Duck Eggs

by CB Bassity

     I never liked him.  At first I probably couldn’t have told you why.  Brian seemed likeable enough; he had friends, a following.  But I didn't like him.  Which is odd, since he was coming to visit on a regular basis—too regular.
     It was deep into the winter of 1973, the third year at the commune and the winter I lived there alone. Better Farm's population changed with each season and usually thinned considerably in winter.  Cricket and Sue, the other most permanent residents besides me, had left on foot that fall with all their belongings in packs on their backs and on the back of one reluctant goat.  They walked about 275 miles to another commune in northeast Vermont, Earth People’s Park, where they lived for some time, still hoping to get into Canada.  (The goat was determined not to go the distance with Cricket and Sue, and ran off one night as they camped, several days away from home.)  They had been turned away as undesirables at the Canadian border in 1971, which is how they came to be at Better Farm in the first place, some seven miles from New York's border with Ontario; they had asked at the border are there any people like us nearby?—and within the hour we saw their old Chevy pickup lumbering up the road toward us, the back piled high with tools and the goods of barest survival and covered with a tarp.
     One reason Brian came by so often was the marijuana crop Cricket and I had grown the previous summer.  I had, hanging behind a false wall we’d built in the barn, several pounds of dried plants—a considerable supply.  Dope-smoking was governed by certain ethics, however, foremost of which was sharing.  And since we had determined not to sell any weed, due to a mixture of caution and principles, there was plenty to share.
     I first met Brian, who lived in a nearby town, through  a mutual friend, Johnny.  I liked Johnny.  He used to drive me to town on the rare occasions when I needed groceries.  We smoked together all the time, and so, when Brian and his buddies came by one day with Johnny, we passed several joints around.  Soon Brian and company were stopping by on their own.  To these guys who had to buy their weed, my generosity was surely welcome.
     As I got to know Brian, it turned out he was a dealer: pills and other stuff that I had no use for.  But, for the most part, selling dope carries no stigma in the counterculture, as it does in straight society.  A dealer is like a gas station, part of the scenery, a place to go when your stash runs out.  Nothing wrong with a dealer, unless he happens to be lowlife besides, and some worthless characters do gravitate to the drug trade.  But Brian still didn't qualify.  He was civil, personable—even had a roughly handsome quality, like a Tom Selleck, with a gravely voice and carefree attitude.  And the only rule we had at Better Farm was: no rules.  Anyone was welcome there.
     But it dawned on me that drug trade in a small town would be like anything else. Nothing goes unnoticed; it’s hard to keep secrets.  So Brian seemed like a menace coming into my home.  I knew from Cricket, who had done sixteen months in prison for owning several marijuana seeds, that little things can become big problems.  Indeed, months later Brian and his wife got busted; their house was raided and their two young kids removed by the authorities. (What’s that like for a three- or four-year-old?)  But what could I say?  How would I explain don’t bring your drug-life here—as I passed a joint to him?
     So, during the long, slow winter months of reading, cutting firewood, and tending to chores, a low-level irritation smoldered within me.  Brian and his friends, nameless and faceless in my memory, connected to Brian like his shadow, became part of that winter's scenery.  Whether I liked it or not.

 ******
     Better Farm evolved, season to season, year to year.  The first year could be loosely characterized as suburban kids go to the country to groove—a party atmosphere with the stereo blasting: the Stones, Let it Bleed.  But after the uncommitted or unsuitable people sifted out—winter helped—and left the place to us remaining few, things took on a more rural character.  When Cricket and Sue arrived in the spring, they brought saws and axes, a treadle sewing machine, garden tools, canning jars—and a compelling urge to homestead.  We acquired some livestock: milk-goats, a sow, a dairy heifer, a horse (named Trouble, who was a gift—but that’s another story), chickens, and ducks.  We were living on a farm, after all.  We raised a big garden; we canned pints and quarts of vegetables; and Cricket and I cut firewood with axe and crosscut saw.
     By the third winter I didn’t know or care when a new Stones album was released; my concerns had to do with goods in the pantry, firewood, and hay.  Over the summer we had cut and stored hay from our meadows on shares with a farmer up the road, who, since he furnished tractor, mower, baler, etc., took the greater percentage of the hay.  So, come late winter I was feeding the last of the hay and needed more.  I made a deal to buy hay from a man eight miles up the road.  Lacking a vehicle in running condition, I thought of Brian and his van.  As I passed him a joint one day, I asked if we could move some hay in his van.  Sure, he said, not a problem.
 ******
     I realized immediately that Brian and his friends were not accustomed to working.  But that was all right because the two van-loads of hay bales didn't amount to a big job.  It was my hay not theirs, and I didn't mind doing most of the work.  Nevertheless they grunted and groaned as if we really were working hard.  I guess the whole affair, start to finish, took most of the short, winter afternoon.
     After we unloaded the last bales in the barn, I said come on inside, and we smoked the inevitable two or three joints.  I hadn't thought about paying for their help, since I really considered it reciprocation.  But the job had lasted longer than I expected, and I figured it would be right to offer a token of my appreciation.
     Gas money was out of the question; I had none. The only other commodity that came to mind was eggs, duck eggs.  The ducks, six or seven of them, had been laying for a week or two, and at the rate of one egg per hen per day, I had more than I needed.  Even the German Shepherd, Rufus, was getting a lot of eggs in his dish.
     So I gathered a couple dozen eggs into a paper bag and presented them to Brian, thanking him for the help and explaining that you prepare these just as you would hen's eggs—they're just a little bigger.  I wasn't prepared for his reaction.
     He looked at me and didn't say anything, didn't register any facial expression, but he looked at me for an extended moment. And I realized later that we communicated at some level beyond which I was aware.  Brian obviously was thinking about the stash of dope I had.  Intending thanks, nothing more or less, I had offered twenty-four duck eggs because duck eggs were what I had.  They seemed a reasonable offering.
     I never saw Brian again.  He didn't come around any more.
 ******
     Twenty years later I learned about the humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, who emphasized the mind’s intuitive strengths.  He theorized that conscious and rational thought, alone, does not convey the full strength of our reasoning capacity.  "Man is wiser than his intellect," he said.  I think I know what that means; I think he was onto something there.

CB Bassity ©1994 All Rights Reserved

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