Ever since we moved back to Little Rock, people ask how I enjoy living in town.
It’s fine, I say, partly out of loyalty to Diane. After her compromised eyesight made driving dangerous, we pretty much had to leave the farm. I wouldn’t want her friends to think I was unhappy about it.
And I’m not. It’s definitely nice to have dinner with friends without facing an hour’s drive home. Otherwise, she sometimes misses country life almost as much as I do.
Partly, it’s the animals. There’s something calming about watching cows and horses graze. I miss them collectively and individually. Without experience of farm animals, it’s hard to understand how varied their personalities can be.
There was Suzanne, the cow who seemed to have a sense of humor. Any time I walked into the pasture, she’d approach and bow her head to solicit petting. Then she’d throw her head back, pitching my hand in the air, and do a little happy dance.
But the happiest I ever saw Suzanne was when her daughter Violet came back. They spotted each other at fifty yards the moment Violet stepped off the cattle trailer, and galloped to be together. Cows may all look the same to you, but they don’t to each other.
Violet was returning in a swap for her father Bernie. We didn’t have enough cows to keep him busy. A charismatic 2300 pound bull, either he or several daughters had to go. As Bernie had recently begun walking through barbed-wire fences, shoving the neighbor’s smaller bull around and breeding his cows, the decision made itself.
Diane teared up when she saw Bernie ride away in the trailer. She’d been feeding him apple slices through the fence from her hand. Now he lives on a bigger place with sixty-odd cows to service, but probably no apples.
I miss walking down to the barn to feed carrots to the horses. While I dislike yard work, I always enjoyed the grunt work of caring for livestock: hauling feed sacks, pouring grain, and putting out hay in winter. I miss the pungent smell of horses and their friendly nickering when I’d come into the barn.
I miss the abundant birds of Perry County—from the hummingbirds perpetually squabbling at our feeders to the bald eagle nest along the creek. After it blew down during a winter storm, a neighbor rode down there to look things over. He found hundreds of turtle shells on the ground.
The next morning, eagles flew low over our place dragging ropes of vine. They wove a basketlike web atop the tallest cypress tree and filled it with the biggest sticks they could carry. Within days the project was done—probably six feet across and 75 feet above the creek, with a commanding view of the countryside.
I miss the bluebirds, and the acrobatic feats of barn swallows that nested under our eaves. Also the Eastern kingbirds and scissor-tail flycatchers. It was a rare flying insect that made it to our porch alive. I miss the perpetual territorial squabble between the red-shouldered hawks and the crows above our pasture.
Every spring and fall, mighty flocks of Canada geese migrate in honking V-shaped chains. A roadrunner took up residence in our barn one summer but never came back, probably because Albert the cat had exterminated the mice he’d wanted to hunt.
I miss barred owls hooting, and the ceaseless tolling of Chuck-will’s-widows on summer nights. I miss the mighty chorus of frogs after a big rain. As much anything, I miss the night sky.
Sometimes I even miss the weather-related emergencies. On New Year’s Day, 2016, we found roughly three-fourths of our place under water. My favorite cow Trudy had delivered her calf on the edge of the flood. I watched it clamber to its feet and fall face-first into the water.
The good news is that Trudy trusted me to carry the slippery, 100 lb. calf to higher ground. Some cows would have trampled me. The bad news that the leggy heifer was too tall to find the udder. I mixed some powdered colostrum and gave it to her in a bottle. Now what?
The local cow-whisperer advised making Trudy stand still in a head gate. Alas, mine was under six feet of water. George said he’d be right over. About an hour later, a three-truck convoy arrived carrying a corral and portable head gate. Those boys had dropped everything to help a neighbor.
It took about two hours to put the thing together and herd Trudy into the squeeze chute. George milked her into his hand, put it under the heifer’s nose, and guided her home. When her calf began nursing, Trudy gave out a deep groan.
But had a calf, I worried, ever learned how to nurse but forgotten?