At the farm where we live now in Northern Baltimore county, the early morning view from the side porch is wonderful. The sun has been rising between 5:30 and 6, accompanied by a soft mist rising from the dew-covered pastures where the horses are kept. And the sounds of a working horse farm begin.
A cock crows. Two farm hands, Charlie and his brother Fred, walk out to the stables to begin their murmured coaxing of the thoroughbreds. A stallion is in one barn. Charlie brings a mare or two by to see whether they are interested. One mare kicks the side of the barn. She's not interested. Then the horses and a couple of foals are led out to various paddocks where the huge horses gallop around. They keep a bag of carrots in the barn to please the horses.
There are a lot of other creatures on the farm. Charlie's prized birds coo all day in the barn. There are barn cats, three Chesapeake Bay retrievers, all strangers to our own pets - a golden retriever and a cat. The golden retriever has made an easy adjustment. The cat made the mistake of wandering into the domain of the barn cats one afternoon. There was a loud cat screech and out came our cat running faster than I've ever seen a cat run.
For a whole week, every day started with this typical, slow-moving routine of a working farm. These were all new sights and sounds and smells to me, for I have never lived on a farm before. Every whinny, snort, cock crow, pigeon coo, hoof fall, hay rustle and tractor rumble was a new delight. Fred and Charlie's murmured conversations with the horses they lead around seem exotic, almost foreign, enviable.
This idyllic place, I thought, was the way God intended for the world to be.
The serenity of the whole experience was helped by the fact that for a whole week, I did not read a newspaper or watch television for more than two minutes. I had practically no idea what was going on in the world. The population of Iraq could have swarmed into the streets with bags full of rose petals for the American forces and I would not have known about it. Ditto if the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction had been unearthed right under the Green Zone in Baghdad.
So coming back to the real world was difficult. For, the developments in the world of war and politics have not been good.
Americans are still being killed in Iraq, and so are Iraqis. In less than six weeks the American military will suddenly become a "guest" in Iraq, and no one knows what will happen then. The calamity of Abu Ghraib gets worse. There are more pictures and there's more evidence that young Americans behaved there in a way that was not only un-American, it was unnatural. Bureaucrats and generals can't explain this appalling development.
Speaking to a congressional committee last week, Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, says "Our doctrine is not right. There are so many things that are out there that aren't right in the way that we operate for this war. "
Elsewhere in the Middle East region, our supposed ally, Israel, is laying waste to parts of the Gaza Strip and killing lots of people in the process of trying to get at the tunnels used by Palestinians to smuggle in arms they use to kill Israelis. President Bush reacts to all of this by saying Israel has to do what it has to do. The uneven relationship persists, to the detriment of both sides, really.
Ze'ev Schiff, one of Israel's most respected military analysts, writes in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz about Israel's behavior and the symbiotic relationship with the United States: "The condemnations of the world are received with indifference, and the indifference is reinforced by the fact that similar, and worse, blunders are happening to the Americans in Iraq."
But one doesn't have to go that far afield to find tortured hopelessness. In Baltimore, infant twins are found murdered in the basement of a wreck of a home, where the police say their 17-year-old mother and 24-year-old father beat them and broke their bones.
This happened less than 30 miles from the farm, but in a different world. To make matters worse, politicians like Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. use the issue to tune us all into their abiding inability to get along.
"Children are dead. It's not the time for politics," Ehrlich says. "The focus needs to be on what happened in this case."
But we know what happened in this case. The focus needs to be on creating an environment in which people don't murder their children.
We can send a whole army to invade and occupy Iraq at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. We can send billions of dollars to Israel and anyone who promises to sign a peace treaty with Israel, no matter how Israel behaves. But we can't really deal with a part of the American population that's living in wretched poverty, getting whacked out on drugs and murdering children.
What's all this got to do with the farm? Life on the farm is far removed from the catastrophic conditions in Iraq, in Israel and Palestine and in the most wretched parts of the city - far removed from reality, you might say. Maybe it's even irrelevant.
Except for a few proverbial certainties:
If you spend time and money taking care of a farm and its creatures, they will flourish.
The house cat that ventures among the barn cats will be chased away as surely as the last intruder was.
A soft murmur and a bit of carrot gets better results than a lot of hollering and bullying.
If the mare doesn't want to mate, it'll kick the stallion in the teeth, so don't force it.