Objets d’farm

On my drive into town each morning I pass a piece of land that was once a working farm. (Nearly all the land I pass was once working farmland, but this piece was quite recently a working farm.) For several years it was posted for sale, until not long ago someone bought it. This land is close enough to two towns that I knew it must be too expensive to farm, and I watched, every day on the way in to work, to see what would happen, whether it would become a hobby farm or be carved up into lots or left as “open space.”

Then a single house went up. There would be no major development here. Then the meadow was mowed again, which was not an improvement; I preferred the wildflowers to backyard-length grass. Last winter a set of paddocks appeared in the cleared area. Now I understood: this was to be a horsey farm.

I have nothing against horses, understand; I would love to have a pair of draft horses someday, if I can afford enough land to justify them. I’d rather keep a riding horse and ride him to work every day than drive, if that were possible or practical. It’s my appreciation and respect for horses that makes me dislike the way they are kept now. For millenia humans have bred horses for transportation and work. Our relationship with them has been based on that productive purpose. Now they are, for too many people, barely more than toys, animals that cost too much money to keep and that their owners have too little time to care for and must pay someone else more money to train, feed, groom, exercise. Once crucial to our civilization, they have become merely lifestyle accoutrements.

Bad enough, then, that the land appears to be only a playground for some (presumably) wealthy family and their expensive pet — though no worse than I had anticipated when I first saw the land for sale. But if it is to be a horse farm, I would hope to see horses and people riding them in the ample meadow, making use of the land at least for human and equine pleasure. I could take some vicarious pleasure from the movement of horse and rider as one, the easy gait of a well-bred animal. I still have not seen any horses, though. For the time being it appears to be only a pretend horsey farm.

What has appeared in the last few weeks is a piece of old farm equipment, an angular mechanical thing with spoked wheels intended to be pulled by a team. Posed artfully in the clipped grass a dozen yards back from the road, it is exactly the image of a farm in the mind of someone who has never actually worked on one. With its rich patina of rust, useless and unidentifiable, it serves as daily reminder that the days when this land was a working farm are past. Now it is farmland only in someone’s imagination. And that is a shame.

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