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42—Fellini At the Honor Dairy

On the morning of my second farm tour, The Complete Cow by Sara Rath arrived. On the first page, this quote from Frank Lloyd Wright: “Has anyone sung the song of the patient, calf-bearing, milk-flowing, cud-chewing, tail-switching cow?” 
Wishing to be a singer, I boarded the little yellow cheese bus that afternoon with great enthusiasm.

In short order, our tour group was disembarking in front of the no-frills farmhouse—me in my cow socks followed by a young Phoenix couple with two boistrous and chatty children. . . a small nerdy hunchback dressed in white from his blousy linen shirt to his canvas boat shoes. . . and a gregarious beef farmer on vacation from Missouri with his chipper wife, and rosy-cheeked teenage son and daughter, both bred and raised on that midwestern can-do confidence and red meat.

The sign at the entrance to the farm proclaimed it an “Honor Dairy,” and welcoming us was the dairy farmer’s wife. A hearty woman, she was clad in faded denim and a demeanor suggesting her idea of relaxing after a long day in the field might be bench pressing a 90-pound calf. 

As she led us toward the big metal barn and milking parlor, the air grew thick with the smell of excrement. My eyes began watering as we stepped from the sunny blue day into the big dark barn, damp with the reek rising up from the mucky ooze of manure and urine on the cement walkways between the empty stalls. 

Where was Hercules when we needed him? As partial punishment for killing his wife and children—a crime he was unwittingly condemned by the goddess Hera to commit—the hapless hero was assigned the task of cleaning the Agean Stables. Home to thousands of cows, goats, bulls, sheep, and horses, these stables were a wretched mess. To begin, Hercules knocked a hole in each side of the stable, then dug trenches to the stable from nearby rivers and rerouted the water. As the rivers rushed though one side of the stable and out the other, the water took all the muck with it. 

Moving around the periphery of the barn, we came to a dozen corralled in a pen made of metal bars.
The boisterous children, catching sight of kittens frolicking on some hay bales, went squealing off in pursuit of the terrified kittens. The twenty-two heifers in a metal corral across from the calves grew agitated and—with the slippery stinking mud of their own excrement up over their hooves—began sliding into each other like bumper cars.

You’ve got a great operation here!” exclaimed the beef farmer enthusiastically. 

At first I thought he was being sarcastic. But the beef man was breathing it all in, loving the smell of napalm in the morning.

41—Stepping Into the Business of Dairy Farming Wearing White Sneakers and Cow Socks

Wearing the cow socks I’d bought with my field guide to cows, I boarded the little yellow cheese bus in front of the cheese factory, eager for my first farm tour and meeting some cows up close and personal.

“Hi,” said the young blonde woman in denim overalls standing up front, “my name is Mandy, “and I’ll be your guide this afternoon.” Mandy introduced herself as a high-school junior and farm girl active in 4-H. She used to scoop out cones of Tillamook ice cream at the factory but was now working in fudge. Doing tours was a bonus, and she was glad to have a full bus. 

Even in overalls, our little Mandy exuded a prom-pink sweetness. 

Before leaving the parking lot, the bus paused in front of a replica of the Morning Star, a ship constructed in 1855 to carry the left-over milk and butter of Tillamook’s pioneer farmers up the coast and inland to Portland. As they exchanged these goods for supplies, the Tillamook dairy industry was born. Because milk spoiled easily in transport, the farmers began making cheese.  (Click on link under the picture for your own tour.)

On the way to our destination, Mandy pointed out different breeds of cows grazing in the fields:  
Holsteins produce the most milk.    
The brown and white Guernseys produce the rich milk with cream on top. 
The tan Jersey’s milk is highest in butterfat.  
The Brown Swiss are the heartiest and also great producers of butterfat.
Dutch Belted cowsknown locally as Oreo cows because of the white stripe around the middle of their black bodies—eat more grass than grain so need a lot of pasture.


Brown Swiss

While learning about cows, we passed around baggies of feed—corn, various grain pellets and pellets of beet pulp, soybean meal,barley, canola meal, and delinted cottonseed, along with whole fuzzy cottonseed to clean out the cows stomachs. All this food had a high fat content because farmers get paid according to the butterfat content.

