It’s quiet this morning, here in the little rock house far from everything. Randyman has gone to work up in the shop and it’s just me and Cider. He is always happy to see me, whether I am waking up, or just stepping out of the bathroom. A separation of a few seconds brings the same joy over being reunited as a week or a month would.
Most of the time, the majority of my life, I spend without much human interaction. The ranch family are all busy doing what they have to do and staying very busy and unless I am up to riding, or go visit or volunteer to help out with some of the many chores, I am alone in this funny little stone and concrete house. I never feel alone, however. I feel God’s presence everywhere on this ranch, stronger than I ever did anywhere else and He has provided me with very good company and companionship.
I put the milker together while Cider happily wags his tail at my side. Armed with a bucket of warm water, we step out onto the back porch to be greeted by the Maremma pups. Cletus stretches his big ol’, tall, lanky frame with an audible yawn and undulates like a fish, asking for his customary good morning rub. Bruno watches from his perch on the wicker loveseat, then sort of oozes and slides onto his feet to bump my hand while the 3 of us work our way to the wagon. As I drag the milker into the wagon and grab the handle, our little entourage moseys its way to the back corral to prepare for milking EmmaLouMoo. She’s behind her tent eating the hay that Randyman will have given her before he left. The little sheep are already spread out across the pasture, nibbling on whatever looks tasty to them. The bull broke into their pasture again last night and the pups decided it wasn’t a big problem since we didn’t rush to move him last time, so they didn’t fuss about it much last night.
Emma hears me and rushes to the gate, anxious to be let into the milk room. I open it wide and she gallops down the little lane and hurries into her stanchion. I quickly dump her grain in the feeder to appease her and make my preparations while the dogs investigate the back corral and check to make sure all is well.
I plug in the milker and grab the “dipe-wipes” to wash Emma’s udder. I dip them in warm water as they are pretty cold being in the milk room overnight. As I scrub and massage her bag, she lets down and begins squirting milk before I am ready. I wipe her dry and put her little belt on that holds the bucket up, turn on the pump and hook her up. She munches contentedly, as the machine taps out a steady beat. I can feel her warmth and smell her faint cowy scent. It’s nice and I smile and rub her hip, enjoying the feel of her sleek coat. I move up and rub her head around her ears and she happily chews and sweeps up another mouthful of grain with her long pointy tongue.
Cletus comes in to sit with me. The milking is almost finished. I turn the machine off and reach for the bucket. I can barely lift it as it is full of milk. I manage to wrassle it into the wagon, tidy up the milk room and unlock Emma’s headcatch. She breathes heavily and works hard to make sure there isn’t a grain wasted or left behind. I rub her eyes and wrap my arm around her muzzle to get her to back out of the stanchion. She coyly pretends to head out the door then bends her neck around to steal some hay off the pallet by the front wall. I coax and threaten and she slowly oozes her way through the door.
Bruno and Cider show up and precede me out the gate and back to the house. They know the routine and they can forecast my every move. Emma moves slowly on the way back and I have to lean into her hip and shove her to get her out the gate. She lollygags, relaxed and sated now and I give her a hug and a headrub before pulling my wagon out the gate. She heads to the water trough and takes in a long, satisfying drink.
Cider comes back and walks with me as I pull the wagon past the chicken pen, where the hens are taking their turns in the nesting boxes. There are 6 boxes, but they only choose to share 3 of them. I will come back at noon and gather eggs and bring them treats. If everyone has donated and no hawks or owls have been haunting the grounds, I might let them out to play for the afternoon as they love to run around and look for bugs and peck at the lawn or see what Emma may have dropped out in the corral.
The pups have already taken their places on their dog beds on the porch, as they have been out patrolling all night and this is when they finally get to rest. They re-think this as I muscle the big bucket up onto the porch and into the house. They all follow me in to watch the procedure. I rinse out the warm-water bucket and fill it with hot soapy water this time. I pull the inflations off of the claw on the milker and take it all apart. I drop the pieces into the hot soapy water to soak while I wash the lid.
I grab 3 glass gallon jars and set one in the sink. Grabbing the strainer, I set it on top of the jar and with both hands and a loud huff, I hoist the bucket up and start straining the milk into the jars. It's steamy warm and clean, as no hay, dirt, or manure can easily fall into it with the machine. I feel strangely wealthy, as the creamy white liquid rises to the top of the jar. I cover the tops with plastic wrap and a rubber band, write today’s date on it and whisk them out to a cooler full of ice water on the porch where the milk can quickly chill. There is still a half gallon left in the bucket, so I split it between the dogs.
After cleaning everything up, I collapse on the couch and Cletus comes over and buries his big furry head In my lap. I hug him, taking in his doggy smell and bury my fingers in his thick coat, noting the firmness of his strong, powerful neck and I feel his heartbeat mingle with my own. Bruno and Cider come up on either side of him, vying for my attention and I am overwhelmed by the affection of a loving God, manifested through my animals. I can almost feel His arms around me, hear His heartbeat, as I reach for the intangible and take hold of the tangible.
I hear the little ram blatting outside and my eyes settle on EmmaLou, nosing around in the hay she has nudged up by the tent. My arms are around two of the dogs while the third sets his foot upon my knee. My husband is only a couple hundred yards away, doing what he loves. I wipe away a grateful tear as I take in a million undeserved blessings. Life itself is a gift. I could never earn the divine affection I have been the recipient of. I thank Him audibly, for once again reminding me that He is present always, understanding that all of this is from His hand, but best of all, is the gift of Himself.
My knees unfold painfully as I stand up, my shoulder throbs with pain of past injuries, irritated by the cold, but my heart is light and full and I meet the rest of the day with enthusiasm.
I take the 4 wheeler and ride up the road to the boss’ house. I am going to help clean the guest house, so their folks can spend Thanksgiving weekend here. As I bustle around, inside, I look out through the big window to find an errant Cletus staring back at me. He managed to get out and as usual, worried about me until I could be located. He waits outside for several hours until I am finished, then keeping pace, escorts me home where Bruno and Cider are beside themselves to see me again. Randy will be home soon.
I am truly blessed.
“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matt 28:20