It had been a long day. I was really tired. I thought I would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Unfortunately, my allergies hit me with full force and I was sneezing every thirty seconds. My eyes itched and my nose dripped. I had a hard time getting a full breath of air. To make matters worse, I searched through every pocket, drawer and bottle. I discovered that there wasn’t a single dosage of anti-histamine in my house. All I found was a bottle of decongestants in the medicine cabinet. I know from experience that even a small dosage of decongestants turns me into an insomniac, but I reasoned that breathing was necessary for sleep too. I swallowed the pills and sure enough, my drippy nose cleared up.
I crawled into bed and pulled up the quilt. I tossed and turned. I tried sleeping on one side and then the other. I turned the radio on to some quiet music. After a couple of hours of enviously listening to my husband sleeping soundly, I thought about waking him to tell him I couldn’t sleep. I reconsidered and tried a different spot in the bed. The cat sleeping on my feet got up and left the room.
At about 4:30 am, a single cow began bellowing. The windows were open and it sounded like she was right outside. The barn isn’t far from the house, but when the cows are where they are supposed to be, I can’t hear them quite that clearly. I thought maybe her calf wasn’t paying attention and was off with his calf buddies. I tried to ignore her. The cow continued complaining and seemed to becoming more agitated.
At this point it was with a sense of justification that I nudged Terry and said, “Why is that cow bellowing?” He sleepily muttered, “Well, it’s only one,” and almost immediately, the lone late night lament was joined by an entire chorus of mooing. We both got out of bed and pulled on our jeans. (I’ve found that herding cows in your nightgown is not a good idea.)
The big, bright flashlight’s batteries were just about dead. The only other lights we could find were a tiny pocket flashlight and a feeble camping lantern. Herding cows through the trees at night is treacherous even with good light, but we’ve learned to work with what we have. Experience has taught us that ignoring cows on the outside of the fence in the night can lead to a day-long search for them by morning.
The escapees from the fence, we discovered, were two cows and their calves noisily reconsidering their decision to leave the herd. They were standing outside the electric fence mooing while the rest of the herd stood jealously and loudly complaining on the inside.
The tangled remains of an old barbed wire fence and fallen branches of trees tried to trip me, scratching my legs through my jeans. A fence wire, rebounding from the hoof of one of the cows as she climbed over it, snapped my left hand. My fingers hurt. The decongestants had worn off and my nose resumed dripping. My eyes itched. I wished I were back in bed, knowing I’d need to be getting up in a couple of hours. I was tired and grumpy. After a half hour of herding and a hike around the shelter belt, everyone was safely back where they belonged. I closed the gate behind the errant cows and stomped off toward the house.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by silence. There were no cow noises. The herd had murmured a greeting to the wayward group and all had gone to bed. No trucks rumbled down the highway a couple of miles away. No birds sang. No crickets or frogs chirped. The ducks and geese had ceased their noisy commentary on cows that don’t stay where they belong and had gone back in the barn. They tucked their heads under their wings for a few more winks. The wind had stopped blowing and all was still.
I stopped and looked up.
There above me was the Milky Way, the Big Dipper and the North Star. The sky glowed with the light of millions of galaxies, constellations, and solar systems. All around me and across the sky there were sparkling stars. Suddenly my frustrations seemed insignificant.
How often we stumble along, viewing our world with the illumination of a tiny flashlight. Our burdens seem huge when viewed in relation to the narrow field of vision allowed by our meager light. Standing in silence under the star-filled dome of a prairie night, I realized that the frustrations I had been experiencing were insignificant and just part of life. I felt peace.
Nothing changed but my perspective. My nose was still running and my eyes still itched. My fingers hurt. I was even more tired. I stood there in the starlight for a while, listening to the quiet.
I crawled into bed next to my already snoring spouse and fell asleep.
Copyright © 2017 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains