Like We’re Counted On To

Church and truck

In the morning when I awake the cows are in the front yard, on the wrong side of the electrified fence meant to contain them. It’s misty and barely light, and for a moment I stand there mute, watching them graze the tender grass, willing them to be back where they belong, because really what I want right now is a cup of coffee, not a cow chase. Alas, my will is too weak for the task, so I pull on my boots, drive them back into the pasture, and fix the section of fence that was no doubt pulled down by the calf, not yet well-attuned to the possibility of electric shock and therefore willing to push his way to greener grass. In fencing parlance, an electric fence is known as a “psychological barrier,” which is to say that the fence itself is not what holds the animals. Rather, it’s their fear of shock that keeps them contained, and I can’t help but think it’s an apt metaphor for the human condition and all the psychological barriers we erect for ourselves. Or that our culture erects for us, or some combination of the two, barriers we’ve lived with for so long or have gone to such great, contorting efforts to make peace with that we can scarcely imagine the shock of dismantling them, the undoing of all the manipulations we’ve done to get comfortable with them. And never mind what awaits on the other side!

(Yikes. What the hell was that? Philosophy or something?)

With the cows in place, I head out on my bike and ride my favorite morning loop, the one that takes me past the nearest working dairy farm where I come so close to the barn I can hear the rhythmic thump and hiss of the vacuum pump, and then, just past that, an old farmhouse with its enviable collection of vehicles: There’s the 80’s-era F150 with a God Bless Johnny Cash sticker on the hood, an IROC-Z of similar vintage, and a Cadillac DeVille that’s not old enough to be particularly cool, nor new enough to be ostentatious. I’d proudly drive any of those rigs, though I can most vividly imagine myself now in that low-slung IROC, running hot through the S turns at the top of the mountain road, a little Motley Crue on the stereo. No! Quiet Riot! Yup. That’s the ticket for sure.

Back home, the cows watch me wheel up the driveway, looking chagrinned. The cows, I mean, not me, though in truth, it’s probably just wishful thinking. More likely, the little one’s thinking of making another run for it; he’s been bit by that fence only a time or two yet in his young life, the pain hasn’t quite stuck, he still believes he can take on the whole damn world and not feel the sting of it. That’s ok. He’ll learn to stay in line soon enough. Like we all have. Like we’re counted on to.

24 thoughts on “Like We’re Counted On To”

  1. Oh, man….do I detect a little incipient rebelliousness?? Ben, gonna follow in the footsteps of his New England forefathers and get outa line? God save the king say we all, while Ben plots the overthrow of the status quo? Careful now.

    1. “Incipient rebelliousness.” Now I know what to name my band! I mean, when I have a band… which I probably never will, but still…

  2. Ouch. This came on a day where learning to not cross the line is filling our family plate. A teen looking at that line and wanting to cross in a way that is going to take bravery from all of us. Is it best to just eye that line or go for it and get shocked? It may be an easier question for the teen than it is for his parents.

    1. Yeah, that’s a a tough question, isn’t it? One of the toughest. Best of luck navigating it.

  3. Thank you, Ben! My comment just disappeared! But thanks for that first paragraph which will take me the rest of this week to digest. And thanks much for the photo.

  4. Wow, Ben! The first paragraph is a doozy! It will take me what’s left of this week to digest it. Profound stuff indeed!

    God bless Johnny Cash and James Taylor and Elton John and many others. Gotta put this guy in there too – Mark Knopfler. I’m getting into his body of work over the past year or so and his writing and playing just knocks me out. He has a tune called, “Boom, Like That.” It’s all about Ray Kroc starting McDonald’s. Sorry if I’m going way off track here. Blame that first paragraph! Beautiful writing, Ben! Thank you for the photograph!!!

      1. I kinda like Brothers In Arms.

        Summer in northern New England, measured in day, maybe weeks, but not months.

  5. Ben – If I see your email address on an entry when I boot up my computer every morning between 5:00 and 5:30, your posting will be the first one I read! Totally loved this one. So what’s wrong with a residents of rural places doing a bit of philosophizing now and then? We confront the real (natural) world every morning and are pretty well situated to keep things in perspective. I’m recovering from cardiac surgery at the moment and I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful just seeing the prairie and the woods and listening to the birds all around me.

    Keep it up!

    1. Sorry to hear you needed surgery, but glad to hear you’re recovering, Gene. As always, thanks so much for reading.

  6. I think cows have inspired philosophical ramblings from the beginning. Something about those big eyes and all that contented chewing makes them appear all knowing. Thanks for another great post and photo. 🙂

  7. No words ring truer, Ben. I just hope and pray the young ones continue to push against it all and figure out a better way. Us old folks are dwindling and the fight has taken its toll on many, and some have wandered off to different pastures altogether, forgetting the sweet treat that awaits on the other side of the fence.

  8. A good and astute observation. I like that you don’t moralize it. Just make the observation and move on. We had a horse that would not be contained by hot wire. He’d line himself up, take off at a run and whiz through the wires and then stand there all puffed up and then go to peacefully grazing like nyaah nyaah to the rest of the herd on the other side.

  9. Good writing Ben, even the deep philosophical parts. Might do some good to ponder thoughts like that sometimes.

  10. Reading this makes me want to shed the skin of all the stuff that keeps me fenced in. Thanks for the philosophy Ben!

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