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Rhythm and Ritual, Feeding Cows & Birds & Humans made this

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.

Muddy Lane Cornwall

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.

Gate Hook Cornwall

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.

Traditional Herefords eating hay

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.



Bird Feeding Station

The Feeding Station – a lot more birds normally!

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.

Starlings in Winter trees

Starlings in Flight


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?

24 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh, this sounds like such bliss! The closest I can come to this are my forced walks with Tetley, my sweet Cairn. But what a lovely lane you have to walk! Thank you for calming my evening – just reading this.

    January 15, 2013
    • Is that Tetley, as in tea?! I bet he likes his routine too. Calming is definitely the word for it.

      January 17, 2013
  2. I loved reading this. Such a grounding sort of routine that certainly would help to keep one living in the moment. I so enjoy reading about your sweet cows.

    January 16, 2013
    • Thanks Lemony. I hadn’t thought of grounding before but you’re right. Literally, sometimes…when my feet get sucked into the quagmire! I did try taking some photographs of it…let’s just say they weren’t as fascinating as your ice ones! But watch ths space… 🙂

      January 17, 2013
  3. Speaking of ritual and rhythms – let’s add routine, which I seem to have fallen out of! With the holidays over, I had great plans for organizing my reading and writing, but goodness – I wandered off onto a byway and got lost in what I call my “research rapture”. It’s like being caught up by space aliens and taken to a library.

    Anyway, I’m back, getting caught up and delighting in this one. The first thing I thought of was my beloved kitty. Just like your cows accustomed to a certain place and time for food, Miss Dixie expects her treats about this time at night (10 or 10:30). If I’m neglectful, she lets me know, fussing around until I give up my silly human work and tend to her needs.

    Your birds are wonderful. We don’t have the starlings here in such numbers, but this is the time of year when the grackels flock – thousands and thousands of them. They’re marvelous to see – quite awesome, really.

    Is that butternut squash in the bottom? I just roasted a butternut and made a wonderful soup from it. 😉

    January 16, 2013
    • I didn’t use to think that I liked routines, but I actually find them helpful these days. But best laid plans and all that…like you I find I get caught up in something else quite easily!

      I’ve never heard of a grackel, I’ll look it up. Actually, that video on the link I posted was a bit boring! I thought it would be of a murmuration in action, try this instead, which is a very sweet film.

      I do like roasted butternut soup too, very nice with some ginger. The season of UK roots can seem to stretch endlessly on…I probably need to be caught up by some space aliens and taken to the research library ;). I know why I’m doing it – better for farmers, less food miles (though of course the butternut was not from here, hence not receiving it in every box) but I think I’ve been spoilt by too much choice and my palate has come to expect a huge variety of tastes at all times!

      January 17, 2013
  4. My father was a gruff small package of furious determination. He never stood still for long, he couldn’t abide pretty much anything but he collected delicate porcelain cups, saucers and teapots and if ever there was an irony of personality, it would be my father. I guess he was a Gemini…he might have had something soft inside there but he certainly never let it show! I inherited his home, his temper and his porcelain. Not too sure what to do with it but it is tucked away in a back cupboard as a reminder that you can never judge a book by its cover. Your teapot picture reminded me of that collection, tucked away because it is too awkward to fit that piece of the puzzle into the conundrum that was “dad”. I, too, am a feeder. I love the process of feeding and the reward of satiation. As you feed, so shall you be fed. Winter feeding has that hint of desperation to it…without your actions there is the distinct possibility of starvation and so it becomes all the more poignant for the wild birds that take advantage of your consideration. You have put your Christmas Decorations away?! We still have our 3 enormous home made baubles dangling like the sword of Damocles over our front gate. We had the forethought to drill holes in the bottom of them (ostensibly to ward off Christmas rain) because in the back of our minds we know how distracted we can get with “Life” and we knew that there was a distinct possibility that come the rains of autumn, those baubles might still be up there waving at alarmed passers-by.
    What lucky cows! Every day is a Christmas present for them… the only bill that they might have is a promisary note to the butcher (we shall see if you are brave enough 😉 ). I love the rhythms of cycles…they can become soothing at the least and necessary to your flow at their strongest ebb…I love making compost now. I never saw the point before and always shrugged of my mothers “Why are you throwing that out? Make a compost heap!” implorations (SURE it’s a word!) but now I regret not making them sooner…the process of collecting what you would otherwise throw out…cutting it into smaller pieces while your mind wanders about in the ether of your head and carrying your payload once full out to the compost bin (one of many that are springing up all over Serendipity Farm…most of them full of things other than compost like potatoes and pumpkins 😉 ) where you stand, thinking again and allowing the process to teach you something fundamental and primal…life cycling and your place within it… once the compost rots down (or the potatoes and pumpkins give up the ghost…) you then take those ex-snipped up bits, that are now a fecund mix of dark pleasurable soil, over to your garden where you spread that process of life all over your plants who welcome their inevitable end in the form of their deceased kin. Life cycles and feeding…the enthusiasm comes with the process and can’t be felt until you are knee deep in the task. I have missed so many opportunities throughout my life because of the misinterpretation between true enthusiasm and anticipation… I am still not sure that I can give them a distinct boundary.
    We, too, have starlings…imported by homesick expats and a bane to our vinyards. None live on Serendipity Farm since the great extermination of the Auld Kirk Church eaves before our time here. It would seem that this place has become somewhat of a Starling sacred site and we may occasionally see the odd one taking a drink from one of the bird baths but we know that it is just a quick desperate sip and that tales will be told of their bravery as they form their early evening murmuration and disappear for another night.
    Reading your posts makes me a better writer (although I still can’t spell for bollocks! 😉 ). By the way…make cake out of those carrots and parsnips…delish! The cauliflower needs to be roasted and eaten with respect or made into a gorgeous soup preferably laden with cheese. Cheers for this post about possibilities and the steadfast value of processes especially in winter 🙂

    January 16, 2013
    • The first part of your comment was like the beginning of a story…I think you’ve got something there…write on!