Dutch Belted

Our guide then launched into the specifics of artificial insemination—A I, as Mandy referred to the breeding procedure in which freeze-dried sperm is injected into the cow. “And if the A I doesn’t take,” our prom-pink farm girl added, “we just stick the cow in a pen with a bull.” 
She then passed around a catalogue of available bulls whose studly sperm stats were outlined under their pictures. These big boys sported such bullish names as Caleb, Durham, Black Bart, Emerson, and Kenneth.

Someone in the group asked Mandy about her plans for the future. 
“A doctor,” she said, “but I don’t know if I want to work on people or animals.”  

40—Cows. Wow!

One sunny afternoon, I was driving into Tillamook for my workout at the Y when a no-nonsense woman in a hard hat and orange safety vest turned her SLOW sign to STOP. Ahead, a big yellow road machine was flattening a strip of fresh blacktop. As Tillamook County is dairy country, I wasn’t surprised to find myself alongside a pasture where herd of a Holsteins was hanging out. Never having been up close and personal to cows, I was stunned to see how big they are.    

They were so big, in fact, that with only a three-foot ditch between us, I was pleased to have a half-ton pickup on my side. Although a comparative study revealed that the truck’s burgandy color was more of a distinction than size. But then I saw these cows were not the least bit interested in trampling me or my pickup. It was the big yellow machine rolling back and forth over the blacktop that had their attention. As they stood rapt and chewing their cud, it looked like a free popcorn matinee at the CinePlex. 

I gazed out over the field at the rest of the herd, some grazing, others lying down in quiet rumination. I liked their broad gentle faces, their big dark-eyed nuzzling muzzling ways, and ears like huge furry mittens sticking straight out from the sides of their heads. One wandered over to check me out. She mooed. I mooed back. And several others wandered over to join the conversation. 

As I sat, I began to wonder: Where would we be without cows?
There would be no cheese for macaroni or wine.  
And way before Prozac, there was creamy milk chocolate. 

I remembered being four-years-old and terrified at seeing Disney's Pinocchio swallowed by the whale.  
After the movie, my dad carried me down the street from the Capitol Theater to Isaly’s where a strawberry ice cream cone restored me to the safety of childhood. 

I was jolted from my reverie when the cow closest to me started to pee—a golden rush of pee so gigantic that the same force from a garden hose would sting. The peeing also went on and on—a peeing so grand that it seemed to relieve something in me. And when the peeing finally stopped, the cessation created a pocket of stillness in the drone of roller and idling motors.

The flagperson twirled her STOP sign around to SLOW and motioned us on. I drove away, but instead of turning right to go to the Y, I turned left toward the Tillamook Cheese Factory where within minutes of entering the gift ship, I owned John Pukite's A Field Guide to Cows: How to Identify and Appreciate America's 52 Breeds.
Before leaving the parking lot, I’d learned that a cow can detect odors up to five miles away, that there are an estimated 920 breeds of cows in the world, and that a cow sits down and stands up about 14 times a day. I also discovered that Boston, the cradle of our liberty, was formed around cow paths. Cambridge, home of Harvard and the American intellectual tradition, began as a cow pasture—a detail leaping to resonate with the fact that a 1000 pound cow produces 10 tons of manure a year.

On my way home, I stopped at Rainy Day Books where I bought About Cows  and  ordered The Complete Cow, both by Sara Rath.  

At home, I was introduced by Ms. Rath to William Dempster Hoard, the Father of Modern Dairying.

39—Swimming Upstream

I stood in the middle of the living room looking at the bird standing waif-like in the middle of the tar roof—no emergency kit, nothing to save him from the hazards of his world but the feathers on his back. 
“Where do you go at night?” I wondered aloud. 
“kwik,” he said and waddled to the window. 
The cats hopped up on the sofa, more to participate in the exchange than protest it.

