I’m standing in the kitchen, stifling a yawn and rubbing the sleep from my eyes as the timer on the microwave counts slowly down to zero…
When it’s finished, I open the door and remove its contents: a little yogurt cup filled with (now) warm, soapy water. Then, using my free hand, I pick up a recycled pickle jar, a well-worn clear plastic cup (the kind most people just chuck in the garbage), and head out the door.
It’s precarious, to say the least, walking around with my arms full of seemingly-random odds and ends. But somehow I manage to open both the kitchen door AND the garage door — and step out onto the patio without spilling or dropping anything.
As I make my way down the bare dirt path through our backyard, I notice Ryu silently watching me from his doghouse door.
When I get a bit closer, he blinks a couple of times, and finally decides to come out. Then he immediately drops into a slow, deep stretch — his front paws reaching far in front of him, each toe splayed out wide. His tongue curls back into a giant yawn.
It looks like he’s feeling about as tired as I am.
Not that I can blame him though. I mean, the sun hasn’t even come up yet…
By the time I reach the shed, however, he’s wide awake and ready for action. And he whines at me to let him out, pawing at his kennel door.
You’d think by now he’d be used to the routine. You’d think he’d realize that he doesn’t get let out until after I’m finished with the goats. But still, he goes on begging.
I ignore him and carefully open the door into the dark, quiet shed (which, again, is a very precarious task, given all the random junk I’m balancing in my arms).
Once I step inside, however, I can finally set down my payload and breathe a little easier.
With my random pile of “milking paraphernalia” now sitting safely on the rough concrete floor next to the milkstand, I reach over and grab the little spray-bottle full of bleach (which is always sitting next to the milkstand) and squirt two shots of it into my yogurt cup. Then I leave the shed, walk on over to the goat pasture, and call for Vin.
She and her half-sister, Syl, poke their heads up from the thick patch of weeds they’ve been browsing on at the far end of the pasture, and after hesitating for a moment (as if trying to make up her mind), Vin drops her mouthful of grass and comes running to me at a dead sprint — with Syl following right behind her. Floppy ears bouncing with every stride.
It’s good to be loved!
Of course, Rump (our Holstein steer) sees the goats as they rush past him, and he decides to come running too, moo-ing for all the world to hear.
Like a bellowing black-n-white freight train, he comes hurtling towards me, kicking up clumps of mud, turf, and cow-pies — and then skids to a stop at the very last second, plowing into the poor goats while he’s at it. Then, without any hint of an apology, the big old goofus leans toward me longingly for a scratch under the chin…
Which I do — knowing deep down that I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t get too attached. It’ll just make things harder when the time comes for me to put him down this fall.
That’ll be a hard day, for sure. But fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that right now.
Right now, all I need to worry about is getting Vin into the shed and onto the milkstand. Which, actually, isn’t much of a chore. In fact, all I really have to do is open the gate, and she takes care of the rest. I’ve learned, however, that I do need to follow alongside her, holding onto her baling twine collar — just in case she decides to make a break for it to start munching on my pea plants.
(Ask me how I learned that lesson).
But today, like most days, everything goes smoothly.
She just ambles on into the quiet wooden shed, hops up onto the milkstand, and then waits (impatiently) for me to lock her in and pour some grain into her little plastic feeding trough.
She stands there with a disgusted look on her face, huffing and puffing and stomping her hooves on the creaky wooden planks, just to let me know she’s STILL waiting. (And I’ll admit, sometimes I purposely take my sweet time, just to annoy her). But all is forgiven the moment the grain hits the trough.
With Vin happily munching away on her breakfast, I scoot on over and plop myself down on an up-turned 5 gallon bucket. It’s nothing fancy, but it does make for a pretty good stool.
I grab a clean white rag, dip it in my bleachy/soapy water, and give Vin’s udder a good wipedown. Some days, it takes 2 or 3 rags to get the mud and manure cleaned off — but today (thanks to the recent dry, sunny weather), it’s a pretty quick and simple task.
I pick up my clear plastic cup in one hand and Vin’s freshly-washed teat in the other, squeeze 3 or 4 shots of milk into the cup, and then carefully examine it from all angles.
We generally don’t pasteurize our milk around here, so it’s important to catch any abnormalities or defects before it goes in our regular drinking containers (hence the disposable plastic cup).
As soon as I’m satisfied with the milk’s consistency, I pick up my glass pickle jar and start milking in earnest — and THAT’S the moment I look forward to most.
That’s when all my stresses melt away…
I don’t know what it is about early morning milking, but boy, it just cleanses my soul! I lean forward, rest my forehead on Vin’s side, and just enjoy the moment. I can hear her crunching contentedly on the grain, her stomach gurgling. The sweet smell of fresh straw fills the air.
As I get into a rhythm with my milking, I focus on the soft, steady ringing of milk hitting the glass jar.
Such an incredibly satisfying sound!
Outside the shed, meadowlarks are singing. Pheasants are cackling. And — the first golden rays of sun burst over the mountain tops and light up the world.
For a very brief moment, everything around me glows with a soft, yellow light. Almost like a quick glimpse of heaven. And all the while, the milk continues to ring, in steady, methodical bursts…
Sure, there are still chores to be done: the milk will need to be strained and chilled, I’ll need to mix up bottles for the kids, those bottles (along with my milking paraphernalia) will need to be washed, once again, in hot soapy water — and there’s still a dog, a steer, a smattering of cats, and a couple dozen chickens that all need feeding and watering and caring for. Moreover, there are work projects, garden projects, service projects, and church projects to worry about…
The list never ends.
But I’m just preaching to the choir, right?
EVERYONE is busy. EVERYONE is stressed. EVERYONE’S life is hectic. That’s just how it is.
But for those few precious moments, my life is simple. It’s just me, a jar full of fresh milk, and a beautiful summer sunrise.
What more could you ask for?
Like I said, early morning milking just soothes my soul!