I know that no one reads this, why would they? But I still like to write as if someone does. Lately a story has been circulating regarding the escape of 15 buffalo from an Upstate New York farm…I just attempted to find the New York Times article but when I searched the name of my hometown something else came up instead, something else that I feel it wouldn’t be right not to acknowledge.
The first result my search yielded tells the story of something that happened almost 10 years ago, that I still think of every day. The link to the actual article no longer works, but the summary reads “Two people died when a house exploded about 10:45 a.m. yesterday about 10 miles south of Albany, the police said. Firefighters found the bodies of two people, described as young adults or teenagers. Neither victim was identified by officials…”
The bodies were identified. One was my childhood friend, Jolene. The other was a friend of hers not from our hometown. I was on vacation with my family the day Jolene died, but the way the story goes, the day she died the whole town shook. The explosion could be heard for miles. Her mother and stepfather were not home, her younger sister was in the shower and this somehow saved her life. I don’t know where Jolene was in her final moments, but I always imagine her sitting in the kitchen, drinking black coffee, smoking a cigarette. Her friend is there too, also drinking coffee and smoking, but her coffee has cream and sugar in it. I guess I imagine them like Laurel and Claudia, in Francesca Lia Block’s The Hanged Man where she describes the two of them sitting at the cafe. She says, “Past the café where Claudia and I drink coffee (mine black, hers sugary and milky brown) and smoke at the window booth with the sun dusting in like some kind of drug we want to put in our noses and mouths and veins.”
Jolene and I hadn’t been close for a long time. She had begun spending time with friends who got her into trouble, she had even left our school for awhile. We had drifted apart and never really come back together. But when she died so suddenly a part of me died too. I can’t explain it because she had not been an active part of my life for so long. I guess it was one of the first concrete examples of young mortality, and that even in our safe, quiet town a faulty hot water heater could blow up a house in a second. I had only experienced the death of the elderly and those with terminal illnesses prior to Jolene. I had never experienced loss due to a seemingly random, accidental cause. I know that it seems silly to those who have lost parents, siblings, spouses that this situation has stuck with me like it has. And maybe it is, but there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Jolene. I remember her laugh and the hours we spent talking about boys. I remember her being my partner for the crayfish unit in 5th grade science class, I remember how she was good at math and I wasn’t. I remember how she taught me all the words to the first verse of Can I Get A…by Jay Z. I can still sing it perfectly, thanks for that, girl. I just heard You Get What You Give by The New Radicals and remembered how her favorite part was when they yelled, “give it to me now!” in that weird, high voice. Jolene, “you’ve got the music in you.” You always did, and maybe someday I’ll see you again.
The original topic of this entry was another event that shook my hometown (figuratively this time) 15 buffalo escaped from GEM Farms. Yes, 15 buffalo, from the buffalo farm in my hometown that few people actually believe exists, made a break for it. Their ending was not a happy one. The story can be viewed here, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/25/nyregion/15-bison-escape-from-new-york-farm-cross-thruway-and-are-shot.html?_r=0
My hometown has only made it to the New York Times a handful of times, and most of those times were in the late 1800s/early 1900s when people were actually concerned about railroads. I come from a tiny town on the Hudson, it’s on the railroad line. I love falling asleep at night to the sound of train whistles and being near the river, I love the wide open spaces and the farms and the trees. What I don’t like is all the gossip, knowing that if I see someone at the grocery store the whole town will know what I was buying and what I was wearing. I don’t like the sheltered people who have never left, yet think they know everything. I have a lot of feelings toward my hometown. They range from embarrassment and disgust to pride and admiration.
When this article about 15 rogue buffalo hit the news I was amused but also embarrassed. I wasn’t sure I wanted my New York City friends and coworkers to know that this is the type of place that I came from.
On the other hand, coming from a place like this makes me unique and has given me knowledge that others don’t necessarily have. I have had to inform my coworkers that not all poor people are of color and live in housing projects. I have explained to them that there are poor White people who live in trailers, who drink and use drugs, and also have their children placed in foster care. The numbers of children of color in foster care in New York City are absolutely higher, but this is not the case everywhere else. I have explained that our ways of saving money are often different, that we grow our own gardens full of fruits and vegetables, or use the woodstove rather than turning on the heat.
I had close friends who lived on dairy farms, I had close friends whose families owned vegetable farms. They grew corn, they grew strawberries, they grew apples, they grew cucumbers. I never wanted for fresh produce straight from the source where I grew up. I have brought people their very first apple cider doughnuts, something I thought was a staple in everyone’s life come Fall. I have explained to people that every summer my mother makes her own jam, and they think it’s so “cute and rustic.” I have explained to people that others actually live like this. I have explained time and time again that yes, there is a farm in my town that raises buffalo, and yes, they are raised primarily for their meat, and no, they are not big, loveable, fuzzy, friendly pets.
I am not one to advocate for the raising of animals for meat. I have been a vegetarian for half my life and do not even eat fish, or gelatin, or wear leather. I have however had drilled into my head from a young age (as I think all of us who grew up in Schodack do) that the buffalo are dangerous. I am aware that they are to be admired from a distance and that they cannot be petted no matter how fluffy and kind they look. I am aware that one cannot even enter the field on foot, but must be riding on a tractor. Did I want 15 buffalo to die on that day? No, of course not. But I understand the reality of the situation. They were terrorizing a village, they swam across the river, they ran across the Thruway almost causing multiple accidents. They charged through police barricades. Something needed to be done, and unfortunately these animals are not domesticated and are not pets. They cannot be herded like cattle, they cannot be tranquilized due to their large size and thick skin because a person cannot get close enough to them to administer the dose without risking his or her life by doing so.
I have made the mistake of reading internet comments and have become enraged by the backlash the farm owners are getting. Despite an expert from Cornell saying everything that I have said, I have been challenged, saying how do I know what I’m talking about? Well, I grew up in Schodack, that’s how. We have been taught about the Buffalo so we can stay safe in a situation like this one. I know that this family did not want to lose half their herd and I know that this decision was extremely hard on them.
And I can’t stand these wealthy, small private liberal arts college attending hipsters who go spend a week on a farm making jam and petting lambs, who think that everything is so “rustic and scenic,” telling me that what the experts say, what the farmers say, what I say, is wrong. We all wanted a different outcome, but not every story has a happy ending. I, and the entire town of Schodack, stand by the Mesick family.
In fact, someone had already started a Go Fund Me page not an hour after the incident (it has since disappeared, I’m not sure why). It was the same when a local dairy farm burned last year. Another farmer was there immediately to take the remaining cows to his farm, dinners were held, t-shirts were sold. The whole town joined together to help. We may not always get along, we may be a little sheltered, but we always take care of each other. Even though I’ve moved on from there and wouldn’t dream of going back to live, I respect that way of life. My emotions may oftentimes be mixed, but when I see the way we rise to meet each challenge, and the loyalty we share, I am proud to be from a small town.