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Thursday, September 20, 2012

See the farm through the eyes of a child.

When I was a teenager, I babysat for Janet and Roger Stark. They lived down and around the bend from us on Johnston Road. They had three children: Cheryl, Michael and Laura, all married now.

Cheryl is now a beautiful young wife with a child of her own, and she is pregnant with her second. Her husband, Corey, works on the oil rigs in Alberta. They just moved into the country and have started their own little ranch with two horses, dogs and a donkey. Cheryl used to work in the pet store in town and she has always loved animals – even rats, and snakes.

When Cheryl returns to Kemptville to visit her parents, I often get a visit too. Her parents don’t have any animals at their house, and she can only go a few days before she starts to suffer from withdrawal. And now it would seem that her almost-two-year-old daughter Cadence has the same problem. She wakes up in the morning at Grandma and Grandpa Stark’s house and goes straight to the window to look for her pet donkey.

So they headed to the Fisher farm on Sunday morning. Cody the wonder dog announced their arrival.

Cheryl, tall and slim despite her burgeoning baby belly, greeted me before pulling Cadence out of her car seat. She plopped the toddler down on the ground, sturdy on tiny sneakered feet. The little girl spotted the dog and took off on a bee-line. I assured them Cody was harmless. But he did look a little worried, as he doesn’t often get approached by someone three feet tall with blonde ponytails sticking straight out from her head like Pippi Longstocking.

Dog cuddled, it was on to bigger and better adventures. Cadence took off around the front of the house, her mom and I hot on the trail. We said hello to the Farmer in the shed and continued on through to the barnyard, where the little girl announced with glee: “poop!”

Yes. We have plenty of that. I had offered barn footwear but none of it would have fit her anyway. Her white sneakers are now thoroughly broken in.

As we approached the pasture, Cady spotted Donkey. “Mommy!” she shouted, and took off on a trot. Cheryl explained that the donkey they had at home was named Molly and Cady couldn’t pronounce the “l” so Mommy was the name it got.

Donkey/Mommy took a few tentative steps closer and Cheryl lifted Cady up to pet him. Misty came over to get petted too. Cady strained and wriggled against her mother’s grip, trying to launch herself onto Misty’s back. Misty has never had anything on her back, so we couldn’t allow the little girl to get on her. It was for her own safety. Try explaining that to a two-year-old. Time for distraction. I called my tame sheep Gracie over to meet my friends.

The ewe complied, and stood still for petting, patting and the occasional ear-pull. My sheep is such a good dog. “Cady, can you say sheep?” her mother asked.

“Peep!” announced the little girl. Then, off she ran, in the direction of the rest of the herd. Smooth as a collie, she herded them into a bunch and ran them across the pasture in a wave toward the fence. The entire herd streamed through the gate and up the path to the barn. We don’t let people with dogs bring them to the farm, because a dog might get loose and run the sheep through a barbwire fence. I hadn’t considered the affect a tiny, hollering Pippi Longstocking might have on my sheep. They were terrified. Just then, “Cow” announced Cadence, suddenly distracted. I had to look twice before I saw the animal she had spotted, through the trees in the next pasture field. “Ooo,” she mooed, and took off after the sheep again, her mother and I huffing and puffing to keep up.

Back at the house, we caught her just before she dipped her toe in the swimming pool. Cheryl scooped her up and announced it was time to go home for a nap.

“I’m sorry I can’t find the kittens. They must be out mousing,” I said.

“Cat,” said Cadence.

“No, honey. No cats today. We can’t find them,” Cheryl explained.

“Cat,” the little girl repeated, pointing. And then we saw them. Two of the kittens were dozing in the sun between the tall wildflowers in the front bed.

We didn’t give Cadence a farm tour; she gave one to us. Maybe she can come back at sunset and help the Farmer to spot coyotes. She’s got eyes like a hawk. And she can herd the sheep better than the collie.

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