The dogs and I took Amelia for a walk this afternoon. The boys are still away, reluctantly returning this evening after a weekend playing with old friends in New York. I wanted to go too. I can presume the fat and bored babe on my chest would have been up for it. Farm doesn’t allow for both Nick and I to leave at once. Farm is a needy, greedy beast. Too many lives dependent on us. Too many nuances to responsibly ascribe to a sitter.
It is a conclusion I’m coming to belatedly: farmer’s don’t vacation. I have a vague recollection of concerned friends warning me of this. Farmers are poor on disposable money and rich on work to do. I come to farming from the suburban and spoiled life of somebody accustomed to the Getaway. We’ve squeaked out trips away in the first four years. Nothing too egregious; a drive down to North Carolina; Christmas with my parents on the Vineyard; a wintery week on Cape Cod; a handful of summer days with our families.
When we both leave inevitably something goes Wrong; animals develop debilitating case of maggots-in-the-ears, the tractor smokes and sputtesr, a waterline freezes, the dogs kill a lamb. This is not for want of capable farmsitters. To the contrary the help we’ve hired is, historically, overqualified, capable, well-read, respectful and kind. Rather, the inevitable happens whether we are here or not. Our Systems are overly nuanced making it rather painstaking to describe solutions over the phone and unfair to the good kind soul who volunteered for a weekend of light farmwork.
As I write, there is a heifer out of the cow pen, eating dropped bits of hay. She is free to the world, able to, should she choose, saunter to town or go shit on the hood of my car [blessedly the latter has happened but the former has not, yet]. One heifer does not an emergency make. An hour earlier, before our walk, three were out.
Heifers are the most disagreeable of cows as they are full sized and not yet burdened by calf. This results in a propensity for adventure and mischief [qualities I favor in human women but find unduly troublesome in our cow-nterparts]. My solution an hour earlier was to run at them as a madwoman, dogs in tow, scaring them back into the pen. Now I sit here, at my desk, writing -a beer, nearly empty and aggressively gripped in one hand- watching a new heifer flaunt my attempt at a fence. I’m not alone in my vigil. I can see, from my perch at the computer, the herd watching her from behind the dubious strand of un-electrified poly wire that we blithely thought might keep them at bay.
The herd is fighting their collective Cow Brain. They know it is our preference that they not cross the fence. They know that when they do they often find themselves chased by a pair of dogs and a madwoman. They know too that one of their number has crossed the fence and seems to be enjoying herself and a fresh bit of hay. They are struggling with all of this logic. We are about an hour shy of sunset at which point it is my hope they forget the temptation and fall asleep.
A herd of 20 cows galloping through snow is not an easy group to tame with an infant strapped to ones chest.
Clearly the fence needs to be reinforced. But this is why -nearly always- at least one of us remains behind. It would be irresponsible [shitty] to leave a farmsitter with such a likely doomed scenario.
Because we are required here to supervise such unfolding scenarios we put great stock in our daily walks. Today we went chasing the setting sun in the old hay field. Amelia trotted along attached to my chest, blinking, and occasionally letting out happy sighs while we watched the dogs somersault over one another through the snow. The four of us making slow but good-natured progress.
We made it to the old hay fields and spun around to face the sun that was already obscured by some taller trees. We blinked, searched our pockets in hopes of a mid-walk treat: a nib of chocolate or a stale almond but came up only with a few bits of lint, an egg shell and a trio of rusty screws. Disappointed but sated from the walk and sun we set back towards home. Limping stoically through the deepish snow.
Amelia was asleep by the time we reached the house. I lay her down in her crib. She had lost both shoes, apparently, as I unwrapped the sling to find her only in socks. Fortunately it wasn’t cold -warm by some perverted Vermont standard- so Amelia survived the walk to the far fields without frostbite. The shoes will melt out in May and they will be a happy, forgotten, sodden treasure when they are found.
In the middle of writing to you the cows did overcome their brains and charged through the fence. The break of the levee poured them en masse from the cow yard into the Open Farm. With great resignation I finished my beer, grabbed sleeping Amelia from her crib, stuffed her into a wooly and sling and ran at them -this time with a shovel so as to appear menacing. One sight of me and they all scurried like bad lambs back to their cow yard. We poured a kettle of hot water on the frozen barn gates and locked them in for the night, leaving the fence-fixing for tomorrow.
Amelia and I skipped proudly home; I feeling intolerably smug in my role as MotherFarmer and Amelia thrilled with the adrenaline of galloping beasts. It wasn’t until I had undone her from the tangles of the sling that I noticed I had wrangled cows in my underpants. Such is my mental state that I can hold a 7 month old while running through a foot of snow to terrify a herd of cows through the small mouth of the barn gate but I am incapable of remembering or realizing the need for pants.