I thread the Outback between two posts and bring it to rest in the shade. I’m listening to NPR, a story about social media gone awry. Shelley’s black and white cat, Lucy, has reached the car by the time my feet touch the ground and is twitching her rear end at one of the tires. “What are you doing? Marking your territory?” I say in a sing-song voice, leaning down to stroke her shiny black coat. “Let’s go see what those chickens are up to,” I say, walking towards the chicken coop. Shelley is in Canada, and I’m in charge of feeding Lucy and the yard birds.
It’s nice to have Lucy’s company, but it comes with a price. She is not shy about telling me all about her last 24-hours in a language I cannot understand. The chickens also have a lot to say. But I welcome the sound of other animals. Much of what I do is done alone these days. I am the invisible hand that shapes the world around me, and that is as it should be. No one needs to see me struggling to free a limb saw from a branch that has bitten back and clamped on. I don’t want anyone watching me shove the vacuum cleaner against the nap of our bedroom carpet. And writer’s block, like constipation, is best suffered in private.
At the end of the day, after a shower and a change of clothes, I walk around the yard with Bob admiring the mulch around our fruit trees and our pristine gardens. After I’ve coughed up some words and rearranged them into a second draft, I punt them over to Bob for editing. He doesn’t have to see the first draft. That’s for no one but me to see. I present a finished meal every evening, plate ready—potato peels and nicked fingers omitted. I’ve heard it said that no one wants to hear about the labor; they just want to see the baby.
And yet, I opened an Instagram account not so long ago and began to crow about my accomplishments in their unvarnished state. I got into the Instagram game right about the time it began trending away from glitzy, staged photo art. I figured out how to put my laptop in smartphone mode and posted bowls of harvested peppers, laundry piles, seed orders, and Bob and I smiling in front our new Chevy Volt before driving it home from the dealer. Maybe I’m not so into private life as I pretend to be.
Like Lucy, I also mark my territory. In Africa, I impaled a muddy baby doll head on a spike atop our razor-wired gate. Bob was horrified, but I thought it was funny. Twenty years ago, before Facebook, before Instagram, he created a platform for our online presence, a site we named Troutsfarm after the little horse farm we sold in 1997. We used our farm’s logo, a hand-drawn yin yang blend of horse and trout, to brand our website.
Last week Bob dressed up our new car by adding a front plate with the Troutsfarm logo. And yesterday he drilled a hole in the belly of a plastic dinosaur—Toy Story’s Rex—and stuck it atop one of the metal pipes that define our property line. Whether it’s an Instagram post, a personal website, a vanity plate, or Dino-Boy on a survey pin, we all need to make our mark upon the world.