This essay was originally posted on Facebook in 2017
A way to get to know a farm intimately is to follow its cow paths. One of our jobs as little girls was to go get the cows from pasture for evening milking. We’d moved from the farmstead on the north side to the farmstead on south side of the road when I was four, but kept the cows in the pasture on the north side during the summer. In the early days, we had a mixed cowherd with Guernsey, Jersey and large, docile Holsteins. Most of them towered over us, yet I was never afraid to go with my sisters to round them up and bring the cows home. It was one of my favorite things to do. The lane from the vacant barn to the pasture was a favorite place. A cow path meandered along it and when it had not rained for a while, the dirt on it was as soft as cornstarch into which our bare toes sank.
Once released from the confines of the lane, cow paths spread out to different corners of the pasture, eventually disappearing altogether. In one place instead of going around a bush, the path went right through it. I could crouch amid the branches on either side and watch the cows pass through, late afternoon sunlight illuminating their legs. To the east, the pasture rose up a low hill into scattered trees, some of them apple trees from a long gone homestead. Lilac bushes grew there, indicating the margins of an abandoned yard. The pasture ended up across the road from Grandma and Grandpa’s house, about a quarter of a mile away from our farmstead.
One spring when I was three, Mom had gotten chicks in the mail and was keeping them in a newspaper-covered room upstairs until she could transfer them into the coop. She probably did this to protect them from raccoons. My sister Jan and our cousin Roger found worms and were feeding them to the very enthusiastic chicks. My cousin Holly, Roger’s sister and I, wanted some worms too, but Jan and Roger didn’t want to share them with us, so we went looking for them ourselves.
We wandered out behind the barn, looking around the stone pile. Unaware that we needed to overturn the stones to find the worms, we proceeded along the lane on the cow path. Once in the pasture, we finally settled for lichen found on low hanging branches of Hawthorne trees. We reasoned they looked like worms, and headed home to feed them to the chicks. Taking a shortcut across an alfalfa field, Jan and Roger (5 and 6 years old), met us half way and spanked Holly and me (three year olds). In her alarm at finding us missing, Mom had called the police, but I explained to her that we knew right where we were and assured her we could see Grandpa and Grandma’s house all along.