A balmy Sunday afternoon. Bright sun. Cool air. I drive myself well out of town down a dusty road to a sheep farm. It features a modest farmhouse, not a mansion. Worn wooden fencing surrounded by fields on all sides, dry by now, the grass gone entirely yellow as summer ebbs. I’m not a farmer, I’m a book lover. I’ve come to join a bunch of like-minded, non-farming book-lovers in support of our county book festival.
It’s a fine afternoon. We make our way in and out of paddocks sipping local syrrah. We vie for slices of oven-fired pizza adorned with home-made cheeses and home-grown basils, drizzled with olive oil from the ranch next door. We’re here to celebrate books and food by celebrating books about food. We’re here to listen to two authors–Anne Zimmerman and Michele Anna Jordan–talk about a shared love: the writing of M.F.K. Fisher. Their conversation is soulful. Together they fill us in on the sorrows that darkened M.F.K. Fisher’s life, even as she turned out book after glorious book.
And then, right in the middle of a particularly moving moment, someone–could it be me?–makes the mistake of shaking some crumbs from her napkin. One minute we’re leaning in to absorb every last word from our guest speakers, the next: BAAAAA! Just as loud as you please. BAAAAA! One. Then another one. And another. They call it “bleating” for a reason. There’s nothing cute or lamb-like about the sound. Instead it’s piercing, nasal, strangled sheep screaming. Yelling back and forth across the paddock where we’re standing because some farm neophyte starts throwing crumbs around when it’s dinner time and we’re eating and they’re not. BAAAAA! Hey, that’s our paddock! BAAAAA! What gives? Where’s mine? One of the bigger ones, the ringleader, starts shoving his head through two wooden slats, trying to squeeze his wool-swollen body through a space barely big enough for his ears. BAAAAA!
I freeze. Thankfully, so does everyone else. I’m in civilized company here. Arts lovers all. They’re kind enough NOT to turn and look for the fool who’s managed to rile a herdful of starving quadrupeds. Instead, they stare straight ahead, trying to focus on poetic readings as the baaaa-ing subsides.
That leaves a golden retriever to provide the afternoon’s grace note. She’s clearly beloved of the farm owners. Gray-muzzled. Shambling with old age. The epitome of stealth, she circles among us. While everyone listens, she cleans up. Anything within tongue’s reach, on a stray plate or neglected tray, she snarfs. Snuffle snuffle. Slurp slurp. Licking her chops, she makes short work of our feast. Then, as the sheep chorus dies, she shuffles to center stage, just in front of our speakers, just this side of their beautifully sandaled feet, and squats to take a slow, incredibly slow, quiet pee. Blissful. With the sheep looking on. A little mozzarella hanging off one whisker.
Surely this has M.F.K. Fisher smiling. In fact, she probably orchestrated the whole thing from her heavenly rest, reminding us that things artful can never hold a candle to things shaggy and nosy and loud.
© i.e. ideas expressed 2011