Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Last Good Days

Autumn was my mother's favorite time of year. It's mine too but I'm not sure I know anyone who loves the fall as much as she did. The only thing I hate about fall is that it inevitably turns to winter. I have been without my mother for ten years now. In some ways it has seemed like several lifetimes and in other ways, it seems like the blink of an eye. I miss her----mostly for selfish reasons. I know I never thanked her enough for all the things she did and for the person she was. I know that she makes me a better person, even now.

The pain of her loss is different now. It is not as sharp and it allows me to more reflective: to feel her presence more, to call on her for help, or to show her the person I or my children have become.

This time of year, though, has always been difficult for me. The leaves turning red and orange and yellow and golden and then falling. The smell of winter coming and the way the air has turned cold. These were her last best days. There were a few weeks there, at the end, where things became calm. There were no more doctors or radiation or running after an impossible cure. There was simply staying home and being together and talking and watching the leaves turn. I remember holding her hand during that time and realizing how much my own hands look like hers. I still sometimes stare my hands and try to remember hers. We had talks during that time that I loved, that I treasure.

My mother stayed with us through the long, beautiful fall that year. The snow started falling just three hours after she died on a Sunday morning. It was officially winter.

I know winter is coming. It is right around the corner. I don't hate the winter like I used to but I hate for the autumn to end. It seems that every day I wonder, if today is the last good day.

It never is.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Well-Read Wednesday: The Fault in Our Stars

I read John Green's The Fault in our Stars for 3 reasons:

It had a cool cover. It had an intriguing title. It was by John Green (author of Looking for Alaska, which I recently read and loved).

I knew NOTHING about the book, or the rave reviews it was getting, or what it was about. I didn't even read the flap copy, I just dove in. And now that I've finished it, I might just declare it the best book I have ever read.

I'm not kidding.

When you read one of the best books you've ever read, well it is hard to describe it. You find yourself thinking and thinking about it. This book just took my breath away. I laughed out loud, I cried out loud, I mourned the loss of it when I'd finished. I fell in love with characters and places and dilemmas that were not real, except they are.

I'm not the only one who loves this book. To date, it has no less than 4 star reviews on That is amazing.

It is wonderfully well-written. The plot is both heartbreaking and humorous. The characters are flawed and love-able and real and dying, which is partly what the book is about. Hazel Grace has terminal cancer, and yet is not a just a cancer book. It is a book about loving and being alive. Hazel feels guilt for the financial burden she's been to her parents. She mourns that, having spent most of their time and earthly energy fighting a disease, she'll probably never change the world. She'll be remembered only by those who love her. It is the plight of most of us: we are obscure, and yet, we aren't. None of us are.

I could go on and on about this book, but I won't. I'll just tell you to read it and read it now. It will change you. Good fiction can and does.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

                                                                       -- Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Un-Bucket List #8: Climb Mount Whitney

Mt. Whitney in California is the highest peak in the lower 48 states with the summit at 14,505 ft. It is a 22 mile day hike with an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet. It has 97 switchbacks, but does not require any technical climbing: meaning you can walk up it. . . I mean, hike up it.

I've climbed Mt. Whitney.

It was never something I planned on doing; it wasn't on my bucket list. However, my husband, who loves mountains, thought it was a good mountain to go climb. Maybe it was on his list and so, by default, mine. It was a hike we could do together. I don't like rock climbing and I don't like exposed summits and Mt. Whitey had neither. It was a no-brainer. We took my husband's brother and sister with us. I read "The Green Mile" as we drove down to California. I've never cried so hard reading a book before. I was 2 months pregnant (no one knew) and my mother was having surgery to remove some cancerous tumors.

After visiting the visitor's center and learning about the dangers of the local bears who will eat you in your sleep especially if you have smelly things like makeup or Chapstick in your tent, we set up camp and went to bed. My brother-in-law Todd insisted on sleeping with Chapstick in his pocket. His sister and I were not amused.

We started climbing between 2 and 3 in the morning. I like hiking before the sun comes up because it is sort of like you don't even count those miles done in the dark. I mean, you can't really see anything and so you sort of zone out and you just walk. It was a challenging hike. A long hike. Those 97 switchbacks went as far as the eye could see, and I thought we'd never reach the top, but we did. It was a rewarding hike. We passed a older man and his son who were doing the hike together (it was on his father's bucket list) and though the father was healthy, he was well advanced in years. I was amazed at them: a father and a son, fulfilling dream while there was still time and opportunity to do so. They hiked slow and deliberately and they seemed to look around more than the rest of us. I knew it meant something special to both of them.

