Farmer Brown’s Boy

Yesterday morning there were a dozen Canada geese in the back field. In recent weeks I’ve often glimpsed wild turkeys back there, pecking for the winter rye seed that didn’t germinate. But I’d never seen geese on the field. I have grass on my back acres! Geese are grazing! I was thrilled.

I couldn’t get close. Here in the mountains Canada geese are extremely wild and nervous.

I walked as near as I dared (which wasn’t very near) and then used my zoom. The geese shifted anxiously. I was immediately still. Hush, hush. You’re safe. Don’t you know I’m Farmer Brown’s boy?

In the animal tales of Thornton W. Burgess, at least 50 of which I read compulsively as a child, the only human character is Farmer Brown’s boy.

In a couple of the early stories, Farmer Brown’s boy is naughty and makes trouble for the animals, but even as a second-grader I understood that Burgess had to discard this device quickly. In all the rest of the books, Farmer Brown’s boy is a quiet, helpful observer, a budding naturalist who sits and watches the stories unfold at the Green Meadow and the Smiling Pool and sometimes kindly scatters corn or hay for the animals. He rarely speaks and is never shown in the illustrations. We don’t even learn his name.

E.B. White had a similar wildlife-loving character, Sam Beaver, in The Trumpet of the Swan. However I was older (11) and less impressionable when he appeared. Farmer Brown’s boy had entered my life as soon as I learned to read.

E. B. White’s Fern, in Charlotte’s Web, is another of these patient animal observers and came into my orbit when I was even younger. However Fern soon inexplicably (to me) became more interested in Henry Fussy and ferris wheels, so she never had my complete trust or allegiance.

No matter how old I may become, as long as I am able to sit quietly and watch the natural world, in my heart I’ll always be Farmer Brown’s boy.

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