      I completely understand your obsession. Compost is the best! We have a galvanised bucket in the kitchen which we toss it all into, including the wood ash. Then it goes out to the mighty compost heap near the polytunnel for further processing ie: leaving until it is compost – no turning here 😉

      Honestly, those homesick expats have such a lot to answer for haven’t they? I should send you my friend Helen whose burning ambition is to neuter all the feral cats in the world (don’t worry she’s a vet!), starting with here. Many a night she is up with her traps. True dedication.

      I never thought of making a cake with parsnip. But that would only use 2. What am I going to do with the other 500!!! I exaggerate of course…

      January 17, 2013
      • When life hands you parsnips…make 250 cakes! ;). Send Helen over here we have between 10 and 15 feral cats that could do with a good sterilise… I looked at my comment and realised that it was almost a post! Sorry about that, I love your blog and it brings out the “waxing lyrical” in me 😉

        January 17, 2013
  5. this is the nicest blog post I have read (although I must admit I mostly just look at the pictures on blogs) your description of feeding the cows made me want to be there and the bit about cows not caring about christmas is a nice touch. I think you should write a book for everyone who would like to be walking down that lane with three hungry cows.
    You could call it ‘Three Hungry Cows’

    January 16, 2013
  6. so, that’s the ONLY blog post you’ve read then, I’m definitely flattered 😉

    I like it. Three Hungry Cows.

    You could be on to something, where’s my agent?

    January 17, 2013
    • so, yes I am a bit of a lazy reader, but I know what I like and I’d like a book about cows only nothing too technical or overly sentimental just honest, sensitive with a dash of humour and a lot of grass and mud.

      January 17, 2013
  7. I tend to think of these kinds of rituals and routines as maintaining a harmonious balance. This story of yours is really wonderful to read 🙂

    January 18, 2013
    • Thanks very much Debbie. That’s a nice way of putting it. Looking forward to enjoying your latest misty landscapes.

      January 18, 2013
  8. supernova #

    Super post, very enjoyable indeed! Cows are great and superb photo’s, the nuthatch is stunning. Great stuff, SN

    January 19, 2013
    • Thanks SN, though I can’t claim ownership of the nuthatch pic, that’s the rspb! My camera is not up to the challenge really so I’m now dreaming of a DSLR.

      January 21, 2013
      • supernova #

        Your welcome Cowgirl. I know what you mean about a new camera. I’m after one too! 🙂

        January 22, 2013
  9. What a very calming post, I feel better for reading it, thank you. I love your walk up to the cows although I can imagine your reluctance to make it in the wind and rain (or, dare I say it, snow?). All those veggies look wonderful to me, but I don’t know how I’d feel about having them chosen for me. I could imagine getting a bit tired of something if I got it too often. Still, it’s great that you’re supporting local farmers and no doubt having a very healthy diet as a result of all those veggies on the doorstep.

    January 20, 2013
    • Thanks Lorna. Parsnip cake with my tea today – actually it’s nice, blogger Fran over at Serendipity Farm suggested it. She says its brilliant with chocolate, but I had already made it by then and made a kind of bakewell slice with mixed spice but no jam…sounds odd but quite delicious. Don’t know if I could make it again though as I guessed the proportions!

      January 21, 2013
  10. I love your story of feeding the cows. Having animals around really does make you realise what are the important things.

    Do you get many bullfinch on your feeders? I’d love to see one in my garden!

    January 20, 2013
    • Thanks Finn, they really do.

      You are right about the bullfinches not being keen on the feeders, they scrabble around in pairs for seeds in the gardeny bit of our land and we also saw a Mr. & Mrs on a neighbours buddleja – much to B’s annoyance as he is rather anti buddleja! I posted about nature conservationists frothing at the mouth on this issue 😉

      January 21, 2013
      • I kind of see their point, but on the other hand our bees and butterflies need all the help they can get, so I can’t get too worked up about buddleia. And it does look nice too!

        January 21, 2013
  11. Oh I really enjoyed reading your blog! I am sat in a bus terminal in Kelowna, waiting for a driver for a bus which was meant to depart 2 hours ago and, as of yet, there is no promise of him showing up. Thankfully there is a little old lady singing songs to keep us company! And during the intermission (she has gone for breakfast), I can transport myself back to Cornwall via your blog. Beautiful words and descriptions, I will post the link onward to a WWOOF host I think will appreciate this. 🙂 Also, I LOVE this: and think you may too! x

    January 20, 2013
  12. Now isn’t that funny B? I’ve just linked that film to another blogging buddy, I thinks it’s a really lovely clip. I saw it for the first time last year when a friend posted it to FB. What a nice bus garage that sounds…little old lady singing…guess you’re well on your way by now.

    January 21, 2013

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