There was bagpiper on the summit (cool!) and the highest outdoor toilet in the lower 48 (should using it have been on my bucket list?). The summit was also COLD. And me--thinking it was California and summer time--well, I was unprepared for the frigid temperatures up there. It was then that my husband starting pulling things out of his pack: a hat, a fleece jacket, gloves. Unbeknownst to me he'd planned and packed and carried items for me to be comfortable on the summit. It was sort of sweet and thoughtful of him.

We returned to camp tired and exhausted. It had been a long day, but I'd loved it.

I loved climbing that mountain.

We rested for a while and then drove into town where I made a phone call home. I sat on the ground at a pay phone and learned that my mother's surgery that day had been unsuccessful. Her tumors, surgically removed just weeks earlier, were back larger than before and were growing quickly. I sat in the dirt and I cried and I cried.

I didn't know that it was possible to be so very high and so low in the same day. It is.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thoughts on a Thursday

It is quite possible that a person should not write blog posts at 4 am, when they cannot sleep, but a lot has been on my mind.

During the last 3 weeks of school I substituted for a teacher who was recovering from a heart attack. He   (and so I) taught a class called "War in the Modern World." Of all his classes, it was my favorite. Not because I love war, but because I despise it. In most cases, I don't understand it. I often don't understand the political and regional and economic and national and ethnical complexities that contribute to such unresolvable conflict that destruction and annihilation of other human beings becomes the only answer. What I do understand, however, is personal experience and personal tragedy. It is why a book by a young Jewish girl in hiding has become, on a global scale, more widely read than the Bible. We are taught in math to break things down to the smallest common denominator and in the context of large, complex wars the smallest common denominator becomes personal stories. Those we get, those we can wrap our heads around.

There is a poem entitled "People" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In it he writes: "In any man who dies there dies with him / his first snow and kiss and fight / it goes with him. . . Not people die but worlds die in them." Would it change us, if we viewed the loss of every human as the loss of a planet, a world?
 God says in Moses 1:33 "And worlds without number have I created." Maybe he's referring to people as well as galaxies. In this context, the poet Yevtushenko echoes my sentiment: "And every time again and again / I make my lament against destruction."

This week, my hometown of Preston, Idaho is lamenting destruction. A young man, killed in Afghanistan, will be laid to rest today. I don't know Army Specialist Cody Moosman, but my heart aches for those who did and those who love him. I think our whole world diminishes a little with each human loss, but losses like this diminish us more. There were more snows, and kisses, and perhaps fights left for this young man and others like him.

My father knows the Moosman family. When I spoke to him he said, "I don't know what we're doing over there." I don't either. There is no way to win the Afghan war and no way to make a graceful exit. In the town I now live in yellow ribbons hang as a reminder of one of their own, Bowe Berghdahl,  the only U.S. soldier known to be in captivity in Afghanistan. He has been a prisoner since June 2009. Three years. What he and his family must be enduring. . .

On Wednesday, cars lined the highway from the Idaho border to the mortuary in Preston where Army Specialist Cody Moosman's body was being taken. People stood with American flags and their hands over their hearts as the motorcade passed. Cody lost a brother about a year ago, we mourned with his family then and we do so again with his passing.

We can wrap our heads around individual loss, but destruction on a massive scale, that is something different. I will take my children to Washington, D.C. this summer. We will walk among the headstones in Arlington and rub our fingers on the names of soldiers who died in Vietnam. The sheer number of names and headstones will startle us. It will affect us. But the names on the wall will mostly be strangers to us: men and women we didn't know from places we've never been. Our Uncle John, though, lost a brother in Vietnam. His name we will find, because even though we might have never known him, our cousins would have. They've grown up without an uncle and probably an aunt and cousins they would have had: worlds of people to love and be loved by.

Today my thoughts and prayers will be with my little hometown and the Moosman family. I might not understand the Afghan war, but I understand loving and loss. I understand and honor his service to our country, a country I love despite it's failings and imperfections. I hope his family understands and accepts the shared mourning of their son. People will gather to honor and to pay respect to support and to mourn. They will do that not just for Cody, but for all the fallen and the lost. After all, the loss of an individual, a world, is no small thing. John Donne says it best:

"Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Un-bucket List # 7: Have a 4th of July in Lander, WY

If you have not had a 4th of July in Lander, Wyoming put it on your bucket list. Let me tell you: there is nothing like it.

