Having been born and raised in the city, my knowledge of cows was limited to those appearing in Dutch landscape paintings. This changed in my early 20s when I spent a week working on a dairy farm in Vermont.
I arrived at the farm late at night and rose from bed late the next morning. I am not one who awakens "raring to go." Slowly I made my way to the kitchen.
The farmer and his wife and daughter had been up for hours, milking cows and performing chores. I joined them in a hearty breakfast.
The farmer took me to the pasture where his cows were grazing. Cows are gentle creatures with beautiful eyes. I knew we would get along. Over the next few days the cows and I spent many hours together.
On a less romantic note, I was sent to the barn to clean out the stalls. A pungent experience!
In late afternoon we brought in the cows from the pasture. Leading them to their habitation, I felt at one with a millennia-old tradition going back to the earliest days of farming.
Early to bed and early to rise form the pattern of a dairy farmer's life, very different from the lifestyle of a New Yorker. I followed the example of my hosts. The next morning I did not disgrace myself a second time, but rose early and accompanied the farmer to the barn for milking.
After the cows were taken out to pasture, we worked in nearby fields, baling hay and carrying the bales to the barn loft for storage. Hard, hot, dusty work. These were long days filled with physical labor, but never before, nor since, have I felt closer to the land.
I learned how hard a farmer works. Having 40 cows is like having 40 children. Work is never done.
My week at the farm came to an end. I returned to life in the city. Unpacking my bag at home, I came upon the work pants I had worn. They emitted the same strong barn odor that had almost undone me that first morning. For the first time I realized how much I was going to miss it.
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