We finished our fourth and final Polyface Intensive Discovery Seminar Saturday.  The 2-day, 6-meal intensives will not be offered next year due to hosting the first ever on-farm Mother Earth News Fair July 17-18.  I'm told that hotel rooms in Staunton are already being booked out solid for that weekend, even though tickets to the event won't go on sale until after the first of the year.

             One of the highlights of this seminar is a hay ride trip part way up the mountain on the back side of our farm where we  have 400 acres of upland Appalachian hardwood forest.  We have pig pastures, acorn glens, lots of forestry projects, and permaculture style ponds that feed our 8 miles of gravity-flow water piping all over the farm.

             For more than a decade, our faithful white angel guardian dog, Michael, has faithfully taken this trip with us.  He comes along on every single trip, scampering all over the woods along the road, chasing rabbits, sniffing for squirrels, and lounging with the group whenever we stop.  As soon as we go to the next teaching area, however, he's back at it, dancing exuberantly alongside the tour, like chief of security in a king's entourage.

             He's now about 15 years old and we've seen a marked decrease in physical activity over the last year.  Here at Polyface, for our 15,000 visitors a year, Michael is a fixture.  He's one in a million because although he's an aggressive guardian dog, he's unbelievably personable with adults and children.  He often accompanies school groups as well, prancing alongside.

             In his prime, he could run 37 miles an hour.  I know because I raced alongside him with the 4-wheeler once and that's what the speedometer said.  One time we were processing chickens and watched him take a ground hog out in the pasture.  He leaped and grabbed that critter in his massive jaws, flinging blood and body juices in one of the most violent hunting exchanges I've ever had the privilege to watch.  It was awesome; raw prowess.

             Saturday morning I wasn't sure he was going to come.  Everyone got on the wagons and he stayed put, but as we pulled away, he slowly rose to his feet and ambled along behind.  As we approached the last field before heading into the woods, he stretched out and ran at full speed about 200 yards up the field so everyone could see him.  That was his only run that day.  Several times he couldn't keep ahead of the tractor and stepped aside, then followed along behind.  That's a first and I knew this would be his last seminar accompaniment.

             As the full import of that struck me, I was in full emotional meltdown by the time we stopped at the pig pasture in the woods and I turned off the tractor ignition so I could address the group.  Michael caught up to us, quickly crawled under the hay wagon, and lay down.  His mind and eyes danced like usual, but his body just couldn't scamper any more.

             When I turned to address the group, it was one of those vulnerable moments when the reality that his dancing days alongside our seminar hayride would not happen again.  We will not resume these seminars until 2021, and by that time I'm sure we will give him a final pat and thank him for many years of care and attention.  He's never failed us.  When I spoke to the group, I just broke down and wept, knowing this was a final journey. As I write this through tears, unable to see the laptop screen, my heart breaks for what he was, but I'm full for having been ministered to for these many years by such a faithful companion.

             When people accuse me of being a murderer for raising livestock, or say that I cannot express love because I eat meat, they do not know the relationship we have with our animals.  All the relationships are respectful and appreciative.  But Michael is on another level and I will miss his white ghost scampering up and down through the trees along our mountain trip.  He has been a faithful friend.

             Have you ever met Michael at Polyface?

Image courtesy of our 2019 intern @redemptionfarmer on Instagram