(Written in 2018–the was a favorite)
The sky was gray and heavy with snow. Brimming over in the last hour, the flakes had begun to fall. Darkness filled the sky early these days as we neared the Winter Solstice on the shortest day of the year.
I slipped out of the house and headed for my favorite place, the barn. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the faint twinkle of the Christmas lights that were strung on the big evergreen tree. Standing tall and strong next to the farmhouse it was lit up every year for the holidays, a seasonal tradition.
Painfully slow, I had watched the day unfold from my desk at school. I had been looking forward to this moment all day, waiting anxiously to get free from the tight quarters of a high school crowded with students and ideals.
Clad in my favorite “out of school” attire, I didn’t have to worry about such things as matching, or the style of shoes on my feet. It didn’t matter if there was ‘Benetton’ scrolled across the front of my shirt or ‘Esprit’ hanging from my shoulder.
What mattered outside of school was warmth, comfort, and practicality.
As I walked across the dirt driveway my black rubber Tingley’s danced with the cuff of my flannel lined jeans. Clomp, clomp, clomp, I headed to my place.
I could already see the steam rising from the center bunk, a mass of black and white lined up along its length. The beasts were methodically eating their way through the piles. Sorting, nosing… always the big boss cow swinging her head from side to side, pushing any other lowly sister cow away from the pile.
I lifted the latch and swung the big, heavy iron gate open into the alley of the free stall, its weight allowing it to clank shut behind me. I was immediately greeted by warmth and steam laced with the smells of fresh manure and pungent silage… smells of home and comfort.
Okay, where is she?
Meandering my way slowly through the sea of black and white, I was quiet and stepped carefully; I didn’t want to startle any of the beasts and scare them away… but they were used to me, they knew me, they knew how I moved.
And how is it, in the midst of this 200 cow free stall the nosy one could always pick me out quickly, as soon as I stepped in? Like my own personal escort, she followed me… knowing where I was headed and who I was looking for: Always the same girl, my girl.
On this day I had made it to the barn first. No workers, no other family yet, I was by myself with the creatures, in the bigness of the barn. It felt a little surreal, and made me feel a tingle that rose up from within my breast… I could finally shed the cloak of being 16 and all the ties that bound me into it. I was so happy here among the cows.
Okay, where are you?
Weaving my way further and further into the barn my senses came alive, heightened with awareness. I felt all the animals around me and their energy… all was peaceful, all was quiet an hour ahead of milking… nothing to be alarmed of today.
Cuds were chewing, the girls were resting in their deep beds of sawdust. Soon Stanley would come through with his hoe, raking his way down to the end of the barn and around the feed bunk, heading them all to the holding area for the night milking.
I don’t see her yet…
…she must be laying in her favorite stall just before the alleyway to the maternity barn. I hope, I could use a sit with her today.
Escort cow nudged me from behind and I turned. She stopped and looked behind her and to the side; as if I didn’t know it was her flanking so close behind.
I heard the random plops, and the steady thrum of breaths being taken, in and out, in and out–it was its own rhythm, on this day, so close to Christmas. These beings didn’t know all of the excitement and bustling that was taking place all around them, beyond these solid barn walls.
And then, a curtain of black and white parted, and there was my gray… chewing her cud peacefully, head up and alert.
Her crook called, like arms opening up for a big hug. She welcomed me and all of my teenage victories and troubles.
“There you are,” I say…
My heart swelled as I nestled myself down next to her, deep into the crook of her neck. I rocked ever so slightly to the steady up and down of her chest as she took long, deep breaths, bringing me back to the place where I felt home.
And as the snow fell faster, and the daylight grew fainter, Toby and I had our sit. I whispered to her all of my secrets from the day and all of my Christmas wishes for the future.
In the crook of her neck, I can just be…me.