Yesterday morning I milked in a misting rain, the low-slung sky easing open, my shirt slowly wetting through to my back skin. I like the wet earth smell of the barnyard when it rains, the shit and hay and soil and maybe even the rain itself, though I guess I’m not sure exactly what rain smells like. I know it’s subtle and somewhere on the scale between leafing plant and just-sanded metal. I know it smells like something.
I milk pretty fast. I’ve never timed myself, but I’m guessing it takes me ten minutes, maybe a dozen tops, to fill our two-and-a-half gallon bucket. The bucket’s big enough, but by a only a whisker; sometimes, the layer of foam that forms atop the milk actually rises above the bucket rim, and I think today will be the day it runs over. But it never does. Or at least it hasn’t yet. There’s always tomorrow.
One of the reasons I like milking is because I like rhythmic tasks that through repetition have become like an extension of my body. Not a task anymore but a piece, if that makes any sense. Stacking wood. Splitting wood. Loading a hay wagon. That sort of thing. I don’t necessarily mind work I have to think about, but truth be told I’m a bit of a daydreamer. I like to wander in the head, think about random shit, notice random pieces of my little world. Like the smell of rain. Like the ravens wheeling overhead, the air so still I almost convince myself I can feel the beat of their wings.
I can’t feel the beat of their wings.
Or I remember strange things, little snippets from my life. Yesterday it was remembering the cabin I grew up in, how my father rigged a hand pump to draw water from nearly a half-mile away. Uphill. He was mighty pleased. And from there, with no apparent connection, how ten years ago I had to shoot the first milk cow we ever had, Lily, after she broke into the grain bin and gorged herself. Blew out her liver on all that fermenting feed. We nursed her along for a couple days with the aid of our neighbor Melvin and the vet, but it eventually came clear she wasn’t going to recover, so I shot her. I loved that cow something fierce. It was the hardest thing I’d done in my life to that point and I cried for days.
Truth be told, I’ve done harder things since.