The Ranch Hand’s Diary:
The Most Adventurous Person I Know
Suddenly, September is here. I look at my calendar with something that's not quite astonishment because I know how time works. I knew that I'd blink and be at this moment, looking back at the weeks I've worked, knowing I'd made it past the hardest parts. And here I am.
In twenty days, Jesse and I will leave the ranch and head off for our European adventure. Both of us are ready to go. For both of us have had to find peace in the present moment. To make the most of the available light, as the song says. In our own ways, we found that if we looked hard enough there’s tranquility in the stress, joy in the suffering, and always the inevitable passing of time. Nothing lasts forever. There’s a song about that too.
One morning as I'm walking to the lodge I stop to listen to the coyotes yipping and howling off somewhere to the west. How lucky am I? I think, To hear this? There are people who know nothing more than the hardness of concrete under their feet and for whom the sound of passing cars is the only wind song they've ever heard. Yes, ranch days are long, at times excruciatingly so. And yet, this world of owl, elk, deer, turkey, weasel, chicken, cow, horse, rabbit, pig, goat, dog, bird, coyote, bear, chipmunk, squirrel, raccoon. This world of rain and tears and laughter. This world of new experiences and gathering expertise. What a place to be. What a life to live. What an adventure to have.
No, I never did. I never thought I'd be so up close and personal with a milk cow or any other cow for that matter. I never thought that I'd learn by touch to tell when an udder is full and when it's empty. I never thought I’d learn that a cow loves to be scratched where its tail joins its rump. I never thought I'd want a cow to like me. And I never thought that I would love a cow named Norma and her calf Little Dude.
Greg has been running Norma in at night and we leave her there in the corral until morning to give the milk a chance to collect, to keep the Little Dude from drinking it all up. Once she's milked, we let her back out so the Little Dude can drink all he wants during the day and Norma can graze. In the mornings, when Jesse and I bring over the milking equipment to the corral, often now, Norma is waiting for us in the milking pen. Ready for relief and ready to be back out to pasture. Looking at us as if to say, Where have you guys been? I've been waiting here all night.
"She has a nice personality," I tell Jesse.
"And she's pretty too," Jesse says.
I never thought that I would take that morning milk and with the help of live cultures turn it into sour cream, cheese, buttermilk, and kefir. Those basic things a routine now, I begin to experiment with harder cheeses. There’s adventure there too.
Greg brings me a pH tester and I find some heat resistant gloves and make mozzarella. I stretch it like taffy and work it into little balls. Laura laughs at me because of my Kermit the Frog hands. Because I have to use a stepstool to be tall enough to reach down into the pot to work the cheese into shape. Once formed, I drop the balls into ice cold water and then brine them with salt. We eat the mozzarella that night for dinner. It’s good. I'm very proud of the cheese. It's like leveling up in a game. I've gone from beginner to intermediate cheese maker.
Another day, I look through the cheese recipe book again, sort through the cultures we have in the freezer, and calculate gallons of milk and our milk needs. I have enough to try a Jack cheese. So I start it. I spend the day heating milk, adding in cultures, stirring, and waiting patiently for things to separate and set and meld back together again. I press the curds together, squeeze it into a ball inside a cheesecloth, and then form it into a wheel by putting a cast iron skillet with filled water bottles on top of it all. When the pressing is done, the Jack will dry for twenty-four hours in room temperature air. Once all that waiting is over the cheese will ripen for two to four weeks.
On Monday, Jesse asks if I want her to water my trees. "You've got cheese and I've got nothing," she says.
"That should be a bumper sticker," I reply. She's got nothing because all her morning chores are done and the evening chores are still yet to come. She goes off to water half of my trees and I mess about with dairy things in the kitchen.
Later, when my Jack sits in its ripening box in the fridge, I stand in front of the refrigerator and think. I do have cheese. I have cheese, and milk, and cow friends, and days that will slowly speed by and then disappear into the past. I have the present moment to work and a future that holds the promise of new experiences and great adventure.
I'm lucky and overworked and content and ready for what's next.
You are the most adventurous person I know, one of my friends emails me and I take it as the biggest compliment. It's my day off and I reflect on her comment as I clean up the mouse poop in my bathroom. It looks as if the mice have had quite a party. In fact, their carrying on had woken me several times during the night and early morning. Keep it down, you mice!
I reflect more as I walk to the lodge to get some breakfast and a cup of coffee. Off in the pasture, Norma is already free. The Little Dude is suckling, getting sturdier and taller by the day. Once inside, I check my kombucha bottles, glance in at my ripening cheese, and put some sour cream in the fridge to set. After breakfast, I’ll go back to my cabin and sit in the sun on the porch. I’ll see the deer blending into the near trees and shake my head at a chipmunk who fusses at me for being too close. I’ll sit there and write my thoughts down. I’ll reflect on the past and imagine what the future holds. For what is life but a great adventure and what am I if not an adventurer?