The last few days the heat has been record-breaking. We wake up hot and grow hotter with each hour that passes, until by about eleven in the morning we are drenched with sweat and moving slowly through the dense humid air like june bugs in warm jello. We have no days to spare, with July nearly done and the second cutting of hay to take, but we have to stop in the middle of the day and try to rest and cool off. Nowhere is the temperature really bearable, even in front of the fan, unless it is the cave, a we call the earth cellar beneath the east end of the house, or inside the three foot culvert that carries North creek under the lane. Isabel knows about this place, and when she is turned out of her paddock at noon, her tongue hanging out to show how hot she is, she moves slowly down the cowpath along North creek, which is really too steep for her – once she fell here, ending up stuck on her back in the creek, and it took all our combined efforts, plus those of Peter R., who was visiting, to get her up again – until she reaches the pool where the creek falls out of the culvert. She can stand there all afternoon, her feet in the pool, her head in the culvert and the cool air pouring out in an invisible stream, her tail switching casually at the few flies that follow her to this place of refuge. On hot days like these have been, there may be children in the other end of the culvert, tossing rocks for the crazy dog Scouter who chases anything, even bullets from a gun, and talking about all the play they are thinking of but can’t accomplish while the heat bars all but the most gentle activity.
Some things must be done heat or no. Milking never takes a holiday; it can’t. You can’t stop breathing and Isabel must be milked. These are axioms of the same class. There are other chores we may try to minimize, but which are ever present in one form or another: we must eat, and therefore we must cook, and clean up before and after cooking. We must pick vegetables, or they will become over ripe and set seed, and the plant, thinking it has fulfilled its life purpose, will stop setting fruit. We must care for our animals, giving them food and water and shade. We must hunt the fox.
The last four nights we have gone hen hunting at dusk, locating the out-lying hens, which perch mostly in the ash sapling by the bridge, and fetching them down with a ladder to be confined for the night in the hen house. We close the hen door on the north side of the henhouse, and in the morning we wait until after mass, that is to say about nine oclock, before we turn them out for the day. This prevents any early morning raids on the part of our predator, even if it does not altogether protect our barnyard birds; the Sussex are such adventurous birds that they climb up the pasture even to the tree line, and we suspect we are losing chickens to daytime raids, as well as dawn forays. On a cheerful note, however, the roosting chickens are gradually learning to return in the evening to the henhouse where they wake up: tonight when we went to put them in, only three were in the tree; the others, a careful count in the henhouse showed, were with the Rhode Island Reds on the hen house roosts. This is a measure of success; and all the Reds are presently accounted for, too.