This painting by French realist Julien Dupre` resonates with me this week. I know well the feeling of pulling against a momentum determined to break free of the strength I can muster to keep it under control. This illustrates what my life often feels like, both on the farm and at work. I admit I am barely hanging on, at times losing my grip, my feet braced but slipping beneath me.
The full-uddered cow in the painting is compelled to join her herd in a pastoral scene just across the creek, but the milk maid must resist the cow’s escape. For the cow’s benefit and comfort, she must be milked. The cow has another agenda. She has nearly broken free, almost pulled up the stake, and now the maid is braced to pull her around to retie her. The action suggests the maid may succeed, but the cow’s attention is directed far afield. She doesn’t even feel the tug on her halter.
Right now, as spring advances rapidly with grass growing thick in the pastures, our horses smell that richness in the air. Sometimes this tug of war takes place when my plan is different than the horse’s. The fields are too wet for them yet, so they must wait for the right time to be released to freedom. The grass calls to them like a siren song as I lead them to dirt paddocks for their portion of last summer’s uninviting hay. They can pull my shoulders almost out of joint when they are determined enough, they break through fences in their pursuit of green, they push through stall doors and lift gates off hinges. Right now I’m barely an adequate counterbalance to the pursuit of their desires and I struggle to remind them I’m on the other end of their lead rope.
Tonight I sprung them from their winter prison, allowing them 2 hours out in the evening twilight meadows, to run and leap and yes, even eat a little grass while I straightened their beds. I readied their stalls just as I used to straighten my childrens’ bedrooms before bedtime when they were small. One horse keeps a tidy home, with little mixing of waste and clean bedding. Another horse is in constant motion at night and like a child whose sheets and blankets end up as much off the bed as on, stirs the clean bedding into the dirty areas of the stall. Yet another horse likes to dump his water bucket, throw it in the air and knock it about, drenching everything–from the house I can hear him fighting a bucket battle in the dark of night. My children were creative too–one was a clothes and toy “piler” , another was a “strewer” and the one still at home tends to both strew and pile.
Each day I try to restore order in my life, on the farm, in the house, in my clinic, with my patients and coworkers, with my family. I want to pull that cow back around, get her tied up and relieved of her burden of milk so that it can nurture and replenish others. Sometimes I hang on, but only to be pulled along on the ground, getting roughed up in the process. Sometimes I have to let go, and then have to try to catch that cow all over again. Once in awhile I get the cow turned around and actually milked without a spill.
I’ve held on. I’ve got a grip. And I can make cheese.