I'm a big fan of the 4th of July. I love the patriotism, the Star Spangled Banner, Old Glory, and fireworks. I especially love fireworks. There is not a place on earth who loves their fireworks more than the town of Lander, Wyoming.

We'll start with Dr. Bills and his family who host what has to be the largest privately funded firework show pretty much anywhere. It is larger and greater and grander than most city firework shows I've seen and yet Dr. Bills does it on his own with the help of his family and volunteers. Let me tell you: it is amazing. There are Revolutionary War re-enactments, complete with red-coats, a fully scripted firework show with history, quotes from our founding fathers, and admonitions to us, as citizens, to participate in the political process. There's patriotic music, a big flaming fireball, and there are fireworks. Lots of them in every style and color. The sky is an amazing display of the love Dr. Bill has for this great nation.

Dr. Bill's firework show is usually on the 3rd of July and then on the 4th the whole city of Lander, Wyoming sounds like a war zone. Fireworks erupt everywhere all day long, but when it gets dark. . . the fun really begins. Pull up a chair and watch. It doesn't matter where. . . there are fireworks going off everywhere until well past midnight and I love every minute of it.

We only lived in Lander, Wyoming for 2 years, but I loved, loved, loved the 4th of July there. It was unlike the 4th of July anywhere else and is truly a unique experience that I feel blessed to have been able to have.

Unfortunately, this year in Lander, Wyoming will not be the same. Dr. Bills was killed tragically in a plane crash just a few months after we moved away. His family was planning their annual firework show without him. They were planning on using the same script as last year's show -- one that had his voice as the narrator. I'm sure thousands of hours had been put into preparations and then, like so many other places this hot, dry summer, a fireworks ban had been put in place in Lander, Wyoming. I'm sure the town is in mourning in more ways than one. The 4th of July will not be the same.

Still, how blessed we are to live in this nation. How I love my country, even without fireworks there is so much to celebrate.

On a side note: my hometown lost one of their own in Afghanistan yesterday. My thoughts are with the Moosman family at this time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Un-bucket List #6 : Fly First-Class

I am not a world traveler. I only need my ten fingers to count how many times I’ve flown in an airplane. It’s not many. But I have flown first-class. It’s something I thought I’d never do. After all, I’m not the type of person to splurge for a first-class ticket. Flying first-class was experience I had because of an act of generosity from a ticket agent at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.

I was with a small group of missionaries returning home after serving an LDS mission in the Amsterdam, The Netherlands mission. I’d served there for a year and half. The young men I traveled with had been away from their homes and families for two years. It had been an inexpressibly incredible experience but we were jet-lagged and tired and still hours from home with a layover in St. Paul. We wandered aimlessly during our layover and had to remember that America has sales tax when we bought candy and chewing gum at the airport store. As a group, we sort of huddled together and said goodbye to some who were departing on other flights. We weren’t a large group and I remember being sort of quiet as we reflected on what we left behind and what our futures might hold. We weren’t particularly observant to what was going on around us, and so we were surprised when we went to board the plane on our last leg to Salt Lake City, Utah that all of our tickets had been upgraded to first-class.

The man behind the ticket counter simply handed us our tickets and wished us a good flight.

It took us some time to figure it out. We finally concluded, both from his action and the white shirt he wore under his uniform, that he shared our faith. In a spirit of generosity and as a sign of respect for the work we’d been in engaged in, this man had given us a gift: A first-class ticket home.

It wasn’t so much the plush seats or the upgraded food and drinks that made the flight home something special. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man and what he’d done. The flight we were on was sparsely occupied and so first-class seats must have been available. As a ticket agent, I imagine that the man upgraded tickets for returning missionaries whenever he could. I thought about the gesture. How generous, how simple, how kind and sort of reverent it was. How we hadn’t thanked him. I hope he knew, though, what it meant. Not to fly-first class, but to be thought of as someone who deserved to.

When we landed, we were first: first to stand, first to exit, and first to run to our waiting families.

Thank you, ticket man in Minnesota.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Un-bucket List #5: Learn to Swim

My mother never learned to swim. She lived a whole lifetime without knowing the feeling of buoyancy and the confidence of wading past where one can touch the bottom.

