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Form or function?

Lead Summary

HCP columnist

The snow was up to the tops of my work boots. Luckily, the legs of my coveralls came down over my boots, so the snow could not get inside to my already chilly feet. I looked out across the yard, perfectly covered in a pristine layer of new, ever so perfect snow.

Greg and I began our morning chores of feeding and watering the animals. I could feel the inside of my nose crinkle as I inhaled, and was amazed at how warm the inside of the chicken coop felt as I delivered their thawed water.

I paused to watch them as they milled about. They stayed back from the door, not wanting to venture out, and gently clucked at me as if to say “Thank you, kindly. We will just hunker down inside today.”

I scattered some scratch grains across the floor and they dutifully began to scratch about. I trudged through the snow to the pigeons and looked with continued amazement at our grey male, who was once again sitting on his nest, piled high with straw that he had brought up from the floor. Two, just hatched, baby birds, no bigger than silver dollars, were snuggled under his warm belly.

I thought that it seemed to be extremely cold weather to be raising brand new baby birds, but he seemed very secure with his fatherhood, and stayed calmly on his nest, not fluttering about with the rest of the flock.

Greg was tending to the rabbits and goats as I headed down the hill to the little horses in the pasture. They trotted right up to me, glad for the company. Little hoof prints were scattered all about the pasture. Both horses had an icy blanket of snow across their backs.

Their winter coats were serving them well. With the horses watered and fed, I climbed back up the hill to the cabin. I looked out across the yard. The snow was not so pristine anymore. There were distinct foot trails across the white covered ground, leading to the chickens, pigeons, goats and rabbits. I paused at the crest of the hill and watched as Greg returned to the cabin, walking along the trail that led to and from the rabbits. I looked down at my own footsteps. I had retraced my footsteps back up the hill, following the same path that I had forged on my descent.

Greg called across the snow. “Resting?”

I shook my head. “Just thinking,” I replied. It had occurred to me that our precise trials across the new-fallen snow did look crisp and purposeful. Multiple random trails would have marred the beauty of the smooth whiteness that covered our world.

But then it also occurred to me that walking through the snow on a previously trod path was certainly much easier than trudging through the boot deep powder.

Had we been following our footsteps for the sake of forming purposeful paths, or were we functionally stepping along the course of least resistance? The cold wind whipped across my forehead, and spurred me to resume my trek back to the cabin.

As I dutifully followed along my path, a flash of honesty struck me as sharp as the wind. I knew that when we stepped out the front door to do our morning chores, that neither of us had been thinking of either form or function.

We were just determined to do those outside things that needed to be done, and to take the most direct route possible, so we could hurry back inside to another cup of coffee and the warmth of the wood stove.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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