by Jon Stevens
What calls you to action? What song makes you move? Here at The Open Gate Farm there are three that take the lead every time.
The first is an old Shaker hymn, “Tis a Gift To Be Simple”. When the motion detector goes off and your farmer heads out of the house to help the folks at the stand, more often than not he’ll start whistling that famous tune. Don’t know why. He just does. It’s the right song for the occasion. “Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, ‘tis a gift to come down where we ought to be…”.
We humans make life far more complex than it was designed to be. We try to use technology to make life more simple but that is like pouring gas on a fire in an effort to put it out. Simplicity is closer to the lowest common denominator than it is to rocket science. Only when we live simply can we see clearly.
Complexity clouds the mind and confuses the spirit. Simplicity creates room for grace to appear, for getting ourselves solidly in place with the ground of our being, and it leaves us free not to add new gizmos and toys and time for sports to our lives, but to live lives of freedom from fear and wanting what we don’t have. And with all the temptations to complexify our lives, it really is a gift when we can live simply and become free.
Another song is, “Amazing Grace”. When evening falls and the light has almost left the lawn, we head out to find the ducks. When we see them and they see us, we lift our arms to point the direction to the poultry house like a signpost in Italy and start singing, “Amazing Grace”. When they hear that, they know the day is over, night has come and it is time to head home to the house they share with the chickens. So with varying degrees of reluctance, they pull dirty little beaks out of the mud and grass where worms are left for tomorrow and start the march to bed.
It is a sweet time, following the ducks as they waddle along. You mustn’t hurry a duck. They might trip in the uneven lawn, thanks to the holes the dog leaves in his quest for rocks, and pull a leg muscle. There is nothing more sorry looking than a duck that limps. We must walk at their pace, not ours. We must set aside our time clock and live for a bit in theirs. And theirs is, you guessed it, a simpler time than ours.
So we walk behind slowly, singing to the ducks, all of us enjoying their walk through the twilight back in after a hard day’s work. Generally one will take the lead, tonight it was Mary, and then by ones and twos the others march along in a row. Flat feet flopping, bodies rocking side to side, quiet conversation between them, and Amazing Grace floating over all, reminding us we once were lost but now are found, were blind but now we see. We see the way home, guided by one who loves us dearly and will make sure our needs are met and even some of our wants.
It is a lovely thing, this duck roundup. When we get back to their yard, a couple of them grab a quick beakful of water to wash off the mud and then follow the others on into the house. We shut the door, latch it and put on the padlock. Once the song is done, we say their prayers with them; “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and all is still when we turn to head back to our house, to our nest, to our sleep for the night.
The third song we hear around here a lot is the song of the chickens. While big Ben’s crow echoes off trees and buildings all day long, it is the chatter of the hens which carries their special tune. We just spent several days on our knees weeding. The girls came over to help and often got in the way waiting for the worms and slugs and grubs we found in the roots of the weeds.
Grandma Betty is clearly the matriarch and went where she wanted with the others taking second peck. But if we listened carefully, we heard them chatting, heard them talking about, “Oh my, look at this!” or “Step aside, Suzie, he needs to pull that weed you’re standing on.” or “This one’s mine but there’s one for you over there.” There is a beautiful set of sounds they make, a language of their own which we occasionally would hear human words in. Threaded together, their quiet conversation became a song, a song of life, of love, of sharing, and of satisfaction.
Visitors sometimes wonder at how tame our poultry are. We can walk right up to them and they don’t run at all. They are not afraid of us because they know us. They know we have their best interest at heart and grabbing them to be examined by 6 year old amateur veterinarians is not in their best interest. It is a respect thing, an honoring thing, a love thing. It is actually living the golden rule and letting them be what they are just as we would like to be left to be who we are.
And when we do that, when we let those who live here and those who come here be who they are, we create the best song of all. The song of a simple sanctuary, the song of a sweet life graced by plenty.
Jon and Elaine Stevens, the singing farmers, Snickers the song filled dog, Mystery the humming cat, Ben and his flock of musical chickens, and the Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of amazingly graceful ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.