There was a long, long time in my life where I didn’t think I would ever learn to swim. As a young child my parents put me in swimming lessons. I remember running away and hiding in the closet and refusing to put on my bathing suit. I simply could not get the hang of swimming and I hated swimming lessons with a deep and dark passion.

I did not progress in swimming lessons as I got older. I stayed in the same class year after year. The other kids in my class became younger and younger. In order to move up a level you had to swim all the way across the pool; I could not swim across the pool. One year, I finally made it—half-drowning and mostly sputtering—to the other side. I clutched the wall with all my might and thought how next year, I’d be in the older class. I saw them, kids younger than me, swimming back and forth and back and forth and laughing and splashing each other.

The next year, though, I failed the swim test. I hadn’t been swimming, not even once, in an entire year—not since the day of my last lesson. Once again, I couldn’t swim across the pool.

By now, all of the kids my age had moved on. As adept swimmers, they no longer needed lessons. I was so unhappy going to swimming lessons. I was embarrassed to be so old and so unable to swim. I finally convinced my parents that it was a lost cause. They agreed not to make me take swimming lessons anymore; I had outgrown them, but I still didn’t know how to swim.

But my sister did.

We lived near a reservoir. She was just old enough and just adventurous enough to want to go to the lake, but not alone. She fetched me a life jacket and took me with her. I spent the summer in a life jacket, paddling about and going out further and further into the water—past where I could touch, past where the bottom was murky. I floated and paddled and one day I took the life jacket off.

Miraculously, the life jacket had taught me something—buoyancy, confidence, or timing, maybe all of them. Swimming clicked. Somehow, I understood the movement, the motion, the timing of arm strokes and breathing. I knew how to swim and I’ve never stopped swimming.

Swimming is now one of my great loves. I’m a strong swimmer. It is something I’m good at. There are times as I swim, when I feel like I don’t even need air. Like I am born to do it. Half-fish.

Swimming is one of my great escapes. In the water, I feel truly free.

Not long ago I watched from across the pool as my son went underwater. Unable to kick or stroke enough to propel his head above water, I swam to him as fast as I could. I pulled his head above the surface just seconds before the lifeguard reached him. It was a scary, helpless feeling.

It rattled me.

I wonder if my mother feared the water.

I do not fear the water, but I have fears.

I cannot begin to tell you what a terrible swimmer I once was. I cannot explain how learning to swim seemed like the most impossible thing to me. I thought my chances of sprouting wings and flying were better than me ever being able to manipulate my body through the water in any way that was forward, purposeful motion.

Now, though, I do not understand what it is like not to know how to swim. In the water I feel wonderful, weightless, and free. Learning to swim taught me more than just the front crawl or the backstroke. It taught me that things can be learned. It taught me that weaknesses can become strengths. It taught me that fears can be overcome. It taught me that things that seem impossible can become second nature, a part of who we are. It taught me that there is a world of wonder underneath the waves.

Dive in. Open your eyes. Start swimming.

And all my love to my dear sister, who took me with her.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Un-bucket List #4: Go to Forks, WA

I know that visiting this destination is on the wish list of many Twilight fans. I’m not a Twilight fan and going to Forks, WA, the setting of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Trilogy books has never been on my bucket list. But I have been to Forks, WA—before Forks was famous.

For us, Forks was simply a place we stopped while on a long trip to a job fair when my husband was looking for new and different employment. Forks was a stop on the map that made sense with our travel route. We arrived there early enough to have a look around. It was a small town shrouded in a sort of misty ocean haze. The air there felt wet and heavy but it wasn’t cold. We ate somewhere and checked rates at an adorable bed and breakfast with a charming garden. We wanted to stay there walking among the fresh strawberries and hollyhocks, but their rates were too high. Instead, we stayed at a dingy, dark motel that was in our price range.

Someone, either at the B&B or the Mexican place where we ate, told us how to get over to the water. We drove from Forks, WA over to La Push (see photo) where the land meets the sea. I’m not accustomed to the ocean. I’ve grown up land-locked, far from seagulls and saltwater. The beach here was unlike any I’d ever been too. Tall rock formations jutted out of the ocean. The water was cold enough to sort of numb my feet as I walked in it, but there is something about walking in the ocean that elevates the soul. The air, too, filled my lungs and recharged me. We stayed near the water, just breathing in the air and tossing rocks until sunset. We left when there was still an orange-pink haze of light across the sky.

