My strong refuge is also potent

The "dry field" east of the barn is so-called because it is where we pasture the animals we are not actively milking. This includes the young heifers and the dairy cows who are in between lactations. As milk cows reach the end of their previous productive cycle and approach their next calving, their energy should not be split two ways. And so, until they become "fresh" again, they enjoy some leisure in that pasture.

The dry field has been wet enough in other respects this past month, as rain, sleet, and snow have soaked it in turns. Over the last few days, though, the weather has warmed and cleared and the sun has done its work. Today the pasture finally became firm enough for Charlie to hitch the Belgians to the drag and prepare the ground for new spring growth.

The point is to spread the wealth. Each of the innumerable cow plops out there is chock-full of the nutrients that grass needs to grow, but each is too much of a good thing concentrated on too small an area. Efficient recycling of grass to milk to manure to grass requires both a spreader and a drag. The latter is a heavy, rakelike implement that evenly parses out the winter's dung, fertilizing the ground uniformly. It takes a tractor or a couple of draft animals to pull a field drag. Charlie usually opts for the quieter, more personable horsepower embodied in Doc and Jim.

Sometimes, when the horses are in harness, I think to take a few pictures. We fashion them into cards or slip them into letters for people we know will appreciate them - the team's former owner, perhaps, or faraway friends who enjoy news and views of our farm. Today, when I finished milking, I headed to the dry field, camera over my shoulder.

I was about halfway from the gate to the middle of the pasture when I thought to question my plan. Ross, our dairy bull, was pastured with the dry cows this week, and he'd been in a feisty mood this morning. I'd seen him squaring up against the harnessed horses, repeatedly blocking their path and sometimes bringing their progress up and down the field to a temporary halt.

He'd inevitably yielded to Charlie's commands and the Belgians' dual bulk, but not without fiery snorts of defiance and a good deal of macho posturing. Did I really want to be out here on my own with nothing but a camera?

Even as I took pause, Ross turned and stared. To my horror, he broke into a rangy, loose-jointed canter, heading inexorably my way. I clearly could not outrun him to the protection of the fence. As the distance between us melted, I spied the one intervening place I could seek refuge - which happened to be the manure spreader.

Any port in a storm.

Fortunately, its bed, empty and dry, was not an unpleasant place to wait things out. And wait there I did, perched in turn on either of its wooden sides as Ross worked the other. Again and again he circled, butting his massive head against the big rubber tires and using it to spin the steel blades at the open back end of the implement. Perhaps he was pondering, meanwhile, how to complete his business with me. Just what that was remains a moot point, for which I am grateful.

Charlie, who had reined in the horses to watch my lively little sprint, soon went back to dragging the field, relieved that I was safe - and, no doubt, that the bull had found me, even out of reach, a fine new diversion.

As I jockeyed positions and tried to convince Ross to turn his attention back to the cows, I wondered what folks driving up and down the nearby road might be thinking. Parked on its small knoll of the pasture, the spreader was fully visible from the road, even something of a focal point for casual glances our way. Did anyone wonder what I was doing in there? Could anyone see that I was a captive?

The more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed that passersby would think anything amiss. Our neighbors are used enough to seeing one or the other of us out in the dry field, checking on a pregnant cow, or, in Charlie's case, repairing some implement or other. In fact, he'd been working on a broken chain in this very spreader the week before. Perhaps those unaware of my mechanical naivet believed I was doing something equally constructive.

I HAVE sometimes come out here to sun on the broad back of one of the grazing draft horses or to read my mail from a warm rock above the spring. I could imagine friends glancing at the dry field as they whizzed past today. They'd smile at seeing Charlie happily working the horses. They'd notice me sitting in the spreader and think that this was a novel place, indeed, to enjoy my leisure. No one, apparently, noticed the bull and put two and two together.

Eventually, of course, Charlie and the team would swing by and I could ride one of the horses back to the barn. Before that happened, though, Ross lumbered away to sulk, and I jumped down and broke for the fence.

In retrospect, it hadn't been a bad mid-morning break, with the sun warm on my back and the pasture greening up around me. I got a closer and more sustained look at Ross than I'd ever had before. But I never did get my pictures of the spring dragging. If only I'd brought my mail.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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