Breakfast in the moonlight

WE usually start feeding the cattle at daybreak, but ice in the fuel system kept me working on the tractor most of the day in a light snowstorm. The clouds blew east, and the sun came out just as I got the last fuel line back on and the tractor started. It was 5 degrees F. when I went by the thermometer into the house. I said, ``Hear that tractor running? Let's go. The cows are angry about late chow.'' My wife, Laura, drove the tractor. Amanda and Juniper helped me throw hay off the wagon. I peeled off my insulated coveralls and then my vest, working hard and sweating. The cows bellowed, crowded the wagon, and bullied each other about the hay. Snow on their backs melted and steamed in the clear air. A bull reached onto the wagon for hay and startled me as I turned and almost stepped on his face before I realized he was there. His head, with horns, was as wide as the wagon. ``Whoo-ee, do be careful about those horns.''

``We will be, but I'm sure he wouldn't hurt us. We want to scratch his forehead and pet his nose.''

``No doubt he's gentle, but we don't know him well enough to be sure.''

The moon came up pale over Cottonwood Butte. The sun set, and we still had 90 steers to feed.

Amanda's mittens were inadequate for the deepening cold. After I reloaded the wagon, she rode in the cab with Laura. I put my vest and coveralls back on.

``Are you warm enough, Juniper?''

``Yes, I'm warm enough.''

Down the road two miles to the sawmill field. I jumped off the wagon and opened the gate. Laura shut the lights off. Moonlight on the snow was light enough. We dieseled down toward the mill, peeled flakes from the big bales, and curled them off the wagon onto the snow. The willows along the river, the old mill building and all the deteriorating buildings around it, the timber across the meadow, everything was bright in moonlight.

I said, ``Let's save the rest of this bale for the ride back.'' Laura saw me pointing and headed for home. Behind us, the steers spread out along the hay, heads down in the moonlight.

Juniper and I lay down on hay and pulled loose hay around us and over us for warmth. We lay on our backs and watched the moon ride above us in the sky, keeping pace. Juniper said, ``The moon looks close enough to touch.''

``Reach for it.''

``I can almost reach it.''

We felt like we were out there, past the moon, among the stars.

We left the tractor silent in the corral. An owl called from down by the river. ``Hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo.''

I looked at the thermometer as we went in. ``Twenty-two below zero already.'' We brushed off hay and shed outdoor clothing. I put more wood into the stoves.

Laura said, ``That was beautiful, on the meadow in the moonlight. I know the cows didn't like waiting so long, but I'm glad we did it that way once.''

We all agreed with her.

Juniper sat in the back room a while, where we had lighted no lamps. The moon shone in the big south windows. After a while, she joined us in the front room. We all read by kerosene lamps. The moonlight night was quiet around the house and all across the meadow.

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