The funny thing about Forks, WA is that, even then, it made an impression on me. I can understand the appeal of such a place. Forks, WA was an eclectic town with loners and outsiders and locals and people passing through. There was both a freshness and haziness about it at the same time. The sky changed almost constantly. I understand why someone might set a novel there. I’ve passed through a lot of towns in my life, many of which left no lasting memory. Forks was different. I remembered Forks. I remember reading the opening pages of Twilight and thinking, “Hey, I’ve been there.”

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Well Read Wednesday: The Cheshire Cheese Cat

Several years ago I took a writing class from Randall Wright. Every Saturday a few of us would go and sit in the sunroom on the back of his house and learn about the craft of writing and workshop our novels in progress. Randall was working on his own book and he would read us excerpts from it. It was the delightful tale of a cat that lives in a pub in London where Charles Dickens comes to work on his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Randall was co-writing the book with Carmen Agra Deedy. The excerpts he read to us were wonderful, delightful, and creative. I couldn’t wait to read it. It has taken more than 3 years for that book to finally be in my hands, but it was worth the wait and it is worth a read.

Skilley is a delightful cat who takes up residence in Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, a pub favorite of local authors. Skilley is supposed to catch mice, but he prefers to eat cheese. A pact is arranged by Pip, a mouse skilled in reading and writing, where Skilley is provided cheese in exchange for a catch-and-release mousing ruse designed to appease the cook. It all goes well until a Pinch, a distasteful alley cat, also comes to live at the pub and discovers that Skilley and the mice are also harboring one of the queen’s royal ravens. Mischief and mayhem ensue as friendship and loyalty is tested. And finally, in the end, Charles Dickens has a timeless opening line for his novel.

Randall Wright is a wonderful person and a fabulous writing teacher, with a passion for good writing and knack for teaching structure and tension. I loved those Saturdays and I loved finally being able to read, The Cheshire Cheese Cat: Dickens of a Tale. It is witty. It is well written. It is amazingly seamless for a book co-authored by two different people. It is worth a read.

On a side note: Amy Hackworth sat by me many of those Saturdays in Randall’s sunroom. She has co-authored a book “Heaven is Here” with air plane crash survivor, Stephanie Nielson (from the well-known blog Nie Nie Dialogues). It is on pre-order now. I haven’t read it, but I’m guessing it is also worth a read.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Un-Bucket List #3: Go Winter Camping

We are in the throes of winter, and even though this winter (at least for us) has been a mild one, I’m still grateful to curl up in a warm bed. It would never, ever enter my mind that I might be fun to go out and camp . . . in the snow. There are people who feel differently, however. There are some people who think that camping out in below freezing temperatures could be a grand, exciting experience. I’ve never been one of those people. Winter camping has never, ever been on my bucket list, and yet, I have been winter camping. Why? Because I married a man who can talk me into almost anything and one year he talked me into going camping in the dead of winter.

“It’s not as cold as you think it will be,” he said.

“We can build a quinzhee,” he said.

“Winter shelters are so efficient, they actually get toasty inside.”

“It will be fun.”

These were all the lies that I believed, the lies that got me into a pair of cross country skis venturing out for a night of winter camping.

Guess what happens when you ski for miles and miles to your camping destination? You get hot and sweaty. Then you stop. And then you get COLD.

The promised warm quinzhee winter shelter did not work out as planned. The tent that was erected instead was not “toasty.” It was freezing.

I don’t know if any of you remember years and years ago when Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner wrecked his snowmobile and spent a night stranded in Wyoming in the snow and lost one of his toes to frostbite?

That was the very same night that I spent winter camping.

I’ve never been so cold.

The purpose of this un-bucket list is to outline some of the very cool things I’ve done that I never planned to do. This is one of those things, but instead of being “cool” it was cold. Most of my un-bucket list experiences were wonderful, great experiences. I can’t say that of winter camping. It’s not one of my great memories. I promised to never go again, but admittedly, there is something alluring about vast expanses of snow under moonlight and the quiet of winter. There is something to be said of waking up to a muted world and the intimacy of listening to your own breathing. There is something appealing about traveling to a place on your own, under the power of your own muscles, of seeing your own breath and finally getting warm enough to nod off to sleep.

There is something to be said for having experienced it.

