The Breath of Cows
December 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
Published in Cows: A Rumination by Carl Hileman. Ennis Press
©The Breath of Cows
It’s storming outside. One of those mid-afternoon, summer storms. Thunder grumbling, lightning flashing. The rain spits and spats on the windowsill, running in little streams over its edge and down the side of my study wall. I can’t resist opening windows when it rains.
The sounds and smells of these storms so often take me back to childhood. I can still smell the slightly musty odor of my grandmother’s house and the earthy scent of the yard, a smell I call green—freshly mowed grass and spring onions. The rain brought out other smells too, those from the chicken yard and the garden where my grandfather spread aged cow manure. All had to do with the growing things that were so much a part of our country life.
My grandmother, Nannie, would call me inside from the storms, and we’d curl up together on the bed by the open window. I can still feel those soft, almost-damp sheets and the cool breeze that brushed across my legs until I pulled up the light cotton spread, ever at the foot of the bed, to warm myself.
Most often during those storms, Nannie read to me, and other times we’d lie quietly, listening, breathing in time with each other while the thunder rumbled and the lightning flashed.
“The angels are moving God’s furniture around, and the devil’s cracking his whip,” she’d explain.
The sounds, the smells, her soft, gentle voice, all calmed, soothed, and chased away anything that might frighten me back then.
Today’s storm reminds me of Martha, as well. She was our milk cow, and she grew terribly nervous during such storms. Invariably, she interrupted our quiet time on the bed by galumphing as fast as she could to the bedroom window, stretching the rope that tethered her to the oak in the side yard until Nanny and I were certain it would snap. But it never did. There was just enough stretch to allow her to reach the window and rub her wet nose against the screen, pushing against it so hard there was a permanent sag in the center. Her brown eyes rolled around and back into her head with each rumble and crack from above. From side to side, she’d rock her body against the wood siding of the house where she had long-since worn away the paint.
When the noises settled some, and the rain slowed, Martha remained at the window, blowing soft puffs of warm air through the screen, watching us with her wide, soft eyes, her ears alert for the soft murmuring of Nannie’s voice.
“She’s a right smart cow,” Nannie always commented, and I would nod, believing that Martha, like me, got lost in the wonder of the far away places in those stories my grandmother taught me to love.
With the storm spent, and the story done, Nannie would rise to finish the thousand chores that filled her every day, while Martha plodded back to her place under the tree, content to nibble at what grew beneath. And I slept dreamlessly, perfectly at peace there on that bed cradled in the lingering warmth on one side by my grandmother’s soft body and on the other by Martha’s sweet breath.
I loved those storms then, and I love them now. Regardless of the years come and gone, in spite of the losses and fears of the present, for a few precious moments, the storm and an open window bring them back—Nannie beside me; Martha at the screen. I am home again. Safe. Secure. Cradled in love.