If you think farm animals aren't party animals, you haven't met our cows and horses. It's not that we've ever invited them to spring sap boilings, summer picnics and camp-outs, fall bonfires, or winter sledding socials that we've hosted over the years. They just show up to horn in on the festivities. Once they get wind of our preparations and note the arrival of a car or two, they cancel all other plans they had for the day.
The cows in particular like to witness - and even participate in - any unusual goings-on. Who can blame them given the humdrum routine of a bovine's normal day?
Light a bonfire with a circle of friends on a chill autumn night, and the farm animals will arrive, druid-like, to bask in the warmth and enjoy the light with you.
Head for the sugaring camp, and they will follow, ever ready to slurp some of that sweet sap water for themselves. (In fact, they've become so greedy we had to fence off the area.)
Bring out the toboggan, and they are ready, if not to sled, to lurk at the bottom of the hill, stolid and amused at the sudden turns and bailouts they inspire. The other day they really got into the spirit of things, running about until we'd all but given up uncontested runs. When our big black Percheron, Ben, exploded onto the scene, snorting steam and joyously kicking up mists of powder with his massive hooves, we unanimously called it a day.
Most of our friends know by now that our farm-based events come with these kinds of rude interruptions, but they know, too, that our animals don't pose any real danger. They are simply curious, inveterate party crashers and, well, big.
They're messy, too, as my son and his friend discovered upon leaving their Civil War-style campsite on the hilltop unattended for a few days. The cows rolled some firewood down the slope and then claimed that bit of terrain in no uncertain terms - and without firing a shot.
We left the farm in others' hands for a train trip last fall; the couple who offered to move in and care for the animals asked if it would be OK to invite a group of friends over for a barbecue in the pasture behind the farmhouse. No problem, we assured them, forgetting for a moment the real potential for a bigger crowd than they were anticipating.
When we returned, Mark and Sara regaled us with tales of the night. They'd plugged a boombox into an electrical outlet in the hay shed and filled buckets with ice for drinks, insulating them with tufts of the premium hay we stored for feeding in the depths of winter. Then they spread out the food along our pickup's tailgate.
From their descriptions, two vivid images of the event will go down in the annals of farm hospitality gone awry - that of our beautifully horned cows jockeying for the coveted hay amid the chilled drinks (as thirsty guests hovered nervously in the background); and that of Ben's big lips vacuuming up the coleslaw. ("Hey," he no doubt was asking himself, "where do we get more of this kind of silage?")
A third, gentler scene also comes to mind - those guests and our cows eventually came to terms and finally basked together in the warmth and light of the evening's bonfire. It must have been something special.
No wonder Mark and Sara, who wed in New Zealand last year, want to repeat the ceremony right here - with a three-species guest list.