Tag Archives: ranching

What is it about cows, anyway?

What is it about cows, anyway?
Something about their lumbering grace
Their propensity for grazing on the
side of hills, or just outside the fence.
Their limpid curiosity, or the hint of feistiness displayed
in a bit of a buck and a running start
to where?
Another patch of grass. The watering hole.

Is it a barnyard full of pungent muck?
Is it the way their great tongues would deftly scrape up the
chop my dad laid out for them
on the flatbed trailer in wintertime?
Is it tiny calves riding in the
passenger seat to the vet in Ogema,
with me in the middle?

Is it old Bossy and Lulabelle (a hard milker),
cows I never knew, but they lived on the farm before I did,
they called the same view home and
they were acquainted with my dad
long before I was ever thought of,
and I feel like I know them personally?
Their names live on at the farm, even with the barn long since burned down.
Their spirits must be here too, still.

Boss outside
Not our Bossy, this is another Boss, a Jersey from Arvid’s place, one of the last known milk cows within a 50 mile radius.

Is it that dairy barn in northern Iceland? Full of those Viking cows all
jostling together in an overwhelming mix of manure,
clattering hooves,bellows, and improbably, gallons and gallons of
rich, white milk that made the best
butter and cheese I’ve ever tasted?

Is it that time I drove into Alberta on the back roads,
nothing but me, the open graze land, the cattle, and the road?
Was it that time I was rambling (with permission) through
a badlands pasture when some skittish Black Angus steer
decided to spook and set the whole herd thundering away,
so that I’m sure I felt the ground shake?

Is it that time in rural eastern Quebec,
close to the border with New Brunswick
when traffic on the highway was halted while
some naughty runaway cattle were chased back home?
Or how about that time south of Val Marie when I had to slow
to a crawl behind about fifty head, two ranchers on ATVs
and their Border Collie (who rode on the ATV)?

Calf
One of Stacy’s calves.

Is it all the times I went with Dad, sometimes just me and him,
other times Janelle and Mom crammed into the
maroon Ford pickup too, up to old Joe’s pasture
to check on the cattle, when it always seemed to be
the golden hour and we bumped our heads on the roof of the truck
as it rumbled and crawled over those southern hills?

Is it how when I was a little girl they were always there,
part of my life and the landscape as much as the sun or stars?
Is it because they were the “moos,” as Janelle called them,
and you could hear them day and night
going about their lives, just out there in the barnyard
(still called that even though the barn was 15 years burned?)

i00642
A Hereford bull somewhere in the Big Muddy, seemingly relaxed.

Is it that vague memory I have of a golden morning years ago
before school when some neighbours did a roundup and the cows
went galloping past the farm, down the road and in the ditches,
urged on by horses and riders wearing cowboy hats?
(that really happened, didn’t it? Or was it a dream?)

Is it Charlie, the black and white Holstein,
or Friendly, the good-tempered Charolais,
or perhaps all those curly forelocked red-coated Herefords,
or the calves I named after my cousins,
that made up our moteley herd?

I don’t know what it is about cows, but there’s just something, isn’t there?

Angus
A well-tended herd with a well-developed capacity for curiosity,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mastery, and Truth

For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.

                                                                          – Victor E. Frankl

I’ll never forget sitting in that crowded, humid pub on Water Street in St. John’s, open mic, a Friday probably, wintertime, and a young man done up dapper in a brown suit stepped up, opened his mouth, and sang.

Shamus leaned over to me and said, “that’s a real singer” with the conviction that only a folklorist of Gaelic lineage who grew up in the post-industrial world of Nova Scotia can have. I was new in town, new to the island, to folklore, to this pub, felt like I was new to everything, and I barely knew Shamus, a fellow folklorist who just happened to be sitting next to me.

And I remember how the hair stood up on my arms, not only because of the pure voice of the singer proving Shamus right, but because of the truth in Shamus’ statement, and his recognition of the mastery possessed by that singer. I remember the statement more than the song – like so many things ephemeral, the song rushed into me, filled me up, then departed, leaving me with only the memory of having experienced something grand, no memory of the thing itself. But I remember Shamus’ words, and the way he said them, and the expression on his face as he said that true thing.

Now I use that term when I read something so true, so full of mastery, so perfectly written, that it hurts the heart. I say it or think it to myself when I read and re-read clumps of certain words strung together by the likes of Alistair MacLeod or Richard Yates or Sharon Butala or Irène Némirovsky. That’s a real writer.

When I see a rancher settle himself in the saddle with practised and unconscious ease – that’s a real cowboy. When I see my dad duck his hand into the stream of grain flowing from the back of a truck to catch a sample – that’s a real farmer. When I see my friend lean over a tiny piece of stone with some fine-pointed tool and his eyes squint and glaze over and throw sparks altogether at once – that’s a real artist.

There are lots of good singers, lots of good farmers, lots of people good at things, but not all of them are “real” in the way Shamus meant it that night. You can perfect a craft, be a brilliant writer,  a competent artist, a skilled artisan, an experienced farmer, rancher, coal miner, professor, tailor, sailor, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, but still not reach the one step further to mastery, which comes only once you’ve managed to tap in to the vein of truth, the depth of knowing that goes beyond the immediately knowable. It only comes once you’ve realised the power in submitting to something greater than yourself. The knowing that no matter how much you practise, or try to perfect, that there’s something beyond you, out of reach, that you must submit to. Trust in and submit to.

The truth.