Molly peered cautiously over the fence. She turned her huge head one way, then the other, muttering to herself as one of those big noisy things — whaddya call em? trucks, that’s right — one of those big trucks appeared at the top of the hill, heading her way.
She quickly put her head down, reaching delicately for the grass at her feet, nibbling at a few blades here and there, just for show, in case the driver was looking. She didn’t want to seem conspicuous, here by the fence. The truth was, she was actually bored with grass, so bored, she’d actually rather eat anything but. Well, okay, maybe it wasn’t actually eating the grass she was bored with so much as the grass itself, the idea of grass, the acres and acres of grass, all of it inside this fence.
She moved a step or two closer to the fence and leaned casually against it. It bent a little. Good, good. She gave the signal to the rest of the herd, as the fence began to buckle with her weight, all 1800 pounds of her.
The others began to step over carefully, not wanting to tangle their feet in the page wire, now bent fully over in one cow-sized spot. Finally the last black-and-white cow was through the fence and on the dusty road, all 35 of them now trotting quickly, udders swaying dangerously, thundering down the road toward MacPherson’s barley field, where last week there was a hole in the fence that MacPherson hadn’t found yet.
Molly hoped the hole was still there. She could taste that barley now, seeds popping in her mouth as she stripped them delicately from the stalk. She knew it would make her sick, but she didn’t care.
“Dream Boy, go get the cows!” Sara stood at the kitchen sink and watched through the window as Dream Boy loped along the edge of the kitchen garden, lusciously feathered tail waving gently in the breeze, on his way to the back forty, where the cows were pastured.
Dream Boy was the definition of quintessential collie-ness — a long-coated, rough collie just exactly like Lassie (remember Lassie?) — and far too dignified to do anything so pedestrian as to “wag” his tail.
Dream Boy had never, ever needed to be disciplined. He was a proper farm dog who had come to them already trained, young though he was, a welcome, blessed replacement for the last dog, who’d had to be put down after the tragic geese incident. Dream Boy just knew things.
In fact, he’d figured out how to bring the cows home all by himself, just one dog and 35 Holstein milking cows. One day Tom was a bit late getting back to the pasture to go get them, and much to his surprise, ran into them on the well-worn path between the back forty and the barn, Dream Boy nipping at the leader’s heels to keep her moving exactly where he wanted her, the rest of the herd calmly following along behind them, single file. That was two years ago, and every day since then, Dream Boy has gone to get them, pulling the rope to open the gate to the pasture, finding Molly, the lead cow, and persuading her that it’s time to go in for milking.
Sara stood waiting for the herd to come back, cleaning the sink after the supper dishes (they had supper early in the summer, around 4:00, and did chores after). She felt a deep calm and serenity coming over her as she scrubbed away at the dried water spots on the sink walls, scrubbing with the green scrubby side of her yellow and green kitchen sponge, with just a drop of Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 hemp peppermint pure-castile soap, which they used for pretty much everything, dishes, sink, bathtub, shampoo, body wash, and even the kitchen floor. She loved the clean peppermint smell, and it did just as good a job on the sink as anything, Comet, Vim or whatever. She rinsed off the Dr. Bronner’s and then wiped it all down with a microfibre cloth, then dried it with a waffle weave dish towel.
It had been a rough day — a rough month, truth be told — and everything seemed to be spiralling out of control; so, she polished her sink in the few minutes it took for the dog to come back with the cows. It was one thing, sometimes the only thing, that she could actually control, and it gave her a sense of satisfaction and aesthetic pleasure to see it shine like that, glowing softly in the setting sun. Cleaning the sink had become a contemplative practice for her, a sacrament of a kind, a sacrament to what was left of her own selfhood and the part of her that loved having a clean and peaceful home.
That it wouldn’t last long, only as long as the next time someone ran the water, didn’t matter. It was the act of polishing, the act of taking control, that was the sacrament. Everything could change in a heartbeat.
So with the sink softly glowing in the sunset, Sara took off her apron and headed for the door to put on her boots and get out to the barn to help with the milking.
But wait, come to think of it, where were those cows? She’d been so absorbed in getting control of the kitchen sink that she failed to notice that Dream Boy wasn’t back yet. What could be taking him so long? She’d better go check.
3. Dream Boy
Dream Boy arrived at the gate to the pasture, pulled the rope with his teeth to open the gate, went through it and paused, confused. Where were the cows? Huh. This was different. He couldn’t see them. Usually they were lining up to walk home by now, the pressure of needing to be milked making them quite compliant actually, more a matter of just getting them moving and collecting the stragglers than doing much actual herding.
He sat on his haunches with a baffled thump, and tipped his head to one side, like the RCA Victor dog, one ear cocked to hear better, exquisitely sensitive nose scenting the late summer air for a hint of where they might be. There were, after all, 35 of them, a whole milking herd, so you wouldn’t think they’d be too hard to find.
But since there were 35 of them, that also meant there were a lot of scent trails, everywhere, all mixed in with all the other creatures that had passed through the pasture today: mice, voles, moles, some deer, a raccoon, a fox or two, and the usual assortment of snakes and caterpillars and stinky ladybugs and prickly bees, and yes, his ridiculously sensitive nose could discern them all. The cows, however, were the only scent of any interest, and Dream Boy was going to have to follow their trail.
So Dream Boy stood up, sighing, and shook himself once before getting down to business, seventy-five pounds of determination and focus, long, elegantly tapered muzzle pointing at the ground now, hunting, hunting, for that one scent that would lead him to the herd. He zigzagged along the fence line, all 300 million olfactory receptors hard at work sniffing for the freshest… aha! There she was. Molly. Of course, it would have been Molly. You can run, but you can’t hide, he thought to himself, as he lifted his head and noticed for the first time the buckled fence.
He followed the trail over the fence and down the dusty road, nose to the ground, tail waving, worrying.
Molly was sooooo happy and sooooo full she could hardly move. But her udder was beginning to ache, and the sun was beginning to set. It was time to go home.
Collie Photo Credit: Karen Arnold on Pixabay; Holstein Photo Credit: Ross Sokolovski on Unsplash