Beautiful, unpredictable October 2000 began with my "last day to swim" on the third. Three days later, there were slivers of ice on buckets left outdoors. The pastures were white with frost, and three little "snow birds" were just outside my picture window looking for seeds. Then came warm days when I put my fingers into the pool water and decided not to get in!
The welcome 2-inch rain is over, the sun lights the east sky behind the few disappearing clouds, and pea-size dewdrops seem to reach up to moisten my canvas shoes as I walk on the lawn. Daybreak! That’s my favorite time of the day, and autumn is a welcome relief from dry, hot September. Pasture mushrooms didn’t break the crust this year. The rain and warm sunshine might bring them, even now.
A newborn calf that got out of the pasture was in the driveway, butting his head over and over against the woven wire fence that he had gotten under; his mother consoled him from beyond, but he kept butting. I tried driving the mother downhill to see if he couldn’t find the high point in the fence where he had accidentally gotten into the driveway. He certainly wasn’t interested in grass. It must have been his first day out of the hiding place where the cow went to deliver her baby because there was still a bit of navel cord. He needed his mama, and she needed him.
I gave up and started to the house to get into old clothes so I could be more helpful. I heard something and looked back. The calf was halfway over the low-level barbed wire with feet flailing - and he made it across. I told him life wasn’t always this bad; he’ll be strong before ice and snow complicate his young life.
In October, 45 moms and their yearling calves and a bull graze our pastures. The yearlings are too old to suck and have eaten grass for several weeks, but they sometimes sneak in from the rear for the remembered taste of their mothers’ warm milk, which returns after the birth of the next baby. Some of the fall calves came early. They’re nursing and not ready for grass; they gang up and romp over the pastures together a lot. Our beloved old neighbor, Uncle Dave Valentine, took that romping and kicking their heels up in the air to mean "there’ll be a change in the weather."
Mothers-to-be wobble when walking, and when viewed head-on they appear much larger on one side than the other. The recent rain washed dust from the grass, and they move from pasture to pasture to find the best grazing. My grandson Oliver, a senior at Rock Bridge High School, has been mowing the pastures this fall, and the recent rain gave growing things a new lease on life. The cows find hidden grass under those down weeds. They’re enjoying that as if they know that trucks will take them to a winter feed lot within a few weeks.
The freshness and beauty of this Missouri morning gives way to the sounds of a neighbor hammering on a piece of machinery a half-mile away. Retirement provides time to enjoy natural things we missed in the 8-to-5 rush - sunrise on frost, cows, silence, wild turkeys and deer. The loss this week of two old friends and a young father in the state of Washington strengthens our appreciation of life in old age.
If you’re lucky, old age is in your future, too.