First there's an issue with borrowing your husbands balaclava. The black anarchist face mask makes the whole frozen, below zero air problem burn the nostrils a little less. Unfortunately, it's worn in the wee hours of the morning, before personal hygiene has been attended to. A fix for this hot-box of hell might be to breath only through the nose. However, then you get the morning smells of some one else, a man, and everything he's ever eaten in the full stench that this baklava has accumulated over the past months. I should be thankful he's ever out there, in his bulky michelin ninja suit on mornings he doesn't have to be at work early. But instead, I'm complaining about the smell of his loaned warm things.
The next problem is with wet things and frozen metal. Never touch the barn or stall doors with wet hands. You wash off the cow's teet and then you grab the milk bucket and then you can't put the bucket down. You shake it. You scrape it. And eventually, it flies off into cow crap. But no worries the crap is frozen solid, albeit only five minutes old. This makes mucking out the stalls a piece of cow-cake, almost. You can just pick the patties up and toss them into the wheel barrow. No shovel required. They also aren't as wet and soupy not only because they are frozen, but also because the cows are wasting away with dehydration, despite your best efforts. It is hard to slurp a three foot by two foot ice cube down. And the hose is frozen. So I'm trekking buckets of water from the well to the barn, over and over. The cold well water which so thoroughly quenched thirst and shivered me timbers this summer, now steams as it rushes from the spigot and clouds up as it pours on to the ice trough. When you finally get to milking, it freezes to the sides of the pail before it even hits the bottom. Don't worry, once it gets in to the house it slides down and gets pourable.
But the milking works up a fine sweat, as does some hefty mucking. It's great exercise, and fills the lungs with a burning cold which is supposed to make me pound my chest and want to live forever, but instead makes me pound my chest and think I'm dying.
At least the radio still works. It's not tuned to news or anything, but contains a special CD. I read a study on milk cows. And they give a gallon more a day if listening to Mozart vs. not listening to anything vs. rock music vs. Rush Bimbo (which is scientifically shown to plummet milk production as well as IQ's). Not that I could use a gallon more a day, I'm drowning in the stuff as it is. But it does seem to make things come out easier. I found Mozart to be a little too exciting, actually, so the first song we hear is "Sonata for Two Pianos, Andante" by Brahms. The first few notes sound just like "Baby's First Christmas" by Connie Frances. Then comes Vaughn Williams with "Greensleeves," the tune for "What Child is This?" That's when she's almost going dry, but then the rushing main melody floods in and she lets down anew. It's so Christmassy!
Yes, a dark cold barn, the stiff and tough shit, the hormonal chickens fighting in their coop, the water frozen solid: your worst bucolic nightmare. But with Brahms and Vaughn Williams the stars twinkle more brilliantly in the icy sky, the hay smells manger-y and warm and my 700 pound wild cow seems almost cuddly.
Modern life had me down. No reason to experience nature's ways and whiles. No reason to not cocoon myself into a constant, safe temperature. I wanted reality, cold and hot, mild and wild, windy and calm, spring and summer and fall and winter, all of it to dance with me, to touch my swirled finger tips and lead my feet to the music of this sphere. I wanted life on earth: full, unrestrained, unchained, intimate, relevant.
I walk across the frozen grass. It sparkles in the sudden motion light, a trail of stars in the dirt, and Paul Simon sings in my mind, "She's got diamonds on the soles of her feet..." I'm a rich girl. I'm a mortgage-broke and frozen girl, but I'm a rich girl too. I don't try to hide it. Diamonds on the souls of my feet.