I’m lying here in that stage between awake and asleep. I don’t want to wake up, but I know my alarm is going to go off any minute now. I want to stay right where I am, burrowed under my overstuffed down comforter in its reversible blue and green duvet that dad says should be in a boys room. I guess it should be pink or something frilly and lacy for a girl, but that wouldn’t be me. Asleep next to Moe, with his head on my pillow and his four little feet pushing against my back, pushing me out of my bed, as if it were his and I am the intruder, not the other way around.
Listening to Cara snore across the room, dreaming about chasing rabbits, counting sheep, or whatever it is that she so soundly dreams about at night when I throw pillows, slippers, or anything I can find at her to get her to roll on to her side so she will stop snoring. Then in the morning she wakes up cuddling my pink fluffy slipper that Moe chewed the eye off of as a puppy. The fur is all matted and the tail is missing from one too many tug of wars with Moe who insisted it was his and refused to give it back. She wonders how it got into bed with her. As I explain I threw it at her to get her to quit snoring, she swears I was the one snoring as she does not snore. On the other hand, the slipper explains the dream she was having about a snowball fight with our brother, except they were in Mexico and they weren’t really snow balls, but cotton balls that hurt when they hit her.
Click. Bee-beep. Bee-beep. Bee-beep. Snooze. Moe doesn’t even flinch as my alarm goes off for a second time. I turn it off and reset it for six. If I don’t do it now, I will forget by the time I come back in. Blindly I search through the dark for my jeans. First my right foot and leg, then my left foot and leg, standing up, my jeans are on and I need socks. I really want to turn on a light so I can tell if my socks match. I guess the cows won’t care, so I pull on a sweatshirt and head for the porch, where I put on my Schnee boots that cost me two weeks of tips at JR’s in December, and my feet still freeze when I wear them, my silk wild rag, bright red scotch cap which I hate, and my blue Carhartt coat. Never know who you might run into, so you must look your best.
Stepping outside, I’m met with a clarity and realization that can only be had at one o’clock on a January morning…its cold, and I am now fully awake! But the sky is so dark and clear, the moon so full and bright, the stars shine so brightly. I can see the big and little dippers and many other constellations that I recognize but cannot name. I start my trek to the calving barns to check cows for my dad.
Opening the green metal gate with the blue “Sure-Latch” by the granary I say aloud to myself, I should have made Moe come with me. It would be good for him, or maybe not. When we get back to the house, he would beat me back to my bed and run all over blankets with his wet snowy feet. I shine my light towards the horse corral and then back past the granary towards our old house. If it weren’t for the peeling paint, and broken screen door on the east end, it would appear still to be lived in most days since the curtains still hang in the windows waiting for someone to come home.
Rounder glares at me as if he’s saying “Get that light out of my eyes!” as the beam passes over him. The rest of the horses stomp their feet keeping thin blood circulating, and I can see their breath every time they exhale. Snip whines at me, nosing my hand, and then wagging his tail as I remember to scratch that spot behind his ears. I need to keep moving.
Through the next gate, I gently close the latch, dad’s reminder still ringing in my ears from chore time: “Don’t let it slam shut! That handle is about to break!” I hear the crunch-crunch, crunch-crunch of the frozen mud, muck, and dry snow beneath my feet with every step I take. How does Snip walk so quietly on 4 feet and I am so loud on only two?
Opening the door to the Tin Shed, I’m met with warmer air and the faint scent of dusty straw, cattle, ammonia, and manure. Both cows jump to their feet at my entrance and stare at me with their big, gentle, brown eyes and furry, black ears contentedly chewing their cud. Nothing is going on here and I feel guilty for stirring them.
It’s still cold outside when I enter the heavy cow lot. Cow #302 is standing off by herself. She is probably calving. I’ll have to watch her; she gets mean when she calves. Walking towards her, she shakes her head and blows snot at me. She is calving. I can see 2 feet as she walks away from me. The good news is everything is coming the right way, but the bad news is I will have to get her in a barn. It’s too cold for a baby to be born outside tonight. Nothing else is going on out here. I will have to see where I can find room for her. She’ll have to wait a few minutes until I can get the doors open and gates set in a barn.
