Thursday, September 10, 2015

Evening Cattle

I wonder how many cow photos have been taken on Adventure Farm over the past 65 years.
Numerous, to say the least.

One of my grandfather's favorite pastimes was driving through the fields, every evening, checking the cows and fences. I realize it wasn't a pastime though, it was part of farming, part of the responsibility that goes with taking care of the land and the animals. It meant keeping ones eyes open, observing every moving creature and every passing cloud.

I had the privilege to be along with him on many of his rides. I grew up on the farm and spent a lot of time in his presence. I often drove, sitting in his lap, long before I could reach the pedals or steer properly. We went out in his automobile of the moment, most likely a Chevy, because Chevy was the only proper car, and never a truck, mind you, always a nice car. He drove his cars like trucks, watching for ground hog holes but there was no way to avoid the cow manure, set out like land mines throughout a field full of cattle. He was religious about cleaning the car at least once a week or more often on a particularly messy outing. Cleaning meant the scrub brush on a pole, maybe a power washer and definitely a blower for the inside.

On our journeys we saw hawks, red-winged blackbirds, bluebirds, all acceptable. Groundhogs, foxes, buzzards and beavers were not. My grandfather planted apple trees for the wild animals and didn't particularly like to hunt. We looked at the cattle and when birthing season was upon us, deep winter, around Christmas as I remember and always the coldest time, we watched even closer. If a cow was chewing its cud then everything was alright. Occasionally, we got to witness the birth and see the almost effortless process. Sometimes, birthing didn't go so well and a tractor and chain would help the calf along. I wasn't witness to these more harrowing experiences. Sometimes the calf wouldn't make it, or it would be orphaned and would have to be bottle fed. If you acted quickly enough, you could switch a newborn orphaned calf on to another new mother, but this didn't always work. Growing up on a farm teaches you the most basic facts of life in a crude but truthful manner.

Tonight, when I took my grandmother home from dinner at our house (pizza because I cooked way too much this weekend and couldn't bear to look at another tomato or cucumber), the cows were all gathered around the fence of her house. The mist was coming down and dusk was near. After a wet summer, the grass is greener than usual, it's a jungle out there. It was a sight; the black cows against the green grass against the yellow corn tassels against the deep green of the distant trees and the blue ridge mountains shrouded in misty white. The cows let me approach them. They stared back. They stood still. We looked at each other. The only sound was their breathing, heavy and sometimes a snort or heaving sigh. And all I could think was how lovely and peaceful life is, how sweet the lessons are if you can just allow yourself to listen and open your eyes. It takes patience, faith and confidence to fully live and farm. It is a battle against all odds and at the end of the day, you better take a cruise around and take it all in, breathe in and breathe out and thank all forces for your existence and pray to make tomorrow a better day.
Seeing the cattle around the farm always makes me think of my grandfather. I miss those days of driving around with him. My grandfather is always here with us and I try to follow his guiding hand, hoping I can keep the farm going and do what's right by him, the land and the animals.