A recent visit to Madison, Wisconsin afforded me a host of new experiences. “Look at how many bucket list items you checked off,” enthused my wife, Katie, upon our return.
     “But none of those experiences were on my bucket list,” I responded.
     “They still count,” she insisted.
     “Do they? Can a bucket list be vicarious?”
     Katie’s brother, Harry, worked for several decades developing a commercial real estate business. Though he derived satisfaction from his job, his real dream was to live on a farm. Finally, with his children grown and his rental properties functioning smoothly, Harry bought a one hundred acre farm forty minutes outside of Madison. For better or worse, the property included a house with an award-winning rodent collection, a barn that was falling down, and a well that did not work.
     Harry spent several months between closing and our visit to ameliorate the more odious manifestations of the rodent condition. (We saw nothing larger than a mouse). He fixed the well and developed plans for a major barn reconstruction.
     The first thing we noticed upon entering the property was a spectacular vista of wildflowers. These sprung from seeds sown by Harry and his wife, Jane, on both sides of their mile-long, gravel driveway. When we reached the house, we saw that Jane had also planted a profusion of sunflowers and flower-pots to festoon a shaky, but beautifully situated, wooden patio. Monet would have felt at ease. I was just starting to relax and anticipate a barbecue when Jane proudly announced that we would be the first to share something that she had always wanted to do: lunch would consist entirely of items she had grown or found in her gardens.
     I had forgotten that Jane is beyond vegetarian in the culinary arts. She could aptly be described as a “peculiarian.” Thus, the first unique experience of our visit, a meal made of homegrown vegetables along with a variety of leaves, roots, seeds and weeds. There were some berries, too, but only a bird or a botanist could have identified them.
     The main afternoon activity was to tour the property. Harry was bursting with pride to show off his toys. He had a big green tractor, a small red tractor, and a variety of splitters, grinders and winches. None of these items are exceptional, or even notable, if one has spent time on a farm, but for a Philadelphia boy like me, this was serious machinery. The pinnacle of my previous automotive mastery consisted of attaining semi-competence, one summer, driving a VW Beetle with a stick-shift. I vowed, twenty-five years ago, to never do that again.
     But here I was, taking my turn behind not only the steering wheel, but also more sticks, clutches, buttons and gauges than I had ever seen in one place, guiding several tons of tractor down a furrow (if that is the right word). Thanks to the expert tutelage of the man recently escaped from commercial real estate, there were no calamities.
     The next bucket list experience of the day involved trying to fall asleep on an air mattress in the loft of the barn, surrounded by tools, ropes, cans and countless smells indicative of rural life. It was windy that night and the building groaned like a ship at sea. When I stopped worrying about whether the barn would fall over, I heard my first lifetime coyote howls somewhere disturbingly nearby. I contemplated, for what seemed like hours, whether such animals know how to open doors.
     After what could not have been more than two hours of sleep, I was awakened for the first time in my life by the sound of actual roosters. As the sun finally appeared on the horizon, I segued, as in the finale of a fireworks show, immediately into another new experience – the cold, outdoor shower.
     In sum, the new experiences were interesting and memorable. But, as I learned in an earlier stage of life, when I insanely agreed to co-train for four months to run a marathon, in order to further a friend’s most ardent goal, it could be ill-advised to participate in the completion of other peoples’ bucket lists.