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Singing to Cows

ESSAY

I have previously confessed this crime, specifically to note I was born to Methodists. Methodists by moral instinct rarely do anything with zeal, which is to say decoratively. Drive a country road and the Catholic Church can be immediately identified from that of the Methodist kind. The one is elaborate, like as not of brick and stone. One to have a splendorous outpour of stained glass, steeples, arches, plaster saints, marble saints, gilded virgins, even the bell tower has stained glass. The other will resemble something on the theme of a nice barn. No statues, no gild, nothing in marble, such is the Methodist God.

When it comes to hymn singing, to my opinion the very best kind is Welsh, the most unashamed kind previous to Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson not to forget Van Halen. The Welsh similarly do not care how awful the sound is as long as it is long, loud and heart-felt.

For the record some Welsh were Methodists and accordingly lived in the precinct of my youth, being the valleys of Up, Down and Over, the domain as convened by two double-parked glaciers. They were cousin glaciers, so was everything else in the Valleys Up, Down and Sideways, cousins. My grandfather Fletcher, by his secret life as a Merlin knew these valleys by their original Gaelic names. Being Celts were on site at the same time as the glaciers some nine thousand five hundred years previous. Meaning before Columbus who boasted of discovering America.

True to my grandfather’s take on the issue was his belief his farm was among the Valleys Up, Down and Over for the entire span of nine thousand five hundred years. This is how farmers feel sometimes, how a stone boat at one acre at a time makes you feel, like you’ve been there nine thousand five hundred years.

Grandfather Fletcher rarely went to church; ironically it was he who taught me how to sing to cows. For too many white and freckled males, excepting the Welsh, singing is a task for females to do. On the belief that singing absorbs testosterone, women accordingly are not harmed by singing. The gist being if you sing too loudly and too long, your gonads evaporate and then you might as well join the carnival as a specimen.

Quite to the contrary my grandfather believed. In nature, he said, is it not the owl that sings out from drear February woods, a scene otherwise so mournful as to forbid singing? Is it not the prairie chicken who drums passionately as Ringo Starr? And as for the sandhill, he sings loud enough to awake the entire landscape from its winter. All of this accomplished by song.

My grandfather believed song was the one vital mechanic of the world, and in order to be qualified farmer boys we needed to learn to sing, loudly, earnestly, passionately.

It was a known dairy barn axiom that cows are the better temperament for the singing. Milking a female animal, again to reference my grandfather, was an inherently sensual act. More pointedly with the likelihood of being a romance. There never was a right-thinking cow who would milk easily and with earnest devotion if her attendant did not sing to her as he conducted the chore. Worse yet if his hands are cold.

It was my fate as a farm boy on the occasion to milk cows with my grandfather, true to his strategy on a morning hostile as the plague on London, I was to sing to his cows. Long, loud and enthusiastic. Didn’t matter what the song, as long as it was L/L/E. Long, Loud, Enthusiastic.

Early on I realized there exists a ready shortage of songs to so equip a farm boy, one who is no longer in peril of his testes, to practice L/L/E. At this formative age I was already the heretic because hymn singing, despite its goodly volume is reprehensible in its choice of words. Cowboy songs were nice if a touch mournful. The standard cowboy verse always ends with some horse-powered guy about to die if only he can get back to Dodge City and a night with Miss Kitty before that happens. Explained why on Gunsmoke Miss Kitty could afford those green satin dresses with a nice sample of décolletage.

Was thus I learned to sing to cows, as the art of lactation. Sing loud, sing long, sing enthusiastic just like Janis Joplin who didn’t give a rat’s a** either. It is amazing the number of farm chores that are gross, creepy, lonely or really boring. 99 percent of farm chores qualify under one of these general categories: gross, creepy, lonely or boring with even odds of all four at once.

I was not the first farm kid to hope to die young, to wish to get drafted by the time I was fourteen and go to Vietnam where I could at least die heroically. The one intercession was singing to cows, also singing to the feed grinder, singing to the silo filler, singing to the hay baler, singing at potato harvest. This that age previous when every load of potatoes went out the door in hundred pound burlap, hand-sewn, hand-loaded, a quadzillion bags per summer. If you want kids to commit suicide, attach them to a potato farm. The only remedy? Singing.

Some time later as an English major I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by a Mister Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Worst prison camp ever it was, Siberia, meaning some worse yet. Worse food, worse everything and the one chance to survive intact was to build something, what the hell anyway. As it happens the same estimate as my grandfather, so you might as well sing.

Besides singing put females at ease. In nature, grandfather said, spring doesn’t happen because the sun rises high in the sky, it happens because the earth is sung to.

Most astronomers don’t think this is true, instead that birds sing because the sun rises, not the other way around. For my grandfather, the cause was the song.