was presented with the opportunity. But, boys like me had summer camp in a different manner.
Summer was a time when we went visiting our cousin's, aunt's and uncle's farms. Every one of them I ever visited for a few days provided a kind of "farm camp." One would find themselves in a new environment. New rooms in the house, new barns, new livestock, new creeks to wade and new hills to climb. New ways of doing things.
I learned how to tie knots at the back of a John Deere 14T baler. When the knotter broke, I was designated to walk behind the baler, catch the twine when the bale presented itself and make a hard and fast knot. It called for timing, hand to eye coordination, brute strength and a good set of legs for keeping up with the moving baler. My knots didn't always stay tied, but most did and my uncle said I had done a good job, all things considered. I thought my uncle gave me a rather motivating speech about my knot tying.
I learned a lot about livestock on my uncle's farms. I learned how much grain and hay fat cattle ate in a day. It was a huge amount. I also learned how to take the horns off a steer and how to insert a needle for vaccination. I felt like a hospital intern when I finished with that job, complete with blood stained shirt and sweat dripping off my forehead. It made me feel good to have not grown horns.
My cousins and I learned about wildlife and the creatures that inhabited our farm country. We caught tadpoles in the creek and watched them grow legs in an aquarium at home. We picked a stem of milk weed with a Monarch chrysalis dangling from underneath a leaf and put it in a jar and watched the green, jeweled chrysalis finally open and produce a beautiful butterfly. I think it was one of the things I remember as really being a real miracle.
My swimming training was usually limited to a livestock watering tank. It was tough to get your swimming stroke down in 6 feet of distance and where you touched bottom constantly, but one could get the idea of buoyancy if you really tried.
Calling cattle or hogs required a bit of training as well. Each of my uncle's used a different call to get the critters started toward the barn. The calls I used at our farm didn't work over in Westfield. The cows would just lift their heads and look at you unless you used the right language. Some of my uncles used language that wouldn't fit in a church sermon and I tried those words a few times out where no one could hear me. They worked.
Camp cooking was provided by my aunts and grandmother, but none was done over an open fire. The fine cuisine provided at those farm tables would rival any five-star restaurant anywhere in the world. All handmade and delicious. It widened my horizon when it came to eating and I suffer from that malady to this day. Everything tastes good.
I attended many farm camps over the years and learned lessons at all of them. I just never came home with a new goose and duck call hanging around my neck. For that, I am envious of Christian. Most of what I brought home to remember my experience by was scar tissue.
Ah, farm camp, a real time of fun and learning.
See you next time. Okay?
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