The following is taken from my non-fiction collection about rural life in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Though written years ago, much of this account is still suited to life on our farm today. This is for those of you who love or think you would love living in the country. And even for those of you who don’t.
Spring can be very wintry here with snow lying on the ground sometimes until Easter and a brisk wind blowing from the North. But the sun shines brighter, when it shines, and the geese begin to fuss, a sure harbinger of spring. Squawky geese are always the first sign, even before the pussy willow blooms, or whatever it is that pussy willows do. This annual sign of spring makes me think of other spring observances.
March is usually the first month when gardeners can really get their hands into the earth and plant something, like those first rows of peas, often put in with cold fingers right before a rain. The rains are so close that there may only be a day or two when the soil is workable before it’s too wet again. Veteran gardeners watch the sky and feel the earth, wrinkled pea seed in readiness; when it’s all systems go, there’s a mad scramble for the garden as the gray clouds roll in.
A bit of lettuce, spinach and radish seeds are scattered in short rows, then back to the house for a hot cup of tea and the toasting of numbed extremities by the wood stove, the contentment of a spring rite observed. There’s something of a one-upmanship among country folk about who gets their peas in the earliest. “Got your peas in yet?” is apt to be a seemingly casual conversation opener, but only for the one who has, of course.
Spring is also the time of year when I regard the cows with a deep wariness. Inevitably, the cows will get out. I never know exactly when they’ll time their visit, but their attraction for newly planted gardens and flower beds is their annual spring rite.
Around here, in the spring, (at least to me) cows are the enemy. They particularly like a newly planted garden just after a spring shower when they can really sink their hooves in and churn up the earth. A freshly re-seeded lawn will do in a pinch, even shrubbery if all else fails. We have a side of the house called ‘Cow corner’ where the bushes appear to have been pruned by a mad gardener.
I once threw myself in front of a stampeding heifer as she made her way for my very newly planted raspberries. I was in the midst of planting them when she and several others escaped from the calf pen my husband Dennis was cleaning. He’d left the gate unbolted for a second––that second cows live for.
Yelling “No!” I hurled myself in her path. He came running just in time to see me prepared to be martyred for my cause.
The heifer, a coward at heart, veered at the last moment and leapt off the small wall at one end of the garden. I heard some discussion later about the monetary value of the raspberries compared to the cow had she broken her leg. I’m relieved to add that she didn’t and there was some concern for my safety had I disappeared under her charge.
I’ve watched in horror as bovines of all ages have frisked their way through tender young snapdragons, newly emerging peas and dozens of other cherished plantings. Later in the season when the weeds get thick and the weather grows hot and dry, I begin to lose my earlier enthusiasm for my garden and so do the cows. They prefer to make their pilgrimages while the earth is fresh and new and the plants are carefully chosen and special.
Since this was written, we’ve managed to get a fence up around the vegetable garden but the rest of the yard and flower beds are still vulnerable. Oh, the stories I could tell about cows. And for those of you who worry lest they suffer, I assure you that they are well treated and live a relative life of luxury, even have their own water beds. Which is more than can be said for me. They amble about in a grassy meadow, when there is grass, and the airy barn is more comfortable in summer than our house. There’s even some debate over which music they prefer listening to. I should think country.
*Pics of the valley and our farm by my mom, daughter Elise and the one of puppy Grady and the cow is by my son in law.