Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dancing With Cows

Working cattle is not for the faint of heart. Most of our cows weigh between 1200 and 1600 pounds. Joe, like most farmers around here has been kicked, trampled, gored and flattened by ornery cows. Occasionally, the air turns blue with cuss words when the cows are not cooperating but, more often, my husband makes working cattle look like a beautiful dance.

Yesterday, when I came home from school, he and Justin were moving some cattle. Justin was in the meadow on his four-wheeler. Gunning his engine he bounced across ditches and bumps as he rounded up stray cows. I held my breath every time he skidded onto three wheels. As he zoomed back and forth, Justin pushed the cattle into a tight group and funneled the herd, like a shape shifting amoeba, through the gate.

Then, working together, the three of us forced them into a fence corner. Another group of cows and calves watched curiously from the other side. Joe opened the gate between them creating a twelve foot gap. Then, my intrepid husband stepped between the two herds and commenced to sort them out. Both groups of cows pushed and shoved trying to move through the gate.

Swaying from left to right, Joe directed the cows. If a wily cow tried to sneak through, he side-stepped and turned her away. If one hung back, he lifted his stick, tapped her on the rump and steered her into the other field. With grace and precision, he selected cows from one herd and propelled them into the other. Within five minutes all the cows and calves were sorted into the right fields. It was like watching a rural Baryshnikov in a bovine ballet.

My youngest son, Scott is majoring in animal science at Virginia Tech. He called the other night to say his Intro to Ag class was learning how to move herds of cows. He laughed as he described the antics of his classmates chasing cattle around the pen. Scott, like his brother and father, has been dancing with cows since he was old enough to hold a stick. I guess something like that can be taught, but it takes a lifetime of exposure to develop it into a fine art. We may not have a lot of culture out here on the farm, but watching my husband and sons perform their bovine ballet more than makes up for it. The best seats in the house are free.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Evening Vespers

The light fades so fast. This afternoon, when I got home, I jumped in the truck with Joe to help him give the ewes some barley. When we left the house, the sky was gold; when we reached the field, it was silver; by the time he had poured the last of the barley into the pan, it was gray. All in less than fifteen minutes.

I love to watch Joe feed the sheep. Cap pushed back, flannel shirt flapping, he walks into the field with a sort of lopsided gait, weighed down on his right by the barley in the bucket. Then he lifts his hands to his mouth and calls. “Shirrrpy, Shiiiirrrpy!” The musical invitation rolls up over the hills and before the last echo threads its way back, a train of wooly ewes bounds over the brow of the hill. They leap and kick their heels as they barrel down to their evening meal. The last rays of sun limn the lambs with light.

The sheep circle Joe, butting, bleating, baahing as they push into the pans full of grain. They are hungry because fall temperatures have nipped the grass. As the grain swishes into the pans, the sheep subside to gentle bleats. Tilt your head and listen. Can you hear it? All across the county, in every valley and holler, farmers and sheep are greeting the evening in Highland County.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Invasion of the Crumb Snatchers

In the fall, UFO’s send large numbers of their species to invade my house. With their large black eyes and pointy faces, they might be scary if they weren’t so darn cute. They only come out at night and I wouldn’t even know they had visited if it weren’t for the abundance of small gifts they leave behind. I am positively schizophrenic about these Unidentified Furry Objects (Peromyscus maniculatus)or deer mice.

For years I have gleefully trapped mice and tossed their carcasses to the chickens. But, last year, I accidentally dislodged a momma mouse from her nest of babies. She ran off, leaving her little pink eraser-shaped children to fend for themselves. Instantly my maternal instincts took over. I gathered all nine babies into the palm of my hand and went in search of a small box. Joe says I should have been searching for the cats.

Anyway, after locating an appropriate receptacle, I scoured the internet looking for a mouse milk recipe. I couldn’t find one. Go figure. So I concocted my own version from canned milk, water and egg with just a touch of sugar for sweetness. Then I spent an hour or two convincing the babies to suck a drop from a syringe. After three days of this madness, thank goodness they all died. But ever the conflicted one, I dug a grave for them under the pear tree. By the end of the week, I was once again trapping the little boogers and tossing them to the cats. See what I mean about schizophrenia?

Farm living continues to teach me new things about myself.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Country Decorating

A country themed magazine came in the mail yesterday. When I sat down to read it, the pages fell open to a beautiful spread featuring what the editors called an authentic country kitchen. There were flowers and decorative bowls of fresh produce on the counters. There was a deep, country sink and a six burner, stainless steel Viking stove. There were rough hewn timbers and recycled barn wood throughout. The windows were spotless and the curtains were crisp. It was beautiful, but it was not an authentic country kitchen.

There were no people in overalls or muddy shoes. There weren’t any wilted piles of day old vegetables waiting to be processed. A farmwife stood at the counter, dressed in white slacks and silver sandals. She was smiling as she snipped the ends off a fresh artichoke. It was obvious that she and the artichoke had just stepped off the plane from California where she must have gone for a perm and manicure.

I wore white slacks in my kitchen once, but I’ve never worn any silver sandals there. I don’t have any rough hewn timbers because they’re the dickens to clean and all my recycled barn wood is out in my barn. My windows are spotless twice a year and my curtains are crisp only after I put out the flames from the Christmas candle I set in the windowsill.

Eight years ago, a pipe burst in my kitchen and the resulting flood soaked its way into the subfloor. After tearing out the ruined linoleum, I went shopping. I bet I searched through over two hundred samples in my quest for a pattern that matched my idea of the perfect floor. I finally found it. It’s a mix of browns that coordinate with lamb, puppy and calf poop. And the yellow and orange highlights match any stray splots of applesauce or tomatoes that splatter on the floor during harvest season.

Real country decorating is beautiful because it is durable, economical, practical and unpretentious. Just like the people who live here.