These are Golden Cocks.” Wilbur the Alpaca Farmer grinned and pointed to the two yellow roosters scratching the dirt in the coop the Mad Scientist built the summer before using scraps of fish net, odd lumber and some rusted wire panels, the type used in concrete construction. No poultry fencing — the Mad Scientist thought fish net was better because it was free and he had a pile of it behind his crumbling abode. Free was better for the boss too, even though Wilbur was a multi-millionaire. “They will be the studs of the flock,” Wilbur said, grabbing his crotch. “Like me. Now we gotta find some layers.”
Sweetgrass and I were so lucky. After the Mad Scientist threatened to kill Wilbur’s Passamaquoddy mistress on New Year’s Eve, Wilbur decided to replace his field slave. And he wanted to have a garden. So we struck a deal. Five hundred bucks a week and free housing in exchange for me tending the alpacas and the land and Sweetgrass growing veggies.
The stress of four years of hard work and poverty in Washington County was wearing on my brain. My freelance demolition and floor-refinishing jobs were taking a toll on my body. I needed something easier, like farming. And a regular paycheck felt like winning the lottery.
The farm was amazingly beautiful. A little more than 40 acres of ocean frontage, a small forest of dying spruce, and lots of pasture. A barn with Ms. Pac Man and a pool table. A tiny freshwater pond, next to a stretch of sandy and rocky shore, and a place to beach our rowboat.
We had several housing options. There was a cold and musty farmhouse with terrible feng shui. Or we could stay in a work shed that had been turned into an artist studio with a bed. There was also a two-story bunkhouse with plenty of space. But we wanted the Love Shack, a cedar cottage (formerly a garage) placed so close to the water you could hear the tide rise. It was still too early in the season to move in — there was no heat or wood stove in the shack — so for the next few weeks we continued to house-sit for the poet in town and used our unregistered, uninsured Geo clunker for the eight-minute commute.
On the Friday of our first weekend on the job, Wilbur dropped off the two birds and Junior, his lying, thieving, pillhead drunkard of a son. “After looking around, it appears you’ve got quite a bit of ‘Mad Scientist’ cleanup,” Wilbur told me. He pointed at a series of huge divots on the hillside — the result of my old pal’s unsuccessful attempt to carve a path to the mussel beach through last winter’s snowpack using the John Deere tractor.
“I’m headed back to Portland,” Wilbur said. “Just make sure you keep feeding my Golden Cocks! Hah-ha!” He pointed at me. “You have a month to get this place ready for the herd, ’cuz 25 alpacas are moving home.” He nodded. “Gonna be a great summer. I can feel it.” Then he jumped into his minivan and sped away.
Sweetgrass and I happily got to work. We used shovels to cut the big divots into manageable pieces of sod and flip ’em over, back into place, masking the scars left by the Mad Scientist. We toiled together on the long hill that gently sloped toward the sparkling bay, framed by blue sky, reveling in a gentle spring breeze that was salty and warm. This was a million times better than any of our previous Eastport gigs. Plus, since our goal was to buy a farm and raise our own food, working for Wilbur was a great opportunity to gain experience. In addition to feeding, breeding and birthing the alpacas, it was gonna be my job to raise two pigs and a dozen hens. Wilbur gave Sweetgrass an ample seed budget — more than enough cash to feed several families with taters, onions, tomatoes, carrots and peppers.
We stopped work when the sun went down. Exhausted, we smoked a joint and drank wine out of a Mason jar. We wanted to get a feel for the place. It felt great.
On Saturday morning, we got up early and headed to the farm to feed the roosters and finish fixing the turf. At the coop, we were greeted by the grisly sight of two dead birds, beheaded and bloodless, hung up in the fish net. Footprints and feathers everywhere. Heads in the mud. A predator had gotten in, but couldn’t drag the prey out, despite what appeared to be numerous attempts.
Sweetgrass turned in horror, then walked away. I cleaned up the murder scene and lugged the corpses to the beach for the bald eagles to eat.
The unexpected deaths cast a pall over another glorious spring day. We resolved to rebuild the coop. The roosters died to teach us a lesson: make the coop better fortified before bringing in the hens.
Around noon, we were eating sandwiches on the farmhouse’s front porch when we heard the roar of a car engine. Junior was coming down the driveway behind the wheel of Wilbur’s Mercedes Benz convertible, smoking a cig and wearing wrap-around sunglasses. Another fella sat in the passenger seat, and four other punks were jammed in the back, swigging beers.
“Uhhhh,” Sweetgrass said, frowning. “I don’t think he’s supposed to be driving. Especially not the Mercedes.”
“Uh-oh.” I took a long sip of water and shrugged. “Nothing we can do about it.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon waging the turf war. The sod seemed to grow heavier as we worked our way down the slope. We stopped when the sun set and went straight home, wiped out.
On Sunday morning, we awoke to Wilbur leaving a frantic message on the answering machine. “Junior is out drinking and driving in the convertible.” The anger in his voice was intense. “And apparently he caused a scene out on the Rez. Call me ASAP. I need you to get the car back.”
I hate playing the heavy, but I did as told. After receiving further instructions from Wilbur, I left Sweetgrass at home and went to the farm. Junior and four of his boys were barricaded and hiding in the boss’ house on the hill. They thought I was a bunch of Indians coming to kick their asses because of the trouble they’d caused the night before.
“All you guys gotta leave,” I said, looking around the room. “Now. And that means you too, Junior.”
“What the fuck?” He looked at me, incredulous. “You can’t …”
“I’m doing what your dad told me: Get the keys and throw everyone out.”
“But we need wheels to get another car.”
“Oh well.” I shook my head. “Not my problem. You wanna call him? You have his number.”
“Dude,” he looked me in the eye. “I will give you 20 bucks of weed if you let us borrow your car for a half hour.”
He knew my weakness. An hour later, the Geo was dropped off by a kid who didn’t know anything about any ganja.
When I finally got home, it was time for a nap. As we lay down, Sweetgrass sighed and asked the big question. “Is this a good sign? The chickens? Dealing with Junior?”
“Yes,” I assured her emphatically, hoping I was right. “Everything will be fine. You just wait.”
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