Just reading the reports in the last issue of a tractor theft nearby where thieves made off with a $100,000 John Deere loader tractor. In some ways it seemed that disaster had struck very close to us, but in other ways it was a long way off.
I have been burgled twice now. The first incident occurred in 1978, when I was a weekender restoring the old frame house on this farm. Maybe break-in is the wrong word. At the time I owned just one power tool, an anemic Black and Decker circular saw that whined if it was asked to cut anything thicker than plywood. I drove o to the city one Sunday night leaving the saw on the veranda and someone swiped it. I never got a chance to thank that burglar properly. I went straight out and bought a decent saw the next week and it still runs to this day.
The second burglary happened many years later when my wife and I had moved here full-time and stocked the farm with livestock. Late one night, I heard a truck backing out of the lane over by the barn and I dashed out with a flashlight to investigate. The truck roared off, leaving the doors of the barn wide open and the lights on, the dogs barking and the guinea hens shrieking. I looked around but couldn’t immediately see what they had stolen. But that’s always the way. The next morning, I took a careful inventory and realized the thieves had taken nothing. Not a thing. I should have been relieved but I found the experience deeply troubling. People I didn’t even know had judged all my pos- sessions to be worthless. I felt violated.
The thieves never came back. I think they painted some cryptic symbol on my gateposts, the way hobos did during the Depression, warning fellow burglars that this place wasn’t worth the effort. My insurance friend dropped by to comfort me and he noticed that I never took the keys out of my truck and my tractors didn’t even need a key to start.
“What is the matter with you people?” he shouted, speaking generally to the large number of rural customers he serves who operate as if it were 1965 and you can still leave your doors wide open whenever you go into town.
But my farm truck would never make the list of top 10 stolen vehicles. My kids wouldn’t even let me drop them o at school in it. “It’s so welfare!” wailed my daughter. And a key is irrelevant to the complicated task of getting these old tractors to start.
In the middle of the religious wars in 16th century France, the philosopher Michel de Montaigne decided to take early retirement from government service, leave Paris and move back to his remote family farm to write. His friends were horrified. Private armies roamed the land, looting and plundering as they went and here was this lunatic thinking he could survive in an unfortified house. Montaigne assured his friends that the secret to living unmolested is not to make an elaborate defence system for your house. He survived 25 years without suffering a single home invasion while many of his political friends in the city fell victim to the assassin’s knife. The only injury Montaigne suffered over three decades was a ruptured spleen from a fall from his horse, which reinforces another cardinal rule I have for life on the farm. Do not have anything to do with horses.
I have lived by Montaigne’s teaching for 35 years now. We have no alarms apart from the guinea hens, the donkeys and the dogs, who make so much racket when a car drives by they would drown out the tinny little ‘beep’ a burglar alarm makes. A guinea hen is an alarmist by nature and would make an excellent board member for a property insurance company or a police services committee. They are very good at letting you know what might happen. Burglars prefer to operate in quiet surroundings where they are free from distractions. They are also averse to heavy lifting. If given the choice of swiping a century-old turnip shredder weighing four hundred pounds while listening to the shrieks of a guinea hen or making o with a modern loader tractor in perfect silence, the average burglar will take the tractor every time.
“Envy is a seed which should never be watered,” advised the 15th century banker Cosimo de Medici. It’s still pretty good advice today. If you don’t want to be burgled, don’t make it look like you have anything worth taking.
Dan Needles is a writer and the author of the Wingfield Farm stage plays. He lives on a small farm near Collingwood, Ont. His website is www.danneedles.ca