Rhythm and Ritual, Feeding Cows & Birds & Humans
It’s been almost a fortnight since the pastry was all rolled out, the decorations put back in their box and the festival holly crackled its last breath in the fire. Eager footsteps to the postbox have been replaced with a slow trudge in anticipation of the tax return demand, bank statements and catalogues for work wear.
While of immense significance to us, our celebratory feasts and festivals have absolutely no impact on the cycle of daily life for the cows. For them, the sun rises and sets in what I imagine is part of a reliably certain chain of events which mark their time. And usually at roughly the same point on this light changing scale, someone will come and give them some hay. So they come to know the routine and are found waiting and lingering near the hay shed just before sundown.
And the ritual of feeding them has brought a steady rhythm to my days too. Usually I look forward to it but sometimes I might think I’m in a hurry, my schedule is tight, or I’ve got too much to do or the mud is too sticky or it’s raining too hard. Then I have to dredge deep to find some enthusiasm for the chore.
I walk up the road towards the cow field which is on the opposite side of our lane, head down, hood up, hands in pockets, waterproofs rustling, eyes squinting. I open the gate. I hear the snap of the clip on the chain and see the curve of the iron hook which keeps the gate in place. By now resistance to the chore is receding of its own accord.
This is what I do.
I feed the cows.
The smell of summer is tightly packed into the slender dry stalks as I shake the hay free from its pink stringed prison, grassily sweet as I release the stiff segments. I can almost feel the buzz and heaviness of those brief days of heat back in August, the rows of cut grass, deep and still moist underneath, the sweat underneath my straw hat as I turn it with a pitchfork at the edges of the field where the tractor has missed.
But reflections quickly fade as the cows come running, jostling around in excitement before settling down to a steady munching. For me this is the best time and I stand around talking to them, all other concerns temporarily suspended. Both Lucy and Mary-Rose are easy to approach now and don’t mind a stroke, though Lucy is by far the most tolerant and dare I say it, may even like my attentions. Belita is still incredibly nervous though yesterday she didn’t run away entirely as I reached out to her shoulder, preferring instead an irritated shrug and a mistrustful glare.
By the time I leave them I always feel calmer and wonder what my hurry or hungry intentions were all about. It takes me out of myself and lands me in the present moment, and reminds me that it is the rituals of everyday life which are the balm and rhythm of the soul.
Something else to be savoured is watching the birds on the feeders and round about. To date we’ve seen Long Tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Jackdaw, Wren, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Sparrows, Bullfinch and Starlings. I also found a dead Goldcrest in the barn during the cold snap, it was extremely small.
My favourite is the Nuthatch with its neat compact body of grey and pink and its upside down wanderings along the peanut feeder. Most of my pictures have been rubbish so I’m borrowing one.
Every day at sundown while the cows are being fed, the starlings fly down the valley in large groups and sometimes settle in the trees nearby on a temporary stop before they make their way to the huge roost on Bodmin Moor. This spectacle is worth a post in itself so I will get up there soon.
And then there’s the regular appearance of the vegetable box.
Which doesn’t fill me with quite as much joy as the other things. I try, I really do. But after all, just what are you going to do with a whole lot more carrots, cauliflower and parsnips – those seasonal wonders of rooty and brassical loveliness?