And oh, how I love being warm again.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Un-Bucket List #2: See a Van Gogh

I was a substitute teacher in an art class this week. The room was gloriously colorful and cluttered and student artwork was everywhere: stacked on the floor against the walls, along the whiteboard rim, on every horizontal table surface, and painted on the ceiling tiles. The walls, too, were covered but not with student artwork. The walls had paintings by the masters: Picasso, Monet, Michelangelo, Matisse, M.C. Escher, Georgia O’Keefe, Salvador Dali, and Vincent Van Gogh. I stopped in front of the Van Gogh’s. The paintings here on the walls were printed reproductions, flat in color and texture, like washed-out replicas of the real things.

I know because I stood in front of Van Gogh paintings at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. As an LDS missionary, my companion and I both bought museum passes that let us in whenever we wanted. Sometimes we went to the Van Gogh museum just for lunch. Sometimes we went to sit among the colors and people and the awe of being there. It gave us time to see all the paintings over and over again. I loved the thick bright brush strokes on Van Gogh’s painting “Sunflowers” and the bright cobalt and purples of “Irises.” These were the paintings I remembered from art history. I also loved “The Potato Eaters.” This painting was dark and earthy, a shadowed glimpse into the life of country peasants.

Seeing a Van Gogh painting was never on my bucket list mostly because I thought it seemed like such an impossibility. There I was though, surrounded by Van Gogh’s day after day and it was amazing.

Most absent from my experience was a personal glimpse of “The Starry Night” which is not housed in Amsterdam but in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I can see it in my mind: thick swirling brush-strokes with blues, blacks, and pops of white and yellow. I imagine the church steeple, the crescent moon, and the movement of the sky and hillside. I’d love to see it. Someday.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Un-bucket List: #1: Milk a Cow

I’m starting my un-bucket list with what is, for me, the most obvious of all items on my list. It is true that I’ve seen “milk a cow” on people’s bucket lists and as a dairyman’s daughter I’m a bit flabbergasted. I don’t know why someone would purposely want to milk a cow. For one, it usually takes waking up at say, 4 am, when all reasonably minded people are still in bed. And yes, cows are generally docile creatures, but they do kick and the milking regions are in close proximity to the hooves. Mostly, though, I guess I just don’t understand what it is to NOT milk a cow. For our family, milking cows was a lifestyle; one drastically different from those who didn’t “milk.” Milking meant not opening Christmas presents until after “milking.” Milking meant planning your piano recital, your outings with friends, and even your wedding between “milkings.” Milking cows ruled our lives, our schedules, and interrupted everything.

It was also our livelihood. I knew it, and I never took it for granted. As a girl would stand on the spout of the milk tank, open the lid, and look into the white milk churning in the tank. I loved the sight of that full milk tank. It made me feel safe and whole and prosperous.

Admittedly, I didn’t milk cows often. This chore fell mostly to the men in my family. My grandfather and father had a relationship with their cows that was agitated when strangers were around; it was best to leave the ebb and flow of cows and suction machines and hydraulic gates to them. The cows responded to the clicks of their tongues, their low commands of “come boss,” and slaps on their flanks.

I have milked cows, though, both by hand and by machine. Both require a gently cleansing of the udders. This we did with soft washcloths dipped in warm water. So much of milking a cow requires being near the animal’s rear. Sometimes a strong hand on the rump can calm a fidgety cow. There’s not much to milking by machine, once you have the machine in place under the udders you simply slip them on. They suction on and do the work of milking for you. Milking by hand is trickier. Like a lot of things, it isn’t as easy as it looks. It can help to sort of massage the cow’s udder first. You should start at the top of the teat and squeeze downward. It requires a certain rocking motion of the hand. Your hand will get tired and cramp up. The cow might poop near your head. You will not look like a cute milkmaid with blond braids. Trust me on this. Chances are, it is not as glamorous or easy or fulfilling as you thought it would be. Still, there is something about the sound of a squirt of milk in an empty tin bucket, the warmth of the milk, the bulk of the animal that makes is seem like both a simple and a monumental task at the same time. I warn you: It takes a lot of milk to fill a bucket. After all that work, the bucket will only be half-full—or half-empty, depending on how you look at it.

I wish I could turn “milk a cow” into a metaphor for life; after all, growing up on a farm taught me a lot about a lot of things. I don’t love to milk cows, but milking cows let me do other things that I loved: like having a calf suck on your fingers or watching a baby calf being born. Those things were some of my favorite things and neither was on my bucket-list either. They were just part of the life I lived.