Summer on the Farm

 

This “summer” story starts in the winter. In order for one to truly appreciate summer, a wintry time must come first.

Each January afternoon the school bus dropped us off at home, and with great determination, my sister and I would resolve to get right out to the milking barn. The sooner we got to it, the sooner we could be finished. But it was so hard to leave the house…. Our mom always had something baking, like cookies or cinnamon rolls. We’d bring in our chilly chore clothes from the porch off the kitchen, and warm them up by the coal stove.

Then, I pulled on layer after layer–thermals, denim, knits–topping it with the one piece coverall. I was just trying to ward off the outdoor chill visible in the ice crystals creeping up the inside of the kitchen window. Two or three socks were on each foot I shoved into the knee-high rubber boots, and I tied a dishtowel around my hair. I stepped out the door with the house-milk bucket swinging from my arm, while my hands hid in my pockets.

The first breath of that tingling air shocked my lungs, and my nose and cheeks stung from the biting cold. The sun was hovering over the west hills, but its pale light was useless as a source of warmth. The atmosphere was thin and brittle, and the snow squeaked dryly with each step. I walked quickly to the barn, leaving the bucket in the milk house, and opened the gate that led to the cowshed.

Even the cows were reluctant to come out on a night like this. I had to prod, coax, and even threaten them with the dog to roust them from their cozy quarters where their collective warmth and moist breath gave a foggy boost to the temperature by many degrees over that outside.

The first dozen cows trudged into the milking barn, leaving the other twenty huddled together in the front waiting their turns. If the vacuum lines weren’t blocked by ice, the milking went smoothly. During the few minutes it took each cow’s milk to be extracted into the machine’s bucket, I slid my freezing hands in the warm place between her leg and udder until my fingers tingled, signifying the return of blood flow. The outside temperature registered negative 25 degrees, and I appreciated the living hand-warmers.

At last, the two hours of work came to an end. I turned the last cow out to return to her warm bed, washed out the milkers, hefted the cans filled with warm milk into the cooling trough of water so the cream could rise for morning’s collection. I turned out the lights, crossing the barnyard by the glow of the millions of stars shining over the brittle landscape. Just seeing the glow from the house lights began to warm me, knowing that I’d be inside in a minute, comfortable for another ten hours, at least.

So, how did I stand this torture twice a day for the whole winter? Because I knew that spring would come, and so would June. June in my beautiful mountain valley was worth the entire seven months of winter. By June it was summer!

At evening milking time in June, I was almost grateful for the excuse to be outside. In June, our house–a refuge in the winter–was a barrier to the sensory pleasures of the outdoors. Dressed only in cut-off jeans, a light cotton blouse, and barefoot in my rubber boots, I cheerfully whistled up the dog to accompany me up the field to call in the herd of cows.

I broke off a sprig of lilacs as I went through the yard gate, burying my face in the sweet, purple trumpets clustered along the twig. I could see the cows had wandered halfway to mountains. They were scattered across the deep green landscape, grazing in clover up to their ankles. Meadowlarks, perched on the fence posts, whistled their distinctive melody, as a mother killdeer ran along in front of us, doing the broken wing diversion, to keep us from her babies nesting in the tall grass by the irrigation ditch.

The sun was low enough in the sky to be comfortable, but the evening chill had not begun. The heat of the day shimmered up from the grass, and combined with the slight dust from the herd’s hooves, as they trailed leisurely down the dirt road to the barnyard, sending a soft cloud shimmering aloft. Through this cloud a flock of tiny white and yellow butterflies swirled, disturbed from their resting place as the cows walked past.

In the barn, with the top half of the divided door open, the sunbeams stretched through the hay dust from the loft, and striped the cows as they stood, sleek and clean from living outdoors, away from the close quarters of the sheds. Their sun-warmed hides felt soft against my bare arms as I crouched down to attach the milkers. Waiting for the milk to pump out, I gazed out the open door, watching lambs caper in the adjoining pasture. The cats, bulging from the day’s mouse hunt, twined around my ankles purring for warm milk in their dish.

Since no one but cows could hear, I usually sang Rogers and Hammerstein songs. Sometimes, I brought out my mother’s radio and tuned into rock and roll before the sun went down, and the station went off the air.

Even when the clean-up was finished, and the milk-house floor was swept dry, I lingered outdoors. I’d go for a ride on my horse, or play softball with my sister, or hang around on the lawn watching my mother work in her flower beds. The sun slipped down behind the mountains, but twilight lasted for another hour. It was the best time of day to swing or pull tiny carrots from the garden for a snack. As it got darker, we’d scare ourselves with a game of “No Bears Are Out Tonight.” Only the total darkness finally forced us inside.

June is a month to spend outside in western Wyoming. January is a month live in Southern California.

There are 15 comments.

  1. Henry Racette Contributor

    Lovely!

    O Wind,
    If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? — Shelley

    • #1
    • February 15, 2018, at 10:03 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Wonderful imagery and a terrific story! Thanks, Cow Girl!

    • #2
    • February 15, 2018, at 10:13 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. SkipSul Moderator

    Absolutely beautiful.

    • #3
    • February 15, 2018, at 10:29 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    These warm summer days have been brought to you by the Group Writing Series under February’s theme of “We Need a Little Summer.” While February’s schedule has all days claimed, we can certainly double up if you’re inspired to write about summer or heat or summer heat. However, March’s schedule will be out later today, if I can gin my strength up to do it. So, watch for that, and join us in the fun of Group Writing.

