This article originally appeared in the Courier-Tribune on June 7, 2020
I have lived in big cities most of my life. The constant traffic noise and streetlights are annoying. You never get to hear crickets or see stars.
When I was in my late 30s, I moved to a semi-rural community in North Carolina. I say semi-rural because it was on a private road and had no streetlights, but it was only a mile and a half to the nearest mall.
When we moved there, I immediately realized how little I missed big city noise. When I sat outside at night, the sounds of crickets, tree frogs and wind through the pines were so comforting. But the lack of streetlights was terrifying. I was sure that I heard Jason from Friday the 13th creeping around in the woods carrying 2 large axes and a machete.
As soon as my imagination kicked in, I couldn’t hear frogs or crickets or anything else over the commotion made by all of the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, arms and legs. I told my wife that I was going to leave the outside lights on because of monsters. She grew up on a farm and loved the fact that we didn’t have streetlights, but she humored me. After a few months, I was finally able to sleep with the lights off.
Country living is filled with critters, indoors and out. My first introduction to critters indoors that belong outdoors were two huge snakes that had coiled themselves around each other, they were mating. While I spent 5 minutes on hold with animal control, my wife Sue, amid loud screaming, managed to wrangle them outside. She knew they were black snakes and not poisonous. All I knew was that they were enormous snakes that could possibly kill my family. She laughed at me for calling animal control while wiping the sweat off her brow from having to do all the heavy lifting.
The second time a critter got in the house it was a bit harder to find. Somehow, a possum got into the space between the bathtub and the tub enclosure and made a home there. Until it died. The smell slowly filled the house, and it took a few days until we worked out where the stink was coming from. I removed the tub, but all I found was possum poop, nothing dead. It had crawled under the floorboards and bit the dust.
The next home we moved to in North Carolina was in rural Randolph County. The house had been abandoned for more than 10 years and had its share of resident critters. Our cat Lemmy didn’t think it had enough. He brought in mice, voles, rats, bunnies, birds, lizards and snakes.
Our other cat, Bones, invited a possum in to share some of her food; it followed her in through the cat door. We’ve also had a few possums loudly rummage around the porch in the middle of the night. Something about us clearly attracts possums.
Six years later, Lemmy still brings critters into the house, and they are almost always alive. He lets them go and they scurry around the house until we catch them. He thinks we need a lot of hunting practice. That was true six years ago, but we’re expert hunters now. He should find something else to train us in, like taking a bath more often — which might help keep the possums away.
Of all the critters he has trained us to hunt, mice are the hardest to catch. They are fast and can jump surprisingly high! Rats are the easiest because they are a lot slower. One constant is that once we’ve caught and killed his prey, Lemmy eats it, or at least he eats the head.
Living on a farm, I’ve also learned a thing or two about domestic farm animals. We raise an endangered breed of cattle called Pineywoods, and we were encouraged early on by other breeders to freeze and sell our bull Rocky’s semen. My response was “there’s a market for that?!”
So, we put Rocky in the squeeze chute, and asked a technician to take a sample. Cattle can get a bit nervous while being held in a squeeze chute and I had noticed previously that most of the herd would calm down a little if I scratched between their horns. I didn’t give much thought to scratching Rocky while he gave what the technician called “a big ol’ sample.”
The following day I went out to put minerals out for the herd. Rocky took one glance at me and promptly gave another “big ol″ sample” right there in the pasture. When I told Sue, she chuckled and said, “He’s always gonna relate you scratching him to what happened. You should probably watch your ass for a while!” Four years later, I’m still watching it.
Mike Hansen lives and works at Ozark Akerz regenerative farm near Coleridge with his wife, Missouri native Sue Meyer. The Smithsonian preserve endangered farm animal germplasm in case they go extinct, half of Rocky’s “big ole’ sample” is preserved there. If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of raising endangered breeds or to purchase breeding stock or a big ole sample holler at Mike on ozarkakerz.com.
Farmer Mike wrote this article that was originally published in the Courier-Tribune newspaper. We thought you might enjoy a good laugh right now so we're sharing it on our website too.
