Yesterday Monkey and I went to the Little Farm, where local city slickers take their youngins to observe the pastoral delights most of us have never known firsthand (yet there they keep showing up, in all the books we read our kids). I myself was reared in the suburbs, but back then my familyâ€™s house was situated on the verge of the exurbs. Our backyard abutted a 350-acre cow pasture which was both muse and stage for all my youthful adventures. Summers, when Californiaâ€™s omnipresent oat grasses are baked dry over months of rainless heat, the cattle would listen for the sounds of our creaky push-mower. Upon hearing its whir, whir, theyâ€™d mosey up for fistfuls of the sweet green stuff my sister and I would rake up and offer them through our feeble chicken-wire fence. Usually weâ€™d poke the hose through the fence, too, and the heifers would nudge each other out of the way for long cool drinks.
It wasnâ€™t all bucolic. Springtimes, when the new calves were old enough to be put out to pasture, theyâ€™d also be old enough to be branded. For reasons I still donâ€™t understand, this took place in a corral just kitty-corner across our backyard fence (the main stables were far across the pasture, down the adjacent canyon). The ranch-hands would gather the calves into the corral, and then, one by one, bind their ankles with rope and brand them. I can still hear the cries they madeâ€”very much like Wookieâ€™s war-cry, in Star Wars, actuallyâ€”and I can still smell the scent of their freshly burnt hides. It made an impression.
No such graphic truths on display at Little Farm, thank heavens. The animal world there does feature what we see a lot of off the farm: single moms doing all the childcare, or a hetero nuclear unit whose parents follow clear sex-based roles. Sows nursing their piglets in the pen, ducklings paddling behind their drake papa and duck mama in the pond. Sure, I know there are plenty of insects, fish, birds, and mammals that have shown same-sex sexual behaviors. And I would be the last person to propose that animal practices should somehow provide any kind of template for human onesâ€”we who have broken away from our closest mammal kin a long time ago, way back when we pre-hensiled our thumbs, or began to walk upright, or whatever. Whenever I get warm and runny about what a deep bond I have with my dog, whenever I get dreamy about how well we wordlessly understand each other, she ups and eats the catâ€™s dookie. We are not the same.
Still, a trip to Little Farm reminds me how fundamental (pun intended) the male-female procreative unit is. Queer families are social units, not biological ones, and that will be something weâ€™ll be explaining to our kidling(s), in time, when they want to know why there are no â€œbabasâ€ at the farm, only â€œmamasâ€ and â€œpapasâ€ (thereâ€™s always the Central Park Zoo, for two papa families). Our family ties originate and flourish most meaningfully in the heart and mind; less so, much of the time not at all, in the genes. I no longer consider this a disadvantage to our little kinship unit, and actually consider it a boon. Blood may be thicker than water, but loveâ€™s even thicker than blood.
*Want all the Green Acres theme song lyrics? Here you go.