pied beauty

Thursday, August 29:

   The young calves and the sheep are together again in a paddock at the bottom of the south hill pasture.  For two weeks we have been moving the sheep across steep hillside where ragweed, asters and lemon balm offered mixed forage for sheep, but nothing for the little steers and the heifer calf; now at last they are back with the steers.

   Some of us are particularly glad because we will no longer be moving two paddocks in the home pasture, on top of the two at the monastery:  one in the front pasture for the lactating cows, where the whole herd passed in June and the regrowth is green and lush, and one for the dry cows on the back of the monastery hill, where the grass is coarse and fibrous and there is still much cane to be trampled down.  In total, there are now three paddocks, with a total of four moves, most days, because the lactating cows get a new paddock after every milking.  This sounds like a lot of moving fence, and it is, but because the paddocks are small, the time involved is not more than we can manage right now.

   Actually, it is sometimes the part of a job which would seem to make that activity a cert for the scrap pile – like walking a quarter mile out to the dry cow paddock and back, twice a day, to watch for one of the heifers to go into heat – that ends up contributing the greatest benefits.  The top of the monastery hill gathers in breezes like a seine gathers in fish, and each one passes through our sweat-soaked hair.  Sun on our backs and the feel of the ground coming up through our boots, damp and soft or dry and sunbaked, tells us about the weather, the condition of the forage, whether the cows need to be moved to a shady spot, and the expectations for autumn regrowth.  The long swing of legs in boots is different from the shuffle of sandals across the kitchen floor, and the difference is welcome to our feet and hips as the sight of the distant horizon is welcome to our eyes.

   And the pause, hitched up on the top of a water hog, while a small stock tank fills for the spring steers, is not a taking-out from work time, but a built-in moment of alertness and meditation and relaxation.  There is a feeling of accomplishment when one tends animals which is satisfying on a level not like the satisfaction of a perfect baking of bread, or a thick layer of rich black compost spread across a garden bed, or a cheese knocked out of the hoop and set to dry on the cheese rack.  All these are good; together they are very good.  Variety:  it is a nourishing thing, like Hopkins’ pied beauty or Whitman’s praise of the labor of hands.

   The tide long ago turned on the basement shelves, and the neap tide of empty jars has become a spring tide of full ones, of salsa – over forty quarts in the last two evenings – and sauce, peaches, a bumper crop, jam of several varieties, something like twenty quarts of honey, more than dozen old laying hens, ditto broth – food for many occasions to come.  And we are just getting started; the tomatoes are only half in, and the green beans for canning won’t start for another week or so.  There is cider to be put down, as much as we can squeeze out of the small, sweet apples that grow in the south hill pasture.  There will be beets to pickle.  The onions and garlic are drying in the summer kitchen before we braid them and hang them in a cool corner of the basement.  And in the cave, the small, dry, dirt-floored cellar under the east end of the house, there will be winter squash and pumpkins on long shelves of plank and cinder block.

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