My love of language has largely been shaped by one word: immigrant. I was 9 months old when my dad was stationed at a NATO base near Thorshavn on the Faroe Islands. The sound of my mother tongue, Danish, suddenly unfolded into Faroese. Two years later we moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). My dad found work as an electrician, my mom as a patternmaker at a textile mill. My folks taught English speaking daycare staff 2 Danish words: spise (eat), drikke (drink) and one Faroese word, kooka (poo) so they could communicate basic toddler with me.
Immersed in a new culture, my English flourished. I also learned Ndebele (a Zulu dialect) words like cambalala (take a nap) and xhubha (brush your teeth), pronouncing my c’s, q’s and x’s with tongue-clicks. At home, Danglish, a hybrid of Danish and English developed. Being bilingual, I spoke Danglish without being conscious about what language each word was or in which order they came out. My parents understood me, I figured all other Danes would too. I was wrong. When I was hospitalized while visiting my grandparents in Denmark, I asked the nurse, who was moving me to another ward, a simple question: when are my parents coming to pick me up? He wouldn’t answer and the elevator full of people got strangely quiet. I was really frustrated! Years later, when I learned some Danish slang, I realized why. In my attempt at communicating in Danglish, I had asked a question about sex in Danish that would make 100 sailors blush!
When I was 8, the war for Zimbabwe’s liberation intensified. The Rhodesian government enacted conscription for men, citizens and noncitizens, to fight against liberation. When my parents chose to leave, the government froze their bank account. They sold most of their belongings to pay for the train to Cape Town, South Africa and a two-week journey to Southampton, England on the RMS Pendennis Castle. Three months later we were on our way to Canada with immigrant visas.
In Canada, I used English words for the first time that were nonexistent in my African home. Words like snow, sleigh, skiing, and tuque (toboggan). By the way a toboggan in Canada is a wooden sled that is curved up at one end, not a hat that keeps your ears warm. The English I learned in Africa confused Canadians. I had to replace words like headmaster (principal), lorry (truck) and biltong (beef jerky). I taught my new, mainly immigrant friends, Ndebele, the language of an African culture I felt a close kinship with and had been torn from so suddenly. In return they taught me to cuss in Spanish, Hindi, Vietnamese and Chinese. As I got older, I learned essential Canadian words like twofour, a case of 24 beers, and Molson Muscle, what your belly grows into if you drink too many twofours.
Years later my wife and I immigrated to the UK from Denmark, revealing creative and humorous uses of English. The phrase “all talk and no trousers” means all bark and no bite. A “cheeky pint” is a beer that you probably shouldn’t drink but do anyway. I got a lot of ribbing when I told colleagues that my pants got dirty sitting on the bus on my way to work. Pants in the UK means underpants. The phrase “’Ere be dragons” essentially means stay away, danger. Look on old maps, you’ll see it used to mark places to avoid, like Wales. I would always chuckle when a friend would use it randomly - complete with pirate brogue - in response to questions like “What’s the food like at that pub?” or “How’s your wife doing?”. I had not worked in the UK long before a colleague uttered the words “Hansen, you’re mad as cheese!”, the word mad meaning crazy, not angry. A French coworker who referred to English beef as “crazy beef” during a mad cow disease outbreak would often be referred to as “mad as cheese” by this particular Englishman, to which the Frenchman would respond “everybody fug de cheese!”. Although their banter was lighthearted, they both confided in me that they disliked each other. The Frenchman added that he secretly delighted in the fact the Englishman’s name meant ‘no erection’ in French slang.
My newest home as a serial immigrant is rural Randolph County, in North Carolina. The phrase “skinny minute” was one I’d never heard before, the most poetic way to express doing something quickly! My neighbor Robbie taught me, “I’ll holler at ya’”. It took me a while to learn that it was something he did over the phone. I’ve been caught out on my pronunciation of place names in the county. A few folks have corrected my mispronunciation of the nearby township of Erect, NC (pronounced eee-wrecked). In case you’re wondering Climax, NC is 25 miles north of Erect.
Mike “Mad as Cheese” Hansen lives, works and enjoys a cheeky pint at Ozark Akerz regenerative farm near Coleridge with his wife, Missouri native Sue Meyer. Holler at him on ozarkakerz.com.