The Thing About Time

August 8, 2013 § 4 Comments


This time of year, after he’s taken the second cut of hay off the hilltop field that borders the long row of maples towering over our shared fence line, Melvin turns his milkers loose to graze whatever fringes the mower missed. At 4:30 every afternoon, the boys climb on their bikes and wheel into the field to drive the cows down for evening milking. It’s a quarter-mile or more to the barn, down the steep hill that not so long ago was home to a ski tow Melvin’s boys had rigged up by suspending the front end of an old car at the hill’s crest and running the rope around one of the drive wheels.

The boys love this task. Fin and Rye have reached the age at which they are eager to prove they are growing into the young men they will become, and there is perhaps no better proof of such a thing than successfully driving a herd of 30 milk cows across a high, green hayfield and down into the barnyard below. Perhaps, like me, they recognize that Melvin is approaching the end of his milking days and they can sense that some year in the not-too-distant future, it is likely there won’t be any cows to drive to his barn for evening milking. Still, I suspect that’s not much of a factor; they’re only 11 and 8, after all. They’re too young to be motivated by sentiment.

I, however, am not, and last night around six I traced the boys’ path to the barn, ostensibly to relay to Melvin the boys’ account of how one of his cows had spooked during that afternoon’s round up and pushed through a weak section of fence. But of course a phone call would have sufficed and the real reason for my walk (although I couldn’t admit it to myself at the time) was no more complicated than the simple fact that I know it won’t be many summers before I won’t have such a ready excuse to stroll across that field. I won’t have such a ready excuse to tromp down the meandering path cut into the hillside by the force of literally hundreds of thousands of hoof prints over all the years Melvin’s cows have shuffled their unhurried way up and down that slope. I won’t have such a ready excuse to stand in our neighbors barnyard, him on one side of a windowless window frame and me on the other, chatting about the weather and haying and pasture and all the meaningless minutia of our day. Meaningless to anyone but us, that is.

As I mentioned briefly a few posts back, living between two dairy farms has proven to be one of the greatest unanticipated and unplanned blessings of living on this hill. We did not buy this property with such a thing in mind; we would not even have known to look for such a thing. And yet now I can’t even imagine anything else, and I find it literally impossible to express the ways in which it has enriched our lives, perhaps because some of these ways defy logic or reason.

I don’t like to think of Melvin’s inevitable retirement, although of course I want what’s best for him. But when I see Fin and Rye coming back from herding the cows down to evening milking, riding or pushing their bikes along the hayfield’s ridge, nothing visible behind them but sky, as if one false step would send them plummeting off the edge of the world, I just want time to stop. When I stand in on one side of that windowless window frame with Melvin leaning against the other side, the late day sun washing us both and behind him, the soft outlines of his cows as they stand for milking, I want time to stop.

But that’s the thing about time: It keeps on going. Kids grow up, dairy farmers retire. Things change, both in ways that can be anticipated and those that can’t.

And damned if that isn’t one of the most beautiful truths ever.

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