Everything I Know, I Learned from Cows


I have a new trick I’ve been playing when I milk Glory Bee. I hook on the milking lines then I run back out of the barn to fill her water tubs. This little double-time game where I’m milking and running water at the same time probably saves me a whole five minutes.

Sometimes I’m just an embarrassment to myself.

Glory Bee taught me a lesson the other day by kicking off one of the lines while I was outside running water. The day’s milk was ruined and I had to do a lot of extra cleanup. Glory Bee finished up her feed and sauntered back to the barn yard as usual. After all, it’s not her problem if I’m a moron.

Cows have been teaching me lessons for going on four years now and, obviously, I haven’t learned them all yet.

Cows have taught me to never blame anyone else for my problems. If my cow is mad, it’s probably my fault. And the sooner I get that through my thick head, the better, because my cow isn’t going to cooperate until I do. Cows come with quiet expectations they express with big, soft brown eyes and the occasional kick. They ask only for necessities and a kind hand. They demand patience, consistency, and an honorable work ethic.

A cow can be a joy or a burden, a blessing or a curse, depending on how you choose to view it. Some of the most peaceful, beautiful moments of my life have taken place at the udder of a cow, hand milking. The steady rhythm of the movements, one hand, then the other, working in fast tandem, the silent magic of my fingers playing down her teats, the music of those long squirts hitting the bucket, steam from the udder-warm milk in winter air, the sound of birdsong around me in the spring, morning sun beating on my back in the summer–those are the things I think about when I think about hand milking my cow.

I was at my cow’s udder when I found out Weston had had a car accident and totaled the car–with Morgan by his side. (They were both okay.) I remember the morning I knew my mother was brain-dead and was going to die–and I picked up my bucket and went to milk my cow. I milked my cow when I was sad. I milked my cow when I was scared. I milked my cow when I was happy, and I milked my cow when I was exhausted. It didn’t really matter what else was going on in my life or the world, I milked my cow. Sometimes my cow tested me, other times she comforted me. Sometimes she irritated me, but most of the time she calmed me down. In any case, she was there, and that meant so was I. She taught me every day that the world didn’t really revolve around me. It revolved around her.

From my book: “A cow was an experience–work and hardship and challenge. Everything I’d been looking for when I’d come to the country.”

At Stringtown Rising, I started out milking Beulah Petunia in the meadow bottom. I’d carry her heavy bucket of feed across the meadow, through the sometimes-swollen creek in my boots that were so worn, they had holes and my feet would get wet. I’d come back across the creek with my bucket of milk. My cow had already reminded me not to hurry, and I’d stop to watch the birds swoop low between the trees. My arms and back and legs were strong from milking and carrying buckets. I was poor, all right, but I was rich, too–and I knew it.

I taught Jennie how to milk the other day. She’s Morgan’s friend who is staying here with us while her family gets re-situated after a fire. I showed her how to hand milk, then I showed her how to use the machine. I told her that I milked by hand for over a year before I got a machine. She said, “Why did you wait so long?” I told her the machine was expensive, and I’d had to save money for it. And then I told her, “Everyone should milk a cow by hand for at least a year. You can learn a lot from a cow.”

After Glory Bee kicked off the line while I was double-timing her with the water tubs, the next day I went down to the barn with a bucket. You know, ye olde milking bucket, the kind that has no milking lines and vacuum hoses attached. Because at least for a day, I needed to sit at my cow’s udder, know life at her beat instead of my own, hear the thunk of goats moving around in their house across the barn yard instead of the pump of the vacuum. I’m out of practice and no speed milker, but cows are usually pretty generous with their time as long as you bring them enough feed. Glory Bee didn’t really care what I was doing down there anyway–as always, a cow is quick to tell you that it’s not about you, milk maid. It’s about them.

Even as I try to let her teach me a lesson, my cow reminds me that she doesn’t really care if I learn it or not.

And that’s when she teaches me the greatest lesson of all.
This life is not about me, but it is always, every day, up to me.


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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on September 11, 2013  

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15 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 9-11

    Suzanne, this post is incredibly beautiful–the best you’ve ever done, I think. It’s humble, peaceful, and graceful, a true joy to read. I’ve pre-ordered your book and look forward to reading it. Best wishes for a beautiful early fall day.
    Pat in Eastern NC

  2. 9-11

    Lovely post. I so enjoy reading what you write every day, and look forward to (perhaps) a Christmas gift of your book! Blessings for you and your family. :moo:

  3. 9-11

    Suzanne, I understand your connection to your cow. I never learned how to milk worth a hoot and never got over my fear of the big animals. But, I do recall that when my mother was told that her daddy had died, she picked up her milk bucket and headed to the barn. It gave her the time and space to start to come to grips with Grandpa’s loss.

    When you’re young, you don’t understand the nuances of such behavior but, thankfully, as we get older we most times get a little bit wiser.

    You keep writing, girlfriend. We all need to be reminded of what counts.

  4. 9-11

    My gosh! You knock me over sometimes. With a laugh and a tear to my eye. Thank you.

  5. 9-11

    This might have been the best post ever on the blog!

    I almost grew up on a farm. Actually next door to my paternal grandparents who farmed. Then there was my dad who farmed a bit on the side after his “public work” job was finished. T milked a cow a couple times as a very young boy with my grandpa’s direction and with a very willing cow partner. Later my dad kept beef cattle and as I walked home from school (30 minute walk or a 90minute bus ride so easy choice) I would walk directly by the barn so I did the evening feeding. These days the pasture is rented and filled with beef cattle, goats and a donkey. One can learn much from animals and especially those bovines.

  6. 9-11

    This piece is so beautiful. You are a very moving writer.

  7. 9-11

    How nice, I think that we all have some sort of chore that in which we can find a special kind of peace when we don’t know what else to do. I have always found that when I am at a loss and dont know what to do with myself in a situation I go outside, weather permitting and work in our yard, even if it is just digging in th soil, it brings me peace in a way that nothing else seems to, it is an outlet for all of those emotioms that are inside and need to be released, it brings me a lot comfort and a lot of joy.

  8. 9-11

    Beautiful ode to a cow or cows. I think you have several more books to write!

  9. 9-11

    Love this read and love all your stories, I want your book!!

  10. 9-11

    And I just ordered it!!

  11. 9-12

    Beautiful post Suzanne. It’s amazing to me what we can learn as we experience the life around us. You inspire me to be introspective about my life as well.
    I preordered your book and can’t wait to read it.


  12. 9-12

    Suzanne, that has to be the best post ever! Yes, you do have some more writing to do. I too have ordered your book.

  13. 9-13

    I, too, believe this is the most beautiful post I’ve ever read on any blog, bar none. I have pre-ordered two copies, did so a while back at the first opportunity, and wish I could afford to order one for everyone on my Christmas list. I cannot wait to not only read it, but to be able to share it’s wonder with another lucky person. I will be more than happy to share a review, just hope I can the perfect words to give it the justice it is sure to deserve. Thank you for the commitment you have made to share, teach, entertain and inform. A miraculous feat in itself considering all the farm responsibilities you have every day. Forever in awe!

  14. 10-7

    For me, being alone playing my guitar = milking the cow. I understand :clover:

  15. 4-19

    :snoopy:I was thrilled to find your blog. I too have a farm and an ornery cow. I laughed out loud at the first story I read. I was even thinking about starting my own blog because I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Thank you for sharing.

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