Confessions of a Toad Murderer

I went to a Jersey farm looking for a taste of the green lifestyle. I ended up in a Quentin Tarantino flick

As I’ve been branching out from reading Apartment Therapy to reading garden porn on the Internet, I’ve been developing this idea that the Michael Pollan-approved grow-your-own lifestyle is heavy on the veg and compost, light on the meat and blood. If you believe the magazines, veggies never wither on the vine and terra cotta pots never get weird moss stains after a season on the deck. Nobody in the magazines sweats, and nobody gets dirty, and it’s all paradise in the Garden of Eating.

After spending some time on my friend’s New Jersey hobby farm, I’ve discovered that the opposite is true. Living green means shedding blood. [SIGNUP]

The other day, I was rototilling my friend’s vegetable garden in preparation for planting some heirloom tomatoes, and I noticed a small brown toad near my foot. He was the same color as the dirt. This was probably good protection for his toad ancestors, who could use this color to camouflage themselves from predators. It was terrible protection from me and the rototiller. The toad’s back leg was covered in bright red blood. I’d tilled the toad.

I felt terribly guilty. What was I supposed to do? Capture him and take him to the vet? Bandage him with one of the Sponge Bob Band-Aids in my purse? While I pondered, the toad hopped away. He seemed to be giving me a dirty look. Or maybe he looks like that all the time. Hard to tell with toads.

I started the tiller again, thinking about the toad’s blood and realizing I’d never once thought about what color a toad’s blood might be. It looked a lot like mine. I had an excellent perspective on the color of my own blood. I vividly recall what it looked like when I sliced off the bottom of my toe while gardening barefoot on a hill in my backyard. I tried to keep my (sneaker-clad) feet away from the rototiller blades and kept a sharp eye out for buried objects that might fly up and become projectiles. I tried not to hit any more toads.

Greater carnage lay ahead, though. Gray feathers were spattered at the end of the row. “Poor bird,” I thought. “Hawk got it.” Then I looked closer. The feathers were long, about eight inches, and they were dark gray with white stripes. The feathers were the same color as the Cuckoo Maran hen pecking outside the adjoining chicken coop. My stomach sank. It wasn’t just a random bird who got picked up by the hawk. It was Houdini, one of my friend’s chickens. It had pecked its way under the chicken wire fence and into the garden area, probably looking for bugs in the freshly-tilled soil. “Poor Houdini,” I said aloud. “That’s the last time you’ll escape from the chicken yard.”

I wondered if I’d tell my four-year-old son. He was still pretty interested in how Michelle, the friendliest chicken in the flock, had been eaten by a fox. He’d overheard me talking about it with my friend and now asked to hear the story regularly. I’m sure it was helpful for him to hear this parable of life and death. He’s in the phase where he asks impossible questions like, “Mommy, who made God?” and “Is Michelle the chicken in heaven with Grandma Mary?” or “Can you go to the baby store and get us another baby?” I know that the experts say that observing the circle of life on a farm is healthy for kids. I simply didn’t think I had it in me to repeat the story of the hawk who ate Houdini 100,000 times. Honestly? I felt a bit guilty about Houdini’s demise. “If only I’d gotten to the garden ten minutes earlier, she might not have been snatched,” I thought. “Could I have done something differently? Could I have been a better chicken protector?”

Just then, a blade spun off the rototiller. A cotter pin had gotten tangled in last year’s potato vines or something, and had popped out. It was gone. Buried in my nice deep furrows. I plopped down in the dirt. I was sweaty, streaked with mud, covered in scratches, mildly sunburned, and felt implicated in the death or dismemberment of two farm animals. The land had defeated me. It was time for a restorative gin and tonic on the deck, perhaps followed by homegrown veggies—grown by someone else, that is.

The simple life is no bowl of cherries. Some days, it’s more like a bloodbath.