On the Farm in Winter by Anonymous
The life of a boy in winter on the old-fashioned New England farm
seems to me one of the best of the right kinds of life for a healthy
lad, provided his tastes have not been spoiled by wrong reading,
or by some misleading glimpse of a city by gas-light. It certainly
abounds with the blood and muscle-making sports for which the city
physiologists so anxiously strive to substitute rinks and gymnasiums.
But I rather pity a young fellow who gets his only sleigh rides by
paying a dollar an hour to the livery-stable, and who must do his
skating within limits on artificial ice. He never gets even a taste of
such primitive fun as two boys I know had last winter. The sleigh was
at the wagon-maker's shop for repairs when the first heavy snow fell,
and they harnessed Dobbin to an old boat, and had an uproarious ride
up hill and down dale, with glorious bumps and jolts.
I rather pity a fellow, too, who eats grocer's apples, and
confectioner's nuts, and baker's cream cakes, who never knows the fun
of going down cellar to the apple bins to fill his pockets for school,
and who owns no right in a pile of butternuts on the garret floor. I
am sorry for a boy that knows nothing of the manly freedom of trowsers
tucked in boots, hands and feet both cased in home-knit mittens and
home-knit socks—I cannot believe his blood is as red, or can possibly
flow so deep and strong in his sidewalk sort of life, as the young
fellows who chop wood and ply the snow-shovel, and turn out
with snow-ploughs after a long storm—the sound of the future strength
of the land is in the sturdy stamp of their snowy boots at the door as
they come in from their hearty work. I am not writing of country boys
that want to be clerks,—they are spoiled for fun anyhow,—but of the
boys that expect, if they expect anything in particular, to stay on
the farm and own it themselves some day.
This stinging cold morning the boys at the schoolhouse door are not
discussing the play-bills of the Globe or the Museum, but how the
river froze last night, turning the long quiet surface to blue-black
ice, as smooth as a looking-glass. Now what skating! what grand
noonings, what glorious evenings! No rink or frog-pond, where one no
sooner gets under headway than he must turn about, but miles and miles
of curving reaches leading him forward between rustling sedges, till
he sees the white caps of the open lake dancing before him.
Presently the snow comes and puts an end to the sport; for sweeping
miles and miles of ice is out of the question. After the snow, a thaw;
and then the jolly snow-balling. There is not enough of a thaw to take
the snow off; only enough to make it just sufficiently sloppy and soft
for the freeze-up that follows to give it a crust almost as hard and
smooth as the ice lately covered up.
Then such coasting! Just think of dragging your sled of a moonlight
night up a mile of easy tramping to the foot of the mountain, whence
you come down again, now fast, now slow, now "like a streak" down
a sharp incline, now running over a even-rail fence buried in the
glittering drifts, and bringing up at last at a neighbor's door, or at
the back side of your own barnyard!
It is great fun, too, to slide on the drifts with "slews" or
"jump-ers." These are made sometimes of one, sometimes of two
barrel-staves, and are sure to give you many a jolly bump and
There is fun to be had in the drifts too, digging caves or
under-snow houses, wherein you may build a fire without the least
danger. Here you can be Esquimaux, and your whole tribe sally forth
from the igloŽ and attack a terrible white bear, if one of the party
will kindly consent to be a bear for awhile. You can make him white
enough by pelting him with snow, and he will bear enough before he
is finally killed.
There is fun, too, and of no mean order, to be got out of the regular
farm duties. Not much, perhaps, out of bringing in the wood, or
feeding the pigs, or turning the fanning-mill; but foddering the
sheep and calves, which, very likely, are pets, takes the boys to the
hay-mow, where odors of summer linger in the herds-grass, and the
daisy and clover-tops are almost as green and white and yellow and
purple as when they fell before the scythe.
What a place is this elastic floor for a "wrestle or a summersault!"
and then, who "da's't" climb to the big beam, into the neighborhood
of the empty swallows nests and dusty cobwebs, and take the flying
jump therefrom to the mow? Here, too, are hens' nests to be found,
with frost-cracked eggs to carry in rats, and larger prey, also to be
hunted when the hay is so nearly spent that the fork sticks into the
loose boards at the bottom of the hay.
But of all things which the farmer's boy is wanted to do, and wants
to do, there is nothing such clear fun as the breaking of a yoke of
calves. First, the little yoke is to be got on to the pair somehow and
a rope made fast to the "nigh" one's head, that is, the calf on the
left side, where the driver goes. Then comes bawling and hauling and
pushing, and often too much beating, until the little cattle are made
to understand that "Gee" means turn to the right, and "Haw" means turn
to the left, and that "Whoa" means stop, and "Back" means, of them
all, just what is said.
Every command is roared and shouted; for an idea seems to prevail
that oxen, big and little, are deaf as adders, and can never be made
to hear except at the top of the voice. In a still, winter day, you
may hear a grown-up ox-teamster roaring at his patient beasts two
miles away; and a calf-breaker not half his size may be heard more
than half as far. Then, on some frosty Saturday, when the little
nubby-horned fellows have learned their lessons, they are hitched to
a sled, and made to haul light loads, a little wood, or some of the
boys,—the driver still holding to the rope, and flourishing his whip
as grand as a drum-major.
Once in a while the little oxen of the future take matters into their
own hoofs and make a strike for freedom, upsetting the sled and
scattering its load, and dragging their driver headlong through the
But they have to submit at last; and three or four years hence, you
would never think from their solemn looks and sober pace that they
ever had thought of such rebellious freaks. They were the boy's
calves, but father's oxen.
Halter-breaking a colt is almost as good as breaking steers, only
there is no sled-riding to be had in this.
Till lately, the young fellow has had the freedom of the fields,
digging in the first snows for a part of his living, and with his
rough life has grown as shaggy-coated as a Shetland pony, with as
many burrs stuck in his short foretop as it will hold; for if there
is an overlooked burdock on all the farm, every one of the horse kind
running at large will find it, and each get more than his share of
burrs matted and twisted into his foretop and mane.
Now, he is waxed and driven into a shed or stable, and fooled or
forced to put his head into a long, stout, rope halter. Then he is got
into the clear, open meadow, and his first lesson begins. The boys all
lay hold of the rope at a safe distance from the astonished pupil,
and pull steadily upon him. Just now he would rather go any way than
straight ahead, and holds back with all his might, looking, with all
his legs braced forward, his neck stretched to its utmost, and his
head on a line with it, like a stubborn little donkey who has lost
something in ears, but nothing in willfulness, and gained a little
in tail. At last he yields a little to the uncomfortable strain, and
takes a few reluctant steps forward, then rears and plunges and
throws himself, and is drawn struggling headlong through the snow,
until he tires of such rough usage and flounders to his feet.
Then he repeats his bracing tactics, the boys bracing as stoutly
against him, till he suddenly gives way and they go tumbling all in a
If the boys tire out before the colt gives up, there are other days
coming, and sooner or later he submits; and in part compensation for
not having his own way, he has a warm stall in the barn, and eats from
a manger, just like a big horse, and is petted and fondled, and grows
to be great friends with his young masters—at last to be "father's
horse," instead of "our colt."
But by and by the long winter—this play-day of the year for the
farm-boy—comes to an end, to make way for spring—spring which brings
to him work out of all reasonable proportion to the amount of play, at
least so the farm-boy is likely to think.