Within the city limits of Bellevue, smack dab in the middle of a vast and tenured suburbia, is a place called Kelsey Creek Farm. It is not far from the neighborhood I grew up in — across the great bog of the Mercer Slough, under the old train trestle, and a few blocks deep into a ’60s and ’70s era enclave of split-levels where you certainly don’t expect to hear the bleating of goats. The City of Bellevue runs the activities there and keeps the grounds, but it is an old farm, with two large barns and several paddocks and pastures.
We went to a sheep shearing demonstration there Saturday, which turned out to be just one part of a pretty well attended spring fair for youngsters interested in things bucolic. There were pony rides, dogs demonstrating their sheep herding abilities, wagon rides, animal petting, compost demonstration, log cabin heritage activities, beekeeping displays, wool fiber demonstrations, and a ton of craft stations where among other things kids could paint and decorate horseshoes and make hats.
I’m still agog that this little farm has survived, but the fact is, the place is mainly a wetlands with just a few hills where the barns are, so it’s not really developable. Still, it’ll be a sad day if this working farm park ever goes away. We were glad that we discovered the event and were happy to support it, even though admission to the event as a whole was free. They charged only for individual activities, such as the “pony” rides.
I have put the word “pony” in quotes, because these animals were mostly full-sized horses. Only one of the half-dozen or so horses was small enough to be considered a large pony. The rest were as big as or bigger than the horses I used to ride at the ranch. Mara was excited to go on her first pony ride, but was a little alarmed when we got in line and she saw the size of the beasts. They brought a beautiful dark bay horse up to the stair box where they helped the kids on and off, but Mara hesitated and then decided to give this one a miss. Her next opportunity was a large palomino named Oscar, and she said she wanted to ride him, but when she mounted the platform again, she wasn’t ready. The woman stationed there had a good way with children, was very understanding and encouraging and patient, and suggested that Mara just pet the horse once, and then said that if Mara wanted, they could put her on Oscar’s back and not go around the ring, just sit there so she could get the feel of it. She stepped down again.
The third time, when the woman asked Mara if she was ready, Mara hesitated just a moment, looked around as though considering the wide world of other things she could be doing that might not involve such a large animal, the breeze playing at her hair, the sun on her moony cheeks — and then quietly said “yes.” She does not acquiesce to a thing until she is ready, so when Mara said “yes”, we knew she was committing to it fully. There wouldn’t be any freaking out or crying or wanting to get off midway round the track. Mara’s “yes” is solid. It bubbles up slowly but it comes from that hot and molten place of her inner being. I was so proud of her, but I was also trying to be detached and would still have supported and championed her if she just couldn’t muster the courage.
But as soon as she uttered her “yes” the helper man lifted her from behind and set her on Oscar’s saddle. She held onto the saddlehorn, and gave me a brave little wave as the assistants led her away. She has heard so many stories about “the brave knight Mara” and her horse, but now she was feeling the actual bulge and sway of those huge muscles underneath her. This was a big event for a cautious girl like Mara. It is only recently that, in riding the carousel at the zoo, Mara has chosen the horses that go up and down rather than the ones that remain fixed on their poles. I imagine that she was experiencing a combination of joy and terror riding on the back of this animal. After she got down, she made a beeline for Angela’s arms and didn’t look back. Storytime, when it involves tales of the brave knight Mara, will have a more vivid edge from now on.
In attending an event inextricably tied to the seasons and the land, I was a little worried that my romantic pastoralism would flare up like an old shrapnel wound. Sometimes I get morose when this happens, feeling like I need to move out to the country and get off the treadmill. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of despising my urban life. I’ve already agreed with myself a million times that living on the land would be infinitely better, inherently better. Dwelling on it doesn’t help me. But I weathered the afternoon well and we had a lot of fun.
There was an cold wind raking the hilltop during the shearing demonstrations, which made it very hard to concentrate on what the shearers were saying, so I didn’t learn much in the way of facts except that hand spinners favor the wool of the brown sheep because it has more character, while automated manufacture favors the lighter wool. I would have liked to have learned more about this. However, one thing that I found interesting was a comment the announcer at the sheep shearing stage made about their art. She mentioned how easy it was to learn, and literally told us where to go and whom to talk to, and said that she always gets a number of requests each shearing season from people — even right around here — who have two or three sheep. It started me thinking. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a full-time job, but I tried to let myself imagine sheep shearing as one tool in the toolbox of a peasant life. I like the idea of being good at something that needs to be done every year as part of the cycles of the seasons in the life of a rural community, or even, apparently, the outskirts of suburban ones.
Not that I’m going to go to sheep shearing school tomorrow. I’m just saying that one might imagine it, and that for me, it is good to imagine these things without criticism from my inner Hardy-Har-Har. It is useful to let the idea fully roost in my mind for a while. Certainly it is not practical at this time, maybe at any time. But there was a moment there at Kelsey Creek when the smell of the lush grass and the sight of geese waddling around and the sight of my daughter deeply imbibing some of the experience of what it means to live on the land…well it all seemed suddenly like a life that was important to try to get closer to, one that would be extremely rewarding in so many ways.