In From The Storm

The following narrative can be read as both memoir and allegory. The memoir is in the voices of a teen-age boy and a man with more years behind him than ahead. Some will read the allegory as grim and fatalistic, others as triumphant and realistic. The alternate interpretations may be influenced by whether or not the reader has affairs in order.
 
The storm is trying to kill me – as it has tried many times before and will try many times again. And as I have done many times before and will do many times again – until I can't – I outsmart it. I turn my back to the wind and I inhale deeply, storing oxygen for the next few steps. I continue this strategy as I make my way through the hostile fury of an Alberta Clipper on my way to the milking barn.
 
(I know the storm has had its grim successes. Many have perished in storms such as this in their own yards, blinded and disoriented and suffocating.)
 
After dodging the snowdrifts that the storm has thrown in my way, I am at the door to the east end of the barn.  I am strong, but I will not be forever. I have watched my grandfather at the end of his days when his strength was all but gone open the great sliding door effortlessly just by applying his weight.  I use the same method because as able as I am, I have only so much in reserve and much to do yet.
 
I slide the door open enough to get through and quickly close it. I rub the cold from my fingers. I am now in a haven of life and light and scent and sound holding the elements at bay. My nose draws in the scent of manure mixed with the sweet aroma of hay and spiced by the smell of kerosene from the lamps used to light the interior.  My ears perceive the sound of liquid striking metal – milk squeezed by the hands of the milkers, hitting the inside of the buckets held between their knees. And below that I hear the sound of hay being crunched by the cattle who fill the barn, and the meowing of cats.
 
The barn is partitioned into stalls on either side, with an aisle between them.  The first stall to my left is filled with ground feed. The first stall on the right is filled by a very large bull. He watches me with anticipation. He associates humans with very nice things like hay and feed and curry combs.  It is time for the curry comb -- or so he thinks. As the favored breeding bull, his near future is a very nice one. Come summer he will be turned loose among the cows to do his duty and he will have much good work to do.
 
The second stall to my left is occupied by a big shorthorn roan, who is now mentoring a novice sibling on the fine art of gracefully extracting milk from her udders. The child stops milking to greet me and the roan slaps him with her tail and turns her head to give him a look of admonition. I make my way down the aisle stepping carefully to avoid squashing cats. The cats crowd the aisle begging for milk, which is delivered by a bend of the milker's wrist and a quick squeeze which brings the creamy liquid to their mouths.
 
The milk from this session will be run through the hand-turned cream separator. The cream, along with fox and coyote hides harvested by our father from his plane with his 12-gauge will be brought to town every week and sold. The skimmed milk will be fed to the calves who have recently been weaned and now occupy most of the right side of the barn.
 
The last stall on the right at the west end is half full of hay and my task now is to fill it. I open the west door and step into a lean-to and exit into the hay yard.  Sheltered by stacks of bales, the hay yard is entirely free of wind. We feed other cattle in the outer yard from the west side of the bale stacks and take bales from the east side of the stacks for the cattle in the milking barn. I throw bales into the lean-to, then enter it and close its outside door, open the door to the barn and heave the bales inside. I snap the strings on the bales as I pile them into the stall.  From there, the now-loosened hay will be put into mangers for the cattle.
 
Hopefully, we have put up enough hay so the shelter provided by the bales will last into the spring, as storms can come as late as the first week in May. With the hay gone, a late spring storm could wreak havoc in the hay yard and potentially damage the barn and the stock within. Farming is in part a war with the elements. The farmer proceeds as a warrior and a strategist. Only the toughest and the most strategic-minded will survive.
 
Almost 50 years have passed now.
 
When I go back to the family farm, which is still producing and still in the family, it is terribly quiet now. The barns have fallen down. The livestock are gone.  Gone are the sounds so strong in my memory. Gone the lowing of cows, the cackling of chickens, crowing of roosters, meowing of cats. Gone the rumbling of a bull ready to do his duty. Gone the cries of children and the voices of our parents. Gone for the most part the sound of tractors. Now the mourning doves roost on utility lines in the middle of the day and their voices seem to emphasize the emptiness.
 
I now reflect that probably less than a third of my life lies ahead of me. But I reflect also that on saturdays I no longer have to shovel manure out of the barn. The bad goes away as does the good.