Saturday, May 18:
Some days just don’t go as planned; most days, in fact. Sometimes the number of things undone leaves us feeling too tired to love what we are doing.
Fortunately, that feeling passes off.
The plan for today began – after chores – with some of us going up to the monastery to plant that extra hundred pounds of potatoes, and other of us taking receipt of three tons of fifty-sevens limestone and spreading it where the pad for the sawmill will be poured. Thus far so good; these things we did indeed accomplish. The area where the extra potatoes were to be planted was sprouting weeds and had to be tilled over before a second pass to plow the long furrows in which we plant potatoes; tilled, then a taut line run for each of the furrows and the plow run down the line. This is to turn up a ridge on either side of the furrow, so that the potatoes may be dropped, sprout-side up, in the bottom, and the ridges raked down to cover. The extra tilling set us back only a little bit of time, and with four people, two large and two small, we had the potatoes sown and covered in less than an hour’s time.
Where time was lost was in the simple process of moving two of the weaned steers into the paddock with the milk cows. What were we thinking? as we often ask one small girl in our family. The dairy cows are paddocked behind a single strand of polywire, a purely psychological barrier. One must always train an animal to electric fence before trusting him to stay behind it. We forgot about this simple fact. When we topped the hill pushing one small brown, one small brown-and-white, steer in front of us, and reluctance was in every step as they covered this new territory, something congealed. For the eight cows and three steers in the monastery paddock that something was a sudden and intense interest in these two little bovines. Motherly interest, perhaps; or the hope that the new arrivals brought with them some stories the older animals hadn’t heard before, or new smells delightful to the nostril. They congregated at the fence nearest us, heads and ears inclined our way, snorting noses and flicking tails their only concession to immediate necessity as the flies were already bothersome.
The little bulls we were encouraging with shoves and twists of the tail, on the other hand, were struck with a paralysis of shyness. Encouragement was no longer sufficient; to urge them down the slope it was necessary that we propel them by main force. The very last thing these little boys, like other little boys we have known, come to make the comparison, wanted from this assortment of mostly female adolescents and grown-ups, was their attention. They were like the little boy who has been volunteered by his over-zealous mother to carry up the ring, peeking into the church at the critical moment and feeling his nerve turn blue around the edges. It was time for the recital and our budding baby bulls wanted the back door. We commiserated their feelings but wanted to go home to lunch and we shoved them in without ceremony.
They walked right back out, ducking their heads and letting the harmless, because disconnected, electrical wire slide down their backs. Pursuit and capture; more urging, more shoves and tail-twists. The cows, fascinated, surged up to the fence at the most proximate point with questioning ejaculations. This time we had a hand on the power connection, and as the two calves stepped into the paddock we threw it on, earning a howl, and then a growl, from a man standing too close to the fence line; then a mild expletive as the calves walked under the line again, skipping a little as it snapped on their spines but distinctly clear in their minds on the best way out of that paddock.
The cows surged some more.
This sequence repeated itself in varying forms, with an array of observations made by various interested parties whenever the calves took their leave of the cow’s paddock, sometimes sliding under, sometimes, when we had added a second strand of wire, snagging a hind hoof and pulling some fence down with them. We added a third strand, which always makes moving electric fence awkward, as the strands are never equally tight, some sagging, some causing the fiberglass posts to sag by the sheer force of their pull. Still the babies, anxious to escape interested snufflings of their older sisters and cousins, slid through, or under, the fence.
An hour goes by.
The calves are out for the seventh time, and now one or two of the heifers are following them.
Expletive of the parlor variety (we try to keep it clean).
The sun is hot and high, and the children who asked for a drink almost an hour ago are making plaintive noises as they bound through waist-high grass in pursuit of cows, small and medium, and one sorrel mini – Bridget has always to get in on the getting out — so, three hours early and in violation of the laws and processes of intensive grazing we turn the big cows into a new paddock adjacent to the old one, rearrange some line so the water tank is accessible to both areas, and embark on a final pursuit of straying livestock. Two galloping heifers are driven, heels high as their heads, into the lane of the new paddock. The sorrel mini is collared by a small girl, upon which the pony pretends she never meant to go anywhere and allows herself to be corralled as well. The fence is closed upon them and then, and only then, may we put the two little boys in the old, now three-strand paddock.
As fast as possible we connect the fence to its power source, and relish the backward leap of a calf whose nose makes contact. The fight is over; with the ladies safely fenced away from them, the little boys are content. Their noses drop to graze.
The monastery bells ring the Angelus.