    • #4
    • February 15, 2018, at 11:13 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. JoelB Member

    Did you ever get bored with this kind of life? I used to tell my kids I was either working or resting, but I was never bored. I’ll bet if you were bored, you didn’t tell your parents about it.

    • #5
    • February 15, 2018, at 12:04 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    JoelB (View Comment):
    I’ll bet if you were bored, you didn’t tell your parents about it.

    Hee, hee.

    “Oh, you’re bored? Well, have you done X and Y and Z? If so, I could really use some help putting in fenceposts…”

    • #6
    • February 15, 2018, at 12:14 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl Post author

    JoelB (View Comment):
    Did you ever get bored with this kind of life? I used to tell my kids I was either working or resting, but I was never bored. I’ll bet if you were bored, you didn’t tell your parents about it.

    You would NEVER admit to boredom!! My mother had the hidden list of a zillion jobs that needed to be done if anyone indicted boredom.

    Actually, I never even thought about boredom. It was just what you did. The animals needed cared for, and so you cared for them. It wasn’t about you. I remember being pleased when I would get old enough, or strong enough, to take on a job that my dad or mom used to have to do, and taking that burden from them.

    I didn’t marry a farmer, and neither did any of my five sisters. But, we are grateful we had the experience–we learned how to work, and that is an important skill to have as an adult.

    • #7
    • February 15, 2018, at 12:16 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  8. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    •  Https://www.rifftrax.com/farm-family-in-summer
    • #8
    • February 15, 2018, at 2:09 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Randy Webster Member

    Wintertime is a razor blade that the Devil made

    It’s the price we pay for the summertime

    The James Gang Collage

    • #9
    • February 15, 2018, at 3:21 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl Post author

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    Dang! That was just a little too real!! All the dirt, the hat that guy wore, the bales! I wish I’d have had a machine tossing bales into a wagon for me…That is what my sisters and I did–lift the bales onto the wagon, and stack them up, then lift them off and stack them up again in a shed. And then un-stack them and put them out for the cows to eat all winter. We were quite buff–no need to work out at the gym.

    • #10
    • February 15, 2018, at 5:56 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. The Reticulator Member

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    Actually, I never even thought about boredom. It was just what you did. The animals needed cared for, and so you cared for them. It wasn’t about you. I remember being pleased when I would get old enough, or strong enough, to take on a job that my dad or mom used to have to do, and taking that burden from them.

    I didn’t grow up on a farm but I grew up in the country in farm communities and envied the kids who had important work like this to do. We kept a few farm animals to take care of, so I had a small taste of it, and when we were high school age my male siblings and I would occasionally work for farmers. But it was a pale imitation of the important roles held by farm kids.

    I did think about cousins who lived in suburban places (we also made a few visits) and I couldn’t imagine how anyone could stand such a boring existence. When I went to college in a city I eventually learned to appreciate the environment and see that it had attractions of its own, but it took a while.

    • #11
    • February 15, 2018, at 7:01 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. Mark Camp Member

    I feel like a man who has long been starving in some detention camp, and suddenly finds himself at a banquet table flowing with a seven-course meal by a great chef, one known for the subtle, flawless gracefulness of every layer of every dish. I couldn’t even finish it in one sitting.

    It is almost too beautiful and too full of the stuff of real life–memories, anticipations, dreams, sensations–for a reader desensitized by the morbid, dreary, ugly words and images that float down the canal from the sites of the barbaric sacking of our once-lovely country each newsday.

    • #12
    • February 16, 2018, at 7:22 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  13. KentForrester Coolidge

    Cowgirl, a few things came to my mind as I read your post.

    1. We have some awfully good writers on Ricochet, and you’re one of the best.

    2. My favorite character in the Toy Story movies is Jesse. I don’t suppose she ever milked a cow, but the character is so cute and sassy! She’s my ideal of a cowgirl.

    3. I think it would be hard for a girl like yourself, with your hard-working and down-to-earth background, to be a shrinking violet, a buttercup, a snowflake, a pussy-hatted one, or a liberal.

    4. I now know why you chose Cow Girl as your moniker.

    Kent

    • #13
    • February 16, 2018, at 7:58 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Blondie Thatcher

    Ok, I’m going to sound like an old fart (cause I am), but here is a reason why kids have problems these days. I didn’t have to milk the cows (but I heard about it plenty from my dad and aunts) but I had plenty of other farm chores. Most kids, even those living in the country now, don’t have this. Nothing makes you appreciate how good you have it now than having been in a field in the dead of summer with a hoe in your hand. Or getting up before daylight to feed the chickens and break the ice in their water bowls. @cowgirl, I love this post.

    • #14
    • February 16, 2018, at 1:05 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  15. Trink Coolidge

    Cow Girl: I broke off a sprig of lilacs as I went through the yard gate, burying my face in the sweet, purple trumpets clustered along the twig. I could see the cows had wandered halfway to mountains. They were scattered across the deep green landscape, grazing in clover up to their ankles. Meadowlarks, perched on the fence posts, whistled their distinctive melody, as a mother killdeer ran along in front of us, doing the broken wing diversion, to keep us from her babies nesting in the tall grass by the irrigation ditch.

    What a beautiful, beautiful gift you’ve left her on Ricochet. I think many other readers were burying their noses in those lilacs and smiling at the parental devotion of those killdeer. Perfect.

    • #15
    • February 16, 2018, at 9:31 PM PDT
    • 3 likes