Dandelions are blooming along Lambert Lane. When I walk into town in the mornings or evenings I work up a sweat, overdressed for the balmy conditions. With water flowing audibly in the creeks, the grass and clover growing dark green, this would ordinarily be a low-stress time of year at the farm. But the bucolic bliss was interrupted on Valentine's Day.
It all started when I was gluing PVC pipe together in the greenhouse, getting ready for planting broccoli starts and all that. I had the door shut, had the space pretty well sealed off as I didn't want the pups barging in and wagging their tails around the open cans of purple piss and blue goo that every good organic farm in California depends on for irrigation pipes. I didn't really think about the vapors until my 12 year-old son opened the door to the greenhouse.
“Whew!” he declared, backing out. “I just killed like six brain cells in one breath.”
“I guess those vapors are pretty strong,” I said, trying to stand up and seeing stars light up against the greenhouse glass even though it was only a little after noon. I could hear echoes of our words reverberating off the distant, rocky slopes of Octopus Mountain or something. Crows were cawing miles away, and they sounded like they were perched on my shoulder. Jeez, I really needed some fresh air. My four year-old son was bouncing with a puppy on the trampoline, and I hollered to him to ask if he didn't want to help me bottle feed the calves. We're keeping two heifers in the shade of the hay barn. One of them was born on Christmas Eve, and my four year-old son believes this calf is his. He calls her, Eve. It means a lot to him to claim his own calf.
We have this routine for the afternoon feeding. First we boil some water, then splash a few ounces of steaming water into the bottom of each half gallon, plastic bottle. Fit the rubber nipple on the lid and shake the bottle gingerly. Instantly the bottle inflates and steam hisses from the hole in the end of the nipple. For years I was always disgusted by the orange mold or bacteria that clung to the inside of the plastic bottles unless they were daily scrubbed and bleached, but now this little experiment with the steam seems to be working. This way, too, the milk we dump in the bottles is warmed up some. If nothing else, a four year-old boy is certainly impressed by the hot water pissing out of the bottles.
The calves are vigorous and deflate the plastic jugs like grapes into raisins. After both of them were foaming and sucking air, I tossed a few flakes of the gold hay that looks more like straw, the dregs from last season, in for the calves to gnaw.
The PVC glue had me punch drunk, and set my mind to working on some cosmic level. I was transcending my species prejudice. It was an explosion of intuitive consciousness. I'd recently read the novel, “Island,” by Aldous Huxley, the swan song written in the early 60s that might have been the inspiration for the TV series, Gilligan's Island. They both involve white people marooned on uncharted islands, anyway.
In Huxley's version this utopian society systematically prescribes the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in order to raise the consciousness levels of its citizens. From the descriptions presented in the text, the high you get from mushrooms is similar to that of applying PVC glue with inadequate ventilation. Either that or the spirit of St. Valentine was expanding my heart chakra.
We let the calves out of the shady barn, into the blue green paradise of pasture. They frolicked, kicking up their hind legs, euphoric. I was still tripping out but the glue was quickly wearing off in the fresh air when I heard the old cows bellowing from the adjacent pasture.
They'd been separated for at least three weeks, and all had been quiet. For some reason I'd assumed they had forgotten about each other. Wrong. I stood there, coming down off my brief glue-induced Fusion with Universal Consciousness, watching as the calves ducked under the bottom strand of barbed wire to reunite with their mothers' teats.
That night the cows were unruly, like an angry mob. I had to slosh around blindly in the muck to coax them in for milking, what little milk was left. In the morning it was mayhem. The calves had each put away five or six gallons of milk in 20 hours, and there were big splotches of yellow yoghurt on the clover where they'd slept. They had the runs. One cow tried to do a 180 in the milking stall, suddenly panicking now that she once again had a calf to look after. I finally just let her out.
After the calves had been coaxed back into their quarters, the cows sang their blues until the chorus of frogs drown them out, come nightfall. The cows have better memories than I'd given them credit for and I was grateful for the amplified mating calls from the green amphibians. It's been three years since the frogs have threatened to deafen the other night creatures; three years since we've had real winter rain.