I'm not sure when I realized it first.
Maybe it was when we loaded up our chickens--with their wings flapping in our faces--dropped them off to be processed and then went back a week later to pick up frozen drumsticks and breasts.
Or maybe it was when my cousin visited the farm for the first time and asked in shock, "You mean bacon comes from hogs? I thought it just came from the grocery store!"
But somewhere in between those two incidents, I realized that death is real to country dwellers in a unique sort of way: It's laced throughout every aspect of farming, and there's no hiding from it.
It doesn't make it easier. It doesn't make it hurt less. But it is real, and it does happen, and it is part of life on the farm.
Last week, my Great Pyrenees Wally was hit and killed in the middle of the night. I don't know who did it, but I know that it happened quickly and that he didn't suffer.
But Wally was the first dog that was mine, who loved having his stomach scratched and eating beef liver, who walked so closely behind me on our gravel road that he liked to bump my heels and who always got in between me and the cows like the guardian he was born to be.
He was the dog with the big poof of hair on the top of his head, who rolled over so loudly on the front porch that I was constantly convinced people were walking around outside, who loved the shade during the day and being on guard at night.
He was the dog that patiently let Blackjack jump all over him and who couldn't be bothered to fetch, who laid under my office window like a big, fuzzy guard dog, who was miserable when he had to be penned up and jumped and leaped when he was free to run.
He was the dog that dug up corn stalks from the field and left them for me every.single.morning in the front yard, who curled up with Frisbees and squeaky toys and pop cans he found who-knows-where.
He was a big dog, but he was my dog. He was the goofy little puppy who raced off into the cornfield the first day we got him, who took a ride in a police car a month later and who chased off coyotes and hawks and neighboring dogs without fear.
He was the dog my farmer loved to see me play with and sit beside in the grass and take for walks.
And he is the reason that, after my farmer took him away to bury him, I called my dad and cried a little.
And my dad, a farmer himself, understood.
Death is not unique to farming, but it is real in a unique way. Crops wilt. Animals die. Accidents happen.
It doesn't make it easier, but it isn't removed. It's near to us and we are near to it, and that never changes.
Chris texted me later: "Wally is buried. I buried him by hand because he was a good dog and deserved to have one of the persons he guarded in life care for him in death. Farm dogs are the best dogs. They lead relatively short lives, but they live good lives, the envy of all other canines."
And, as with most things, that farmer of mine is right.