Even in this peaceful moment, I could feel down through my feet and the apartment below, down through the dune on which the drafty old beach house stood, the minuscule movement of that massive oceanic plate pushing its way under the continental plate on which I was now living this strange little life—the friction, the tension building silently, slowly toward some in determinant but inevitable moment of cataclysm.

“How do you survive those terrible winter storms?” I asked the bird.
“kwawk,” he said with a tilt of his head, then abruptly fluttered off at the sound of his frenzied flock. The cats and I went to the window and watched the big flap over a free lunch that was being tossed out just beyond the motel deck by a gaggle of vacationers enjoying some beers around a big steamer pot. 


In the days that followed, the bird began showing up less and less, then not at all. 
Relieved, I busied myself: Signing up at the local Y. Taking kayak lessons. Thinking about buying a kayak. Walking along the beach, exploring nearby forest trails, telling myself that the inertia I called writers block would be transformed into clarity and purpose when my furniture arrived. 

Then, one day in mid June the furniture did arrive. Before the dawn of the next day, I’d emptied all the boxes and by the following afternoon had taken the boxes to recycling and had everything in its place.

As the final point of order, I hooked up my TV, turned it on, and kicked back in my recliner to enjoy the rush-hour traffic report. Yep, I was living the dream of thousands trapped in similar jams from coast to coast—I was in good health, had no debts or obligations, was living in a house by the sea for less than most urban apartments cost, and could do whatever I wanted, which in my case was to write that book about why we can't solve the problems in our schools. 

However, in the days that followed, every time I stopped being busy and sat down at the computer, anxiety overwhelmed me. Freedom was not “just another word for nothing left to lose.” It was a void in which I had to create my own meaning, find my own confidence. Maybe I should give myself a few weeks to relax, give the ideas time in this new environment to percolate. 

38—Emergency Management

With The Big One due and inevitable, I began preparing my emergency earthquake kit with the zeal of a bunker-mentality survivalist. 

If only I hadn’t given away my finely crafted frame backpack that had taken me from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the heights of Mt. Whitney…if only I hadn’t left my beloved desert…if only development hadn’t sent Vegas rents skyrocketing, I could go…but no, there was no going back. 

So with time ticking, I began searching online for an appropriate emergency supply kit. 
Perfect: a large green ripstop nylon, water-resistant duffle bag with back-packing straps—easily tossed in the back of the pickup for quick getaways or strapped to my back if fleeing on foot.

While waiting for my duffle to arrive, I bought a collection of travel-sized toiletries, eye drops, suntan lotion, mosquito repellant, wipes, sanitizers, and other sundries. I’d saved the camp stove and stainless cook set from my backpacking days, along with some emergency blankets, waterproof matches, and a water filter. At the local sporting goods store, I picked up some fuel, a Leatherman utility tool, emergency flares, a headlamp along with an economy-size pack of batteries for my flashlight, a more extensive Red Cross-approved first-aid kit than the one I had, a rain poncho, cord, a folding shovel, a small ax, pouches of freeze-dried food for me, and kibble which I secured in plastic freezer bags for the cats. I also bought duct tape and a packet of bungy cords. 

For emergency cat evacuation, I bought a sturdy dolly and stacked the carriers on it. Using the bungy cords, I secured three half-gallon bottles of water and my backpacking tent on top of the carriers.

With all my gear laid out on the floor, I pictured myself hunkered down with the cats in the back of the truck or tucked away in my tent. After a busy day of meeting my survival needs, I could catch up on the latest disaster news via my solar-powered radio while waiting for my Thai rice to rehydrate. After dinner, I would kick back in my Polar-tec sleeping bag. Enjoying my cup of evening tea spiked with a touch of Seagrams, I’d pass the time reading aloud to the cats from my palm-sized Emily Dickinson or the Tao Te Ching.  


The moment the duffle arrived, I packed it. Then, to get the feel of the pack before strapping on the compression bag, I slung the duffle over my right shoulder onto my back. The weight of the thing nearly took me to the floor as everything inside slumped rattling and wobbly to the bottom. As I hunched across the floor toward the fireplace, all I could see in the mirror over the mantle was a pathetic reenactment of the Joad family fleeing the Dust Bowl in their rickety old truck.