Even if one lives in the country--miles from any city or town--it's still possible to be insulated from the peace and quiet of one's own farm.
It was another typical Saturday at the barn with all the boarders riding or washing horses, trainers hollering or giving advice and dogs running everywhere. And, for once, the boarders' and trainers' children were behaving. North Carolina gets some hot days during what is technically spring. Today was one of those days. Even as the day approached evening, it was apparently still too hot for adolescent mischief.
It wasn't, however, too hot for cell phones and video games. The kids were sprawled out in the barn aisle, or slumped against trees, as if they had been poured into place. But, whereas they hadn't moved their bodies in hours, their mouths and thumbs were going a million miles an hour.
"No way!" shouted Mike and Delores' daughter into her phone. She lay in the barn aisle with the phone wedged between her head and shoulder. "No way! He's going with Sabrina!"
"Yes, way!" shouted Delores' trainer's daughter from underneath a tree about 50 yards away. "He broke up with Sabrina last week! Where have you been?"
Underneath another tree, Candy's son, Damien, sat playing with a small video game console. The day was wind still, but the game's chirps and beeps somehow wafted into the barn aisle.
"Hey, Damien," I shouted, "You got a second to help me with some of these buckets?"
"No way, dude," he responded, without looking up from his game. "I just got a power-up, and I'm only two fistfights away from level 25."
"Wow," I said. "Level 25, huh? So, what game is that: Macho Man Puppy-Kicker or Extreme Nun-Puncher?"
Damien gave me the bird without looking up or missing a button. Apparently he was the only person totally unaware that his mother was a practicing child psychologist. I guessed I was on my own with the feed buckets. I stepped into the feed room and started scooping out the different grains and supplements for each horse. Most everybody had finished riding and stood in the barn talking--not to each other, but on their cell phones.
At first I thought Delores' trainer was talking to me, but I noticed the blinking light on her cell phone's wireless earpiece. She walked by and flashed a quick smile as her second cell phone rang.
"Can you hold, please?" She asked, plucking the ringing phone from her belt and placing it to her unoccupied ear. "Hello? Yeah, yeah, can I call you back? I'm on the other line. Okay, okay, okay, bye. Okay, I'm back. Sorry about that. Yeah, yeah...uh-huh...yeah."
Down the aisle, Mike and Jack were both on their phones. I wondered if they were talking to each other. Delores looked up at me as she approached the feed room.
"Hey, how are you?" she said, smiling.
"Great! At least one person here isn't..." I stopped mid-sentence as she waved me off and pointed to the cell phone earpiece in her ear. She continued past me, talking to someone about problems with her satellite TV service.
The loud phone conversations and chirping video games continued as everyone slowly gathered their belongings, climbed into their vehicles and drove away into the sunset. Except for my brief exchange with Damien, I hadn't spoken to anyone at the barn all day. At least now the horses would be able to eat in peace. They stood in their stalls, enjoying the breeze from their fans. Outside the crickets warmed up for their twilight concert as I filled the troughs.
I had just dropped the feed and hay and started filling up the water buckets when the lights went out. I looked up at the house. It was dark, too. I could usually see our closest neighbor's porch lights through the woods, but not now. A pair of headlights crept up the driveway to the darkened house and parked. Kimberly stepped out of the car with grocery bags.
We found our flashlights and located the box of wedding stuff in the basement. We never got around to using the hundred-or-so candles from our wedding, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Kimberly set the candles up around the front porch.
Without working fans, it would be even hotter inside the barn than outside, so, I turned all the horses out. Even overprotected Cracky went out. He got the round pen and some hay all to himself. Despite our having four large paddocks, we still had more horses than could be safely turned out together. It was like that brain puzzle where you have to row your boat across a river with a bag of grain, a chicken and a wolf. Unfortunately, in our situation there was no combination that would work. I turned out everybody except Vander and Skip. They stood inside, sweaty and miserable. This wasn't going to work.
I grabbed the truck keys and drove the truck around to the end of our driveway, parking it across the opening in the fence. I shut the back gate and let our two boys out in the yard around the house. It usually took me eight hours to mow the yard with the riding mower. I figured I could use the help getting rid of some grass.
For the first time since we moved in, we opened all the windows and doors to the house. I grilled up hot dogs to go with some merlot. Kimberly and I ate dinner seated in wooden rocking chairs while our wedding candles flickered from the railing and the porch around us. The dogs and cats came and went through the open house. The horses stood munching grass by the front steps. For once there was no "inside." There was no air conditioner drowning out the crickets. There was no insulation from the peace and quiet on the farm.
After a while of talking, we decided it was cool enough to sleep downstairs. We found two cots in the basement and set them up in the living room. We brushed our teeth and washed our faces with water from a trough I had filled just before the outage. We doubted Vander or Skip would venture a trip up the steps to the house, but we closed the front door anyway. The crickets started up again as we lay down to sleep. It's funny how easy it is to go to bed early during a power outage.
And who knew that sleep comes more easily when there are fewer distractions? Don't get me wrong. The cots were extremely uncomfortable--I knew I'd be sore in the morning--and the air was still oppressively hot and humid, but the romantic circumstances were relaxing. There were no radios or televisions beckoning. No light by which one could stay up all night reading. There was no white noise of an oscillating fan. The purity of that evening's darkness was compelling.
I had just kissed Kimberly goodnight when my cell phone rang, vibrating its way across the glass coffee table. I didn't even look to see who it was, I just turned it off. The phone's glow faded as one of the cats jumped in beside me. With our cots pushed together, holding hands, Kimberly and I slept for what felt like the first time in months.
As I drifted off, I wondered how people ever truly relaxed before power outages.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.
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