I wipe the afterbirth and muck off my hands onto my coat, then grab the proffered sandwich and take a big bite. After a few bites, I put the sandwich on a post and go back to the lambing at hand. Such is the farmer’s hygiene, practical and not the least bit fussy.
If we are going out for a social call or dinner, an unthinking assessment takes place in my wardrobe and cleaning rituals. Going to town? I’ll have a good shower, put on fresh clothes and clean shoes. Farming friends? I might have a quick wash and head out with what I had been wearing in the barn. Eau de barnyard at a get-together with farmer friends is common and unremarked, indeed, unnoticed.
Sometimes the farm follows us to other venues. I’m sure I’ve related the story of the pig perfume and the plane. On one particular morning, I got up ungodly early, fed the animals, and dashed off to the airport. I spent most of the day in the close confines of planes before finally touching down. After a long drive to my ultimate destination, I arrived at my hotel and dropped on the bed, exhausted.
It was only then that I smelled the distinctive odor of pig manure. My brain was foggy from a full day of travel, but I was nevertheless able to recognize that there were no pigs in my room. Following the odor, I quickly tracked it down to a large clump of Exhibit A on my left boot. I cleaned it off and chuckled, thinking about the poor bastards stuck next to me on a four-hour flight.
A doctor friend of mine says that the farm kids he’s had as patients seem to be less susceptible to infections or allergies. Just an observation, not a clinical study, he hastens to point out. His assumption is that daily playing amidst the muck, cleaning out chicken coops and horse stalls, eating fruits and veggies straight from the garden — all serve to build up a healthy immune system.
Compare that to the kid who grows up in the city or suburbs. The one who uses antimicrobial spray or wipes twenty times a day. Never goes outside except to be shuttled from home to car to special event and back. Only snacks on foods that have been properly processed, packaged, and labeled. Is it a surprise that kids today seem to have an epidemic of allergies and immunity-related diseases?
Now, I’m not advocating that you adopt the practice of not washing your hands. What I am suggesting is that you consider a little bit of dirt, well, natural. For those of us who live in the country, the smell of the barnyard is simply the smell of life. Nothing to get too fussed about.
Just remind me to wipe my boots when I enter your house.
Reading this weekend: Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane. A newish and beautiful tome on the descriptive genius of our ancestors for the natural world.