Herding Cows

On summer mornings, during the week, the four girls herded the family’s dairy cows in the green grass along the dirt roads not far from the farm. It was a big responsibility and the girls took it seriously. Twice a day, year around, they also helped their parents with the milking.

Their one-room country school was closed for the summer. On the farm, the girls worked with Mama in the garden by hoeing, watering, picking insects off the plants, harvesting and cleaning vegetables. They also helped wherever needed, with the wash, gathering eggs, feeding the animals, canning, separating cream from the milk, churning butter and helping Papa when he wanted someone to help hold a piece of equipment he was repairing. Often, they took a jug of cool water and some cookies out to Papa working in the field.

After morning chores and breakfast were over, the girls began walking the cows. Tippie, their dog, happily followed.

As the cows leisurely grazed their way along the side of the road, in the shade of the hedgerows, the girls made certain that the cows did not eat any wild onions. The onions would change the taste of the milk. The family depended on the income from cream and butter Mama sold to a store in town.


    But there was also time for fun. Lillian, the oldest sister, often read from a storybook they brought with them. Other times, they would take turns following the cows down the road on a bicycle which Mama and Papa had purchased through a mail order catalog. They took turns at batting and pitching, using an empty salve can and a stick as their ball and bat.

    Papa showed the girls how to make willow whistles and how to cup a blade of grass in their hands and blow, to make a shrill bird call. They practiced these whistling sounds over and over again as they walked along.

    The girls quietly watched for the illusive brown and white prairie chickens, as well as for the plentiful, striped ground squirrels. There were always rabbits along the hedgerows or in the grassy schoolyard which they often passed. The creek where the cows drank provided an opportunity to look at shiny little fish, a turtle or darting dragonflies. Every time they herded the cows, nature was a new adventure for them.

Just before noon, the girls brought the cows back to the farm. The cows spent the afternoon chewing their cud in the shade while the girls were off to other chores.

 


    Under the Stars

    On hot summer evenings, after the supper dishes were done and everything was finished for the day, Mama and the girls would frequently walk out to the pasture and look at the stars in the night sky. It was too warm to stay inside the house or try to sleep upstairs.

    Darkness was a time of relief from the heat of the day on the farm. There was no electricity, which meant no fans, no air conditioning, no refrigeration or electric lights. Even with the windows wide open, the interior of the farmhouse could be exceedingly hot in summertime. The only way to briefly escape the heat was a walk in late evening.

The four girls walked barefoot through the grass as their mother told them stories before bedtime. They would also listen for the sounds of frogs along the creek and watch for fireflies rising up from the grass. Their dog Tippie and a few of the cats would follow along, not wanting to miss out on whatever the girls were doing.

Mama explained how magnificent the stars were, that many stars had names and were parts of imaginary pictures in the sky called constellations. She explained that it was truly difficult to understand just how far away those stars really were and, at the same time, how close they seemed when they were directly overhead.

Sometimes, the girls would lie down on the grass for really good look at the star-filled sky as Mama talked or told a story. She described how sailors had navigated across oceans to unknown places for thousands of years, using the stars as guides. Travelers had crossed deserts and discovered lands by the position of the stars. The thought of viewing the very same stars that ancient people had seen, somehow made the far away countries of their geography textbook seem even more real than in school.

Mama pointed out The North Star (Polaris) and told how they could always find North by looking for it. The shapes of people and animals made up from stars seemed harder to image, except for simple star patterns such as the Big Dipper or the Little Dipper. They tried to picture the constellations of the Great Bear (Ursa Major) and the Little Bear (Ursa Minor), along with others more difficult to find.

By looking from star to star, where Mama pointed in the northern sky, they could trace the dippers. Their outlines looked just like the water dipper by the well or the one in the kitchen. The dark blue enamel of the water dippers reminded the girls of the nighttime sky and all the little white paint speckles made them think of the countless stars.

They knew that the Big Dipper was also called the Plow or Wagon. Papa used horses and plow or wagon, so they could also easily imagine those descriptions, too.

During the year, the Big Dipper and Little Dipper never really went away from their night sky, no matter what the season. Locating stars in the darkness, made the night sky seem a more familiar place and gave them a feeling that all was well.

They tried to imagine the enormous size of the Milky Way, that appeared as if stars of spilled milk had run across the dark sky. Watching for shooting stars (meteors) was a favorite game, as they kept track of the number of bright streaks of light crossing the night sky.

After her stories were over, Mama and the girls walked back to the house with Tippie and the cats. Everyone felt much cooler. By the time they returned, Papa had finished making one last check on the animals for the night.

Before the girls went inside the house, Mama made certain that they all washed up with the cold well water, even to soaking their feet in a bucket. The temporary coolness would last only a while, but for the girls, it was a welcome way to get ready for bed during hot weather.

 
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Osage Orange was often used to make hedgerows along the sides of fields, as shown in the painting for the Cow Girls chapter.