giving thanks to winnie
it occurred to me this morning as i flung myself out of bed at 7:21, nearly 25 minutes late for the 1/4 mile walk down to the barn, that there is a part of my life here on the farm, a rather big part, that i have mentioned only in passing. that part being milkings. the very milkings that have become the leader of our new world. the blessing and curse of milkings. the product of which provides the bulk of nourishment to my little family. the stress of which keeps us in battle with state laws. the necessity of which binds our bodies to the farm. once at morning and once at night.
we went to dinner at the house of dear friends last night to celebrate the end of year 2 of law school for them. by 11 pm we were, as it goes now, yawning too uncontrollably for proper conversation and had to pardon ourselves home. i'm more accustomed to being in bed by 9 these nights and so with the sun hidden behind some very grumpy rain clouds this thursday morning my internal alarm excused herself and thus the late start.
it is hard not to be rather bitter on the subject of milkings on rainy late mornings like this when all we wanted was to sleep off a night drinking whisky with friends. the definitive responsibility of a milk cow hasn't fully set in yet. we still go about our lives pretending this isn't forever. of course we haven't skipped a milking yet and would never do that to winnie. but it doesn't stop us from living our lives as though it is a problem that will find its own solution.
like next wednesday when i have made plans to be in new york and nick has made plans to be in boston. two of us away does not a cow milk. and yet, we can't seem to want to find a compromise.
i let myself carry this bitterness some days for winnie. as though she is the one that has burdened us. i carry it as i drag myself down to the barn at dawn, in a mix of pajamas and yesterday's work clothes. teeth unbrushed. stomach empty. feeling a little resentment for the sleeping nick and rudy. i curse the interminable cold of the milking parlor as i make my way through it and to the animals. i curse the darkness, the dankness that seem inherent qualities of all milk barns. i curse the pile of scrap pipes in the corner that we have deemed worthy of saving and unworthy of using. i curse the heft of the milk pail that we inherited with the barn and curse our lack of money to buy something lighter and easier on my tired arms. i curse the new chicken nest to the left of the barn doors and wonder how many other unsanctioned nests the chickens have hidden.
and then i open the doors. the cursed doors that are missing 2 wooden panels and 6 glass panes. and there she is. her eyes like that of a cartoon deer. she blinks at me. she takes a big smell on the corduroys i have been wearing for the last 6 days. she gently pushes by me, through the open doors and lumbers to her stanchion. without any words. without any curses. without reprimanding me for my tardiness. the simplicity of her duty melts all my resentment away. she is such a large, prehistoric looking creature. such a far cry from the cats and dogs i have had my whole life. she is filled with milk and she is waiting there, patiently, to let me take it.
i don't have any photos of me milking winnie. or nick for that matter. there is something inherently private about the act. i haven't felt comfortable about bringing my camera down with me. and so, i haven't and you must forgive me the lack of photos and my fumbling for words as i describe the milking.
as she waddles into her stanchion i am immediately filled with guilt for the wait i have given her this grey morning. her udder is swollen with milk and her back legs are awkwardly trying to negotiate the ground below while the udder bounces between them. once she is still i tie her tail to her leg to avoid a wet whip to the face mid milking. i fetch some warm water and begin to towel off the mud and straw and poop from the night before. she isn't as fastidious a cow as our sweet bella. and so i find myself doing this every morning. i suppose when your udder has reached a certain swollen size cleanliness falls from your list of cares. after her teats are clean in the vulgar way that you would feel comfortable drinking from them (in a sense that is the standard raw milk must meet) i fetch the wretchedly heavy milk pail and assume my post.
i found nick an old wooden milking stool in celebration of our first cow and his 29th birthday. originally i selfishly pitied ourselves and the measly $30 i could afford for his birthday present but on these mornings i have come to cherish the little stool. it sits barely 10 inches off the ground which puts my face right at the crook of her left hind leg and belly and my hands at her udder. she quietly chews her cud and as i begin to work down the first milk in her teats she lets out a big sigh. which relaxes me and we work quietly and steadily to empty her udder. it takes all of 20 minutes. sometimes longer depending on how tired my arms and hands are. but we are finished before i am even fully awake and with that my morning has officially begun. i go on to filter and jar the milk, clean the parlor, and feed the chickens and pigs. and winnie slowly walks back out to the field to resume her hours with the quickly growing grass.
as far as i can tell there is no better way to start my morning than this simple act of milking. certainly, there are ones like today's where i spend much energy begrudging the choice of a milk cow and the freedom we have lost and the bits of our lives that have become that much harder. but there is no creature better at calming me and helping me welcome the morning than winnie. and for her i am eternally thankful.
Posted by kate at 12:52 PM