Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

08 October, 2007

Where All Animals Are Equal

Did you know that Cottage Grove was named for a grove of burr oaks in which William C. Wells built a cottage in 1840? Or that 40 years later the rail came that way and most of the town moved in order to be closer to the station? Thusly the Cottage Grove we know today was actually platted in 1882 while the original incarnation of the town is called Vilas. I never knew there was a Vilas so I looked at a map and sure enough, there is a Vilas (township?) west of Cottage Grove. In addition, Cottage Grove Road was the first road to run from Madison to Milwaukee.

I learned all this from the incredibly handy and informative book Dane County Place-Names by Frederic G. Cassidy which I picked up at a used bookstore a couple weeks ago. It was printed in 1968 but the bulk of the material was culled from another publication by Cassidy from 1947. For some reason the publishers decided to keep the original map from that same year on the inside of the cover. The interstate system was still several years off and so the stretch of I94 we were on used to be Highway 30 which began at County N. The book has been the companion of The Dulcinea and I on our recent day trips and we had it with us on Saturday as we headed east to Hartland and the Homestead Animal Farm.

Unfortunately, the book quickly became useless as Dane county gave way to Jefferson and ultimately to Waukesha. The farm is on Highway 83 a couple miles north of the town of North Lake. I must admit that I've never really explored the area between Madison and Milwaukee very much. They've generally been just names on signs I see when taking I94 to visit friends or see a show in Milwaukee. Ergo I thought I would be neat to check out the area a bit.

The drive up 83 from Highway 16 was a scenic one with trees on either side of the road plus long tree-lined driveways. We made it to the farm and found it packed with folks and their kids. It seemed that we were the only ones there without youngsters. We shuffled into the barn which doubled as a shop and ticket stand. For $9 you got access to the animal petting area, the corn maze, and a hayride so I bought a couple of those tickets. Our first stop was to check out the animals.

And we were greeted by this fella.

Walking towards the barn, we found a girl offering folks a chance to hold some chicks and The D didn't pass up the opportunity.

Stepping inside I was greeted by that farm smell and the echo of a cacophony of animal calls from out back. On the other side was a pen with a couple of alpacas (alapcae?) hanging out and eating hay together.

Also hanging out were a bunch of water fowl, including the one on the left here which waddled around a bit differently than the rest. Unfortunately I cannot recall the bird's species.

The alpacas basically ignored the fowl. While the former chewed, the latter wandered in and out of the fence quacking. I was a bit surprised that all the ducks hanged out together. For whatever reason, I figured that since they were of different species, they'd have some natural inclination to avoid each other. But, like a big extended family, the ducks formed a pack as they roamed the barnyard. The geese, however, were a different story. They stuck together and didn't mingle too much with their fellow animals.

We wandered out behind the coop next door and found a trio of turkeys. My mind immediately recalled that Benjamin Franklin thought that they should have been our national bird but they had lost out to the eagle. I next thought about how Thanksgiving is next month and how that means I am going to stuff myself with turkey, amongst other foods. Standing there it seemed that they were getting a bit perturbed. I was at one end with another guy opposite me blocking off that route of escape. They looked ready to charge. To my left I noticed a couple cockerels creeping towards me along another wall of the coop in the shadows. These guys looked mean with their big claws and all. I not-so stealthily maneuvered myself over to the fenced in part of the coop which held a menagerie of birds including three peacocks. Here's one of them.

The D and I then walked back into the pasture which was home to a phalanx of miniature donkeys who were chowing down. I couldn't help but think of Shrek but couldn't muster a decent Eddie Murphy imitation.

Standing out amongst them was a jenny who was pregnant that suddenly brayed and this, in turn, caused the jack next to me to follow suit. No idea what was happening. But they soon quieted down and resumed eating. They were like vacuum cleaners. They nibbled at the grass and stray leaves and steadily moved forward. I was crouching very close to one for a photo and, sensing the need to continue lunch, the donkey just walked right past, barely acknowledging the monkey in its way. There was also a smattering of goats in the pasture mingling with the asses. It was a prelapsarian paradise with all the animals getting along well, including the human animals.

The D and I slowly wandered towards the gate so we could begin our next adventure when we noticed that she had a companion. One of the donkeys was following her. If she took a right, it took a right; it followed her wherever she did go. She wasn't able to shake it until she walked in the barn where the donkey dare not enter. Instead it just stood at the threshold. I tried and tried to get it to come on in but I could not. And so we ambled over to the main barn where one enters the corn maze. Outside there were trailers full of pumpkins.

The entrance was guarded by a fierce hound not unlike Cerberus but named Nelly. Luckily I was able to dodge and weave my way into a position where I could scratch behind her ears.

Inside was a bit of shade, more gourds, and lots of old farm implements.

That last hoolie is a fanning mill which separated the wheat from the chaff. I dusted myself off and we headed out into the corn maze. The corn wasn't as tall as I would have liked but The D appreciated feeling a bit less hemmed in. Personally, I like my mazes to be of The Shining variety where you can't see above the rows nor through them. Still, it was fun. There were 12 hoolies to find which had dealies for punching these cards we were given. The signs were also fact sheets about the animals in the novel and so we learned, for instance, that a group of rats is called a mischief. Charlotte's Web was the theme this year and so the maze featured a web and characters from the book. To go along with this, various signs were posted in the field which had trivia questions about the book and correct answers gave you a letter to a mystery word.

After some time and having become soaked in sweat, we headed in for a breather and some water. There I sat next to Old Man Harmann, father of Mark who owns and runs the farm with his wife Barbara. A widower, Mr. Harmann hangs and helps out on the farm as he can. He was a friendly codger – asked where we were from and gave a bit of the history of the place. The farm has been in the family for generations. There was a newspaper clipping posted on a beam which noted that the farm had been in the family for over 100 years. The article was from 1977. I'm not sure when the family made its egress from farming but the old man was well pleased with what his son had done to the place. Kids from Milwaukee are bused out during the week to escape the city and enjoy some fresh air along with the company of the furry creatures.

Feeling refreshed, we headed back into the maze. And we sweated more and walked around in circles which meant going by the buttermilk question plaque about three times. But we eventually found all 12 punch dealies and were right proud. Again it was back inside for more water and a bit more chat. This time Mark himself came over. We'd met him out in the maze and he was again really friendly.

(I could hear those threshers comin', lookin' more than two lanes wide…)

The last bit of our day on the farm was the hayride. We piled in back along with a couple families and a gaggle of small children and were off. Through a stretch of woods and then around a couple fields we went. The sun was beginning to set which made it a beautiful evening as we bounced around the cart.

Before we left, I bought some gourds including a pumpkin for a pie and a turtle caramel apple which I am going to bite into faster than Eve ever did. A tender, succulent apple first dipped in chocolate and then in caramel which is finally topped with nuts. Mmmm…
|| Palmer, 1:12 PM


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