One day thru the primeval wood A calf walked home, as good calves should, But made a trail all bent askew, A crooked trail, as all calves do. Since then three hundred years have fled, And I infer, the calf is dead; But still behind he left his trail, And thereon hangs my mortal tale.
The trail was taken up next day By a lone dog that passed that way, And then a wise bell-weather sheep Sliding into a rut now deep, Pursued that trail over hill and glade Thru those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out, And dodged and turned and bent about, and uttered words of righteous wrath Because “twas such a crooked path” But still they follow-do not laugh- The first migrations of that calf.
The forest became a lane That bent and turned and turned again; This crooked lane became a road where many a poor horse with his load Toiled on beneath the burning sun, And traveled some three miles in one.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet, The village road became a street, And this, before the men were aware, A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon a central street was this In a renowned metropolis; And men two centuries and a half Followed the wanderings of this calf.
Each day a hundred thousand strong Followed this zigzag calf along; And over his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led By one poor calf, three centuries dead. For just such reverence is lent To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach Were I ordained and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind Along the calf paths of the mind; And work away from sun to sun To do what other men have done. ~Sam Walter Foss “Cow Path”
Each day and night fly by more swiftly than the previous. It is as if minutes are exponentially more compressed than in the past, hurtling forward to an inevitable destination, but the estimated time of arrival is unknown.
I struggle in late middle age to keep perspective while traveling this road of life, looking back at where I’ve been, and hoping for the best about where I’m headed, and trying to stick to the winding path ahead without deviation. My regret about this journey is that I haven’t stopped nearly often enough to simply take in the scenery, listen to the birds, smell the orchard blossoms, and feel the grass under my bare feet.
It is the conundrum of following the cow path laid down before me, traveling the well-worn pathway of precedent.
Nevertheless, as with all cow paths, there may have been no greater reason for the bend or curve than a patch of tall appealing grass at one time, or a good itching spot on a tree trunk or a boulder obstructing the way. Still I follow the curve, dodge the boulder, tread the zig zag. My path may appear random without focus on the destination and that’s okay: I need to stop once in awhile, settle down for a really good nap, enjoy a particularly fine meal, read an insightful book, or play a lovely hymn. It is not which path I’ve traveled to my eventual destination but the quality of my journey along the way.
I enjoy the twists and turns of life if I take the time to appreciate them. Just maybe – I’ll throw in a few curves of my own for those who are following behind me.
Just past dawn, the sun stands with its heavy red head in a black stanchion of trees, waiting for someone to come with his bucket for the foamy white light, and then a long day in the pasture. I too spend my days grazing, feasting on every green moment till darkness calls, and with the others I walk away into the night, swinging the little tin bell of my name. ~Ted Kooser “A Birthday Poem”
all is green~
every square inch
and every misty mythical moment.
So I feast while I can,
knowing soon the darkness descends
and I too am called
to come home,
the bells I bear
swinging and ringing.
The cattle crouched round them in soft shadowy clumps, placidly munching, and dreaming with wide-open eyes. The narrow zone of colour created by the firelight was like the planet Earth – a little freak of brightness in a universe of impenetrable shadows. ~Hope Mirrlees from “Watching the Cows”
Sometimes I feel I am dreaming awake with wide-open eyes. There is a slow motion quality to time as it flows from one hour to the next to the next. Everything becomes more vivid, as in a dream — the sounds of birds, the smell of the farm, the depth of the greens in the landscape, the taste of fresh plums, the intensity of every breath, the reason for being.
The rest of time, in its rush and blur, can feel like sleepwalking, my eyes open but unseeing. I stumble through life’s shadows, the path indiscernible, my future uncertain, my purpose illusive.
Wake me to dream some more. I want to chew on it again and again, like a cow it’s cud, savoring.
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Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun! One mellow smile through the soft vapory air, Ere, o’er the frozen earth, the loud winds run, Or snows are sifted o’er the meadows bare. One smile on the brown hills and naked trees, And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast, And the blue gentian flower, that, in the breeze, Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last. Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way, The cricket chirp upon the russet lea, And man delight to linger in thy ray. Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air. ~William Cullen Bryant “November”
The window of richness is brief these November mornings,
enough time to feed and water animals,
watch the geese fly overhead,
capture the light and fog in softvapory air
before it dissipates back to
just another ordinary day.
This blessing of light is
beyond my understanding,
beyond my ability to preserve,
beyond any gratitude I can offer.
It is freely given with a smile
and I delight to linger…
The moon was like a full cup tonight, too heavy, and sank in the mist soon after dark, leaving for light
faint stars and the silver leaves of milkweed beside the road, gleaming before my car.
Yet I like driving at night in summer and in Vermont: the brown road through the mist
of mountain-dark, among farms so quiet, and the roadside willows opening out where I saw
the cows. Always a shock to remember them there, those great breathings close in the dark.
I stopped, and took my flashlight to the pasture fence. They turned to me where they lay, sad
and beautiful faces in the dark, and I counted them – forty near and far in the pasture,
turning to me, sad and beautiful like girls very long ago who were innocent, and sad
because they were innocent, and beautiful because they were sad. I switched off my light.
But I did not want to go, not yet, nor knew what to do if I should stay, for how
in that great darkness could I explain anything, anything at all. I stood by the fence. And then
very gently it began to rain. ~Hayden Carruth “The Cows at Night”
All my life I’ve lived near cows,
sitting on a bony Guernsey back
while my father leaned in close to a warm flank
to rhythmically coax milk into a metal bucket.
I’d teach a tail-switching calf to drink from a pail
by leading its mouth, sucking my fingers,
down to the milky froth.
There were always cows out back,
or in the woods,
or across the road,
or on the road,
or following the winding path
or eventually in the freezer,
their great heads bobbing and curious,
ears waggling, tails swiping,
their sand paper tongues
licking clean each moist nostril.
So much is simpler for a cow~
a meadow of dewy grass, and full udders
awaiting the relief of the calf or the milker’s hands.
Maybe this is why I ruminate on life
chewing my cud on what was and is, just
waiting for the next thing to happen.