Entering the Red Barn, I’m once again met with warmer air and the same scents as before. Cupcake is up and her twins Uno and Dos are up and sucking. That was Cara’s idea to name them that way. She’s been pretty proud of her B in Spanish class. They are quite the sight, wagging their little black tails all content, warm, with bellies full of milk. No room here for an extra cow. All for the better though, the Red Barn is kind of tight and narrow. Not much room for a cow to walk down the alley, or turn into a stall. The last time I put a cow in here by myself I managed to knock out a chunk of foundation from under the barn. I don’t want to do that again.
Flipping on the lights in the New Barn creates a false sense of warmth as six 100 watt bulbs send their glow into every dusty nook and crevice. Nothing to report here either, it’s almost a quiet night. Some quick rearranging, I move the cow in the camera stall across the alley to a different stall. I told dad she wasn’t going to calve tonight. Set the gates, grab a club and I’m off to get 302.
302 knows something is up and meets me just outside the barn door. She promptly trees me on a fence post and I wonder if anyone will hear me scream? I’m also impressed by how quickly I got to the top of the post. I could never have done that so quickly just playing. How long will I wait here before someone comes to check on me? But more importantly, if I can get her in the barn, how will I get the gate shut behind her?
I start to whistle like I do when I am nervous. Good Save the Queen is my favorite tune. One day I want to have a little Herford bull like Vindicator on the Rare Breed who comes when I whistle the tune. I don’t even realize I am whistling. There below me in the snow is Snip. How I love that dog! He starts to growl at 302 as she paws the ground and blows snot at both of us now. “Push her up!” Snip half pushes, half chums her through the gate, closer to the barn. I jump off the fence and get the gate shut just as she charges me. Take that! You think you are so tough on the other side of the fence! Snip distracts her again, giving me seconds to get in the pen with her. Once again I am treed. “Away to me!” Snip gets around her and gets her pushed into the barn and I down him in the gate. Quietly, slowly I edge down the alley, hugging the closed gates to individual stalls. Finally I get Snip out of the way and the gate shut. 302 turn's her back to me and ignores me. She can see the camera is on and if she is on her best behavior dad will never believe that she treed me twice. Good dog, I pat Snip on the head and we step out of the barn and start for the house.
It is still cold, feels colder now than when I first left the house 20 minutes earlier. My boots make that cool crunch-crunch, crunch-crunch noise that I find comforting as I catch my breath from our 302 excitement. I am ready to be back in bed.
Down towards the highway I hear it. Faint at first, but growing stronger and louder with each new breath, his mournful cry is soon joined by others and I am being serenaded by a heavy metal band of coyotes. The depressing, mournful, desolate feeling of their song makes all of the little hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention, and my feet can’t seem to carry me home quickly enough.
Glancing through the lot and the horse corral I see nothing happening. No cows calving here. Out the gate and I am in a dead run. Imaginary coyotes are fast at my heels nipping at me. I imagine one of them licking his chops, with an evil gleam in his eye. He thinks I will taste good for dinner. Running and running and running, arms pumping and reaching, suddenly I am in the floodlight. I stop and listen. It is quiet. The coyotes have stopped their song. Off in the distance I hear a “Yip!” The beginnings of an encore I think.
Not waiting to find out, I step inside and go about taking off all these winter clothes. Off comes my blue Carhartt, the bright red scotch cap I still hate, my newest wild rag, and my Schnee boots, yes, feet are cold. Tip-toeing through the house, avoiding all of the creaky floor boards like a thief, I steal into my room undetected by Moe and his super sonar. I remove my socks, jeans, sweatshirt, and carefully climb back into bed so I don’t disturb Moe and his slumber. Cara resumes her snoring, and I will soon be back to sleep.