Making Hay

Week of June 25th, 2009 | The weather was unusually hot for end of June..

Eternal Optimist

by Sarah Holm

Sarah feeding one of her cows.

Sarah feeding one of her cows.

This evening I sat on the stone bricks that walled in the flowerbed next to our freshly painted farmhouse. I was holding my baby brother, Daniel. His bare feet and legs were joyously kicking the hot air, his toes digging into the sadly wilted grass of our lawn.

"Goo!" cried Danny, trying to jump away from me with a tremendous kick, "ga, ga, ga. Goo!"

We were watching Lupin and Eli, two overgrown kittens; wrestle each other for the possession of a turkey feather. Daniel reached for them, his fingers begging to grab hold of their tails and pull. Occasionally the cats would look at the four-month old with a gentle curiosity. Then, as if to humor him by including him in their play, they would roll toward him, their pink mouths opening in lazy yawns, their paws gently patting with sheathed claws at his wiggling toes.

While Danny talked to the kitties, I watched Andrea bring the cows up the lane to the barn. Our land was so dry that just the steady walking of the cows made a dust cloud higher than them by several feet. The dust settled on Andrea, sticking to her damp body, painting her skin a strange dark hue.

The wind had picked up and it began to feel cooler. The milkhouse door clanked shut as my sisters prepared for the milking. I noticed clouds in the distance. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I couldn't help it. Out of habit more than anything, I closed my eyes and prayed silently for rain.

It seems as if I've said the same prayer several times a day for five years. Sometimes I say it apathetically, almost automatically, but usually I say it with a strong passion, like the plea of a condemned man for mercy. We have been in a severe drought for so long that walking into our empty haymow, it seems like the memories I have of the towering piles of sweet smelling grassy hay, fresh from our fields, belong to a different person.

Rachel and Andrea milked the cows on the south side while I let the others out of the north side. It was hot and the flies were biting, so the cows were fidgety and grumpy. Violet threw a fit and tried to kick her milker off. I sighed and petted her soothingly. It was the heat, I thought, and the dust. That's why the cows are so jumpy and why everyone is so grumpy. I thought of the dry grass outside and the dark skies. If only it would rain. As we finished milking, we realized a very small drizzle had started.

I put a raincoat on and set out to move the fence. I walked down the lane happily, enjoying the drizzle on my face. Soon the dust disappeared and puddles and little rivers began to form. I had a stream of water running down my face and dripping off the end of my nose. I could feel the relief of the grasses, and the joy of the sparrows that splashed nearby.

There was a roll of thunder and it began to pour. Happily, I waded through the long wet grass to the fence and opened the gate. It had been so long since it had rained like this. I couldn't remember the last time we had a thunderstorm. Maybe, just maybe, there wouldn't be a drought this summer.

"Come boss! Come boss! Here bossy!" I called to the cows hiding in the woods. They must not realize I have the gate open, I thought. I walked about halfway into the new pasture and yelled at the top of my lungs.

"Hey! You guys! Over here!" I waved my arms in the air. Rain ran down the ridiculous huge stiff sleeves of my raincoat and water hung on my eyelids. Water ran into my mouth, and its sweetness coated my teeth.

The cows had finally heard me. Bucking and kicking they ran down the woody hillside. I could see bushes cracking and bending as their brown forms emerged from the underbrush. They ran to the new grass at an easy gallop, their tales held straight up in the air. I had raised every one of these cows from the minute they were born and so I stood, unafraid of their games. Some of them had big mouthfuls of wet plants in their mouths, like dogs with bones. Scarlett and Princess licked me all over and affectionately rubbed their wet heads against me. My legs and my coat were wet, covered in cow hair and pieces of red clover they had left behind.

Farmers are eternal optimists. This truth popped into my head. Nothing had stopped my hopes and prayers. Calmly, I acknowledged that Life will send me storms and droughts and plagues. But there would always be a respite from the hard times. Every time it rains, it gives our farm strength to survive. That is what you have to do sometimes, just survive. You cannot always prosper. Security does not exist in the farmers' world. We are always at the mercy of so many things, especially the weather!

Farm Fact: The average cow weighs 1,200 lbs. (544.8 kg) and has a life span (if left alone) of 18 years, but 25-30 are possible.

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