As farmers, we are trained from birth to solve mysteries. Most of them present to us as puzzles, as in, why do I never have a half-inch wrench in this toolbox when there are at least a dozen of them somewhere around the place? But then there are the deeper mysteries, some of which never get explained.
I have two tiny bantam chickens, a rooster and a hen, and they have complete run of the place, coming home to roost every night in one of the pens in the sheep barn, which we close at night for safety. They are a wily, self-sufficient couple and have been dodging threats to their well-being for a couple of years now. Suddenly in July, the hen disappeared. There were no signs of foul play – and the rooster did not seem put out. So I assumed she had found some spot to make a nest and hatch some eggs. I hoped it was not exposed to night-time predators. Three weeks went by and I was in the shop in the other barn looking for roofing nails. I went to reach into a box in the dim light and was startled to see a beady eye staring up at me. It was the hen sitting on fourteen eggs she had laid on top of 10 pounds of galvanized nails. Mystery solved.
Then there was my daughter’s pet rabbit Thumper who was very skilled at escaping his cage. I would frequently find him hopping around the barnyard at the end of the day. We made his living quarters more secure but one very cold winter morning I came out to find Thumper had vanished once again. I tried to follow his tracks in the snow but it was storming and the trail went cold. Very cold. There was no sign of Thumper for several days and then one morning as I was on my way to the barn I saw several tufts of gray fur under a pear tree. I took the fur into the kitchen and we concluded that poor Thumper was no more. An ice storm lashed the farm, followed by a deep freeze and then a dump of fresh snow. Three weeks went by and on my morning trip to the barn, Thumper suddenly appeared from under the kids’ playhouse, did two laps around me and let me pick him up. Another mystery solved. Except not quite as happily as the hen story because my daughter brought out the tufts of fur which she had kept and pointed out that they were a completely different shade than Thumper’s. My stock as house detective dropped sharply in value.
Some mysteries are never meant to be solved. My godfather lived in an apartment in Ottawa just above a sweet little old lady who owned a turtle which she kept in a bowl on her balcony just below his own. Every day she would ask my godfather about the proper care for this turtle, which she didn’t think was doing very well. My godfather had several turtles of his own and was good friends with the owner of a pet store. So he gave the lady a bottle of a special elixir which he promised would restore the turtle to health. Then, when she was out, he reached down from his balcony with a pair of grabbers on a long stick and replaced her turtle with a bigger one. She was delighted with the results of the elixir and gushed to everyone in the building about her turtle’s dramatic recovery. Then he replaced it again with a bigger turtle and then another one. She stopped him in the corridor one day and said, “I have decided not to give him any more of your medicine. He’s growing almost too big for the bowl.” And she handed it back to him. Over the next few weeks her turtle returned to its normal size.
Then there are some mysteries that seem solved but don’t quite add up. A school friend of my daughter’s in town worked evenings as a dog walker for people including the next door neighbours who owned three poodles. Her father was out walking in the park one morning when he came across a dog leg, quite fresh and very white, the exact same colour as the poodles. He took the leg home and the family had a panicked conversation at the kitchen table. “Are you sure you got all three poodles back in the yard? Did you shut the gate? I’ve told you never to walk them by the forest because there are so many coyotes.” The father briefly considered taking the leg next door but decided against it. All eyes turned to the neighbour’s yard waiting to see if a poodle was missing. In due time, three poodles emerged, each one of them with four legs. Father put the leg in the trash and closed the file assuming it was from some other dog. Then a few days later the neighbour opened the back door and four poodles trotted out into the yard. The new one was missing a leg.
That one was never solved and went into the cold case file.
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