Farm living provides lessons in living

In all of my vast years on this planet, I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge about different subjects. In some of them, I even consider myself an expert.

I?m a whiz at changing diapers, pretty good at Photoshop and graphic design. I can hurl myself down a mountain with a couple of pieces of fiberglass strapped to my feet and manage not to kill myself.

My family and friends tell me that I?m an excellent cook. When I go fishing, I?m the best rock and branch catcher you ever saw, and when I shoot, I?m a pretty decent shot.

Perfection, right? I can just rest on my laurels and coast on through life. That would be too boring. I?ve always been one to say that the day I stop learning at least one new thing a day is the day I die. Farm life gives me remark?able new opportunities to learn more.

As you?ve read before, I learned to make sure my feet were out of the way before I stab a pitchfork into the ground. I learned not to go out to the chicken coop wearing flipflops and bright toenail polish.

I?ve been learning a lot about cooking with cast iron. First, never ever ever use plastic spoons or spatulas in it.

Second, when your dutch ovens?which were stored in the camping bus?got flooded and rusty, it?s going to take a heck of a lot of elbow grease and seasoning to get them back to normal.

Third, when you use the pan that?s big enough to take up two units on the stove, be sure to turn on both units.

Lastly, if you?re going to use them as a husbandly ?correction device? I recommend a wrist brace.

Creatures, however, present the most opportunities for learning. Take, for example the three raccoons that were eating the barn cats? food the other night, while the cats looked placidly on.

I couldn?t take a shot at them because not only were they around the cats, but they were next to a metal grain bin and I didn?t want to risk the ricochet. They were less than 10 feet from my coop, but I guess the cat food keeps them from the prospect of fresh chicken.

Who would have thought?

I?ve had quite a history with creepy crawlies. I managed to get used to snakes, at least the big slow-moving boas and pythons. The ones out here took a little bit longer. I know they provide a valuable service on the farm, so I try to leave them alone, and they seem to return the favor.

Bugs are another matter. I really don?t like bugs. Sure, I managed to take off my glasses and gently place a praying mantis back onto a plant after it had landed on my temple without getting the screaming heebie jeebies. I still love to see the ?ladybug nurseries? when all the eggs hatch in spring.

Bees are great. You don?t bother them and they won?t bother you. We had a hive swarm into one of our trees last year and I got almost close enough to touch them. They just buzzed around me, no stings at all.

Spiders, however, are another matter. I?ve done the brown spider dance when I found one in my clothes as a kid. I?ve done the brown spider shuffle when one bit me in the leg and I could barely move that leg.

When I lived in Texas, I did the tarantula disco. See, I used to work in a gym and sometimes a tarantula would get in. I was afraid to step on them because I thought they?d rip my shoe off and hit me back, so I got good at shooing them into a trash can and taking them outside. Did you know that they jump? I do now.

Apparently the recent snap of warm weather kicked all of our garden spiders into gear. Sure, I know they?re beneficial, too. But let me speak with the voice of experience here. One of the most important tools you can own on the farm is a spider stick.

What, you ask, is a spider stick? It?s a simple stick, forked or unforked, about 3 feet long that you wave in front of yourself as you walk along, especially after dark.

I neglected to take my spider stick on a foray down to one of the chicken pens the other day. Wouldn?t you know it, I walked smack dab, face first into what just might have been the world?s strongest spider web?with the spider in the middle of it.

I think I did a week?s worth of cardio workout in the next 10 seconds. I was flailing at my head, dancing around like a bee on a hot brick, and generally trying to rid myself of the ?ick? factor.

As soon as I got the web out of my hair, it clung to my hands and arms. Trying not to gag, I finally cleared the impediment and looked around for the nearest stick.

I think I?m softening up, though. There?s a spider that lives in the screen porch and respects my space. I have named him Webley. As long as I don?t walk into his web, we?re good.

Don?t forget your sticks, my friends!