The great bovine penis debate

A couple of weeks ago, my wife took the boys to a free dairy farm event. I didn’t go, because I had to work, and also because when I was a child I got to go to a free dairy farm event every day. It was called chores.

After the event, my wife called me to tell me about it. Big Brother and Big Man had each taken a turn at milking a cow. Buster refused. “Do you know why he wouldn’t milk the cow?” she asked.

I can think of lots of reasons a boy wouldn’t want to milk a cow. When I was Buster’s age, I didn’t want to milk cows either. Unlike me, Buster had a choice.

I started through my litany of reasons: It’s not really that fun; you can get kicked; fresh, warm milk isn’t very enticing, unless you’re a barn cat . . .

Sensing I was going off on the wrong track, my wife stopped me. “He wouldn’t milk the cow because he said the milk was coming out of its penis.”

She tried to explain to him that cows don’t have penises and that the milk came from the teats, but he wouldn’t be persuaded. I’m not sure I blame him. For a six-year-old boy, penis talk is old news, but having your mom discuss teats with you can shut your mind right down.

If he truly believed it was the cow’s penis, I applaud his decision not to tug on it.

Nothing for me, thanks.

“I don’t care what your brother told you, you’re not leaving this pen until you eat your breakfast!”

One morning, about a week later, I’d given the boys some cereal and gone to put some clothes in the washer. I was summoned from the laundry room by a loud argument. In the dining room, Big Man and Buster were hotly debating the origin of milk. Buster was trying to convince his little brother that milk comes from a cow’s penis.

This did not bode well for the continued consumption of their cereal, so I intervened.

“Cows are girls, so they don’t have penises,” I explained. I believe this generalization is still valid in regard to the four-legged world. “And besides that, have you ever known of any animal that had four penises?”

“Yeah,” Buster replied. “A cow.”

“They’re not penises,” I reiterated. “They’re teats. That’s why milk comes out instead of pee.”

“Yeah, they’re teats!” Big Man, the younger but more reasonable brother, backed me up. “Cows have teats!”

I didn’t know if we convinced Buster, but at least I was confident he wouldn’t scare Big Man away from his Cap’n Crunch. I went back to the laundry before the neighbors overheard me shouting anatomical terms at my children.

I heard the patter of little feet follow me. Big Man entered the laundry room. My little font of scientific reasoning gazed up at me, his face bright with sacred knowledge. “And you know what else? Girls don’t poop!”

So there’s that.

Belief

“It’s hard to know what to believe anymore.”

*Photos: Ben Shahn/US Farm Security Administration

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Stumped!

I must be part Amish. The English would have rented a stump grinder or other motorized technology their loose morals allow them to operate. Not me. Because I am righteous, fearless of hard work, and also unwilling to part with my money, I did it old school.

Weeks ago I documented the pioneer spirit with which I chopped down our dead maple tree. The plan was to replace that tree with a new one. The plan was not to wait so long to do it, but we hearty woodsmen have to roll with the punches.

The first step was removing the stump. After six weeks’ meditation on the subject, I decided the way to do this without spending money was just to dig the thing out. I was under no illusions about how difficult it would be to dig up a tree stump.

Yeah, I may have been under some illusions about the difficulty. Illusions can become a burden to the psyche. They’re tricky little bastards, and so are tree trunks. Tree trunks can mutate into philosophical quagmires.

I got my shovel and dug around the stump, and I got my ax and hacked off roots, and this all went well for about 10 minutes. I’m not saying I stopped after 10 minutes; it’s just that the digging and hacking grew tiresome. I persisted, because I’ve never been one to surrender to the reality of a situation without a fight.

My tree stump spiritual adviser.

Big Man came out to help after an hour, at which point I was ready to accept advice from a four-year-old. Being a man of action, most of his ideas involved more digging and hacking. Since a preschooler’s digging and hacking can quickly become unfocused, we hit upon a new plan. We got some wedges and split the stump in its hole. Amazingly, this kind of worked.

Having mostly cleared the hole, it remained to locate and new tree. It can be handy having a garden you abandoned when children stole your free time. In this forsaken spot, a sapling had sprouted where it had no business. Its leaves look Maple-ish, but I can’t prove its pedigree – it’s my first week as an arborist. I guess we’ll find out.

Plants grow best in my garden when I let them fend for themselves.

Maybe we’ll find out. We might have killed it in transit. Its roots were twined in the neglected chicken wire surrounding the neglected fence around the neglected garden. Some of its thicker roots were casualties of our tug-o-war with the chicken wire.

Dead or alive, we dropped it in the hole. We added all three shovelfuls of fertilizer our composting barrel has produced from eight years’ worth of vegetable contributions. Then, we filled in the dirt and gave our new baby a long drink of water.

Possibly a Maple; possibly a tall weed; possibly dead.

If we planted a dead tree, we’ll just try again. We have all kinds of little ones growing where they don’t belong. We’ll keep trying until we get one to prosper or the rest of our yard looks civilized. Either way, it’s a win.

The result of all this hard work on my delicate blogger’s thumb.

Conversations with my wife: My itchy ear

While I’m getting ready to leave for work my wife notices me poking around in my ear with my finger.

WIFE: What’s wrong with you?

ME: I got an itch inside my ear.

WIFE: Oh, that means good news in coming?

ME: (Staring at her in disbelief) What?

WIFE: When your ear itches it means good news is coming.

ME: Says who?

WIFE: I don’t know. The people who keep track of this stuff. It’s just a thing.

ME: I’ve never heard of it.

WIFE: (Shrugs and looks at me like it’s not her fault I’m an uneducated yokel)

ME: Are you just an old wife, making up a tale?

WIFE: I didn’t make it up. It’s a thing.

ME: (Walking toward the door) Okay, I’ll be on the look-out for good news then.

WIFE: (Following me to the door) Wait. Which ear is it?

ME: (Poking my finger into my ear) The right one.

WIFE: (Screwing up her face like she’s concentrating on getting the facts straight) Oooooh! In that case it might be bad news.

ME: Great!

WIFE: Well, have a good day at work.

ME: I’ll do my best, now that I don’t know if I’m about to strike it rich or fall to my death.

WIFE: I mean, that’s pretty much the same as any other day, right?

In case you’re wondering, it turned out to be good news: my ear eventually stopped itching.

Checking for good news

“Tell us doctor, do you see good news or bad behind the wax? We need this data for our scientific study.”

Saturday morning: somewhere in the 18th century

Due to fungus, bugs, and perhaps the psychological distress of destructive boys invading their ecosystem, we’ve lost several trees. We can’t say which of the above killed the Maple in the back yard, but it joined the ranks of the standing dead a while ago.

Falling limbs have turned this tree into a minor hazard. A branch could fall on one of the kids, but childhood is fraught with risks, so I let that slide. My Edgar Allen Poe tree gave the back yard a Gothic charm, and the kids need to learn to keep their heads up anyway. But when a snagged branch poked me in the temple last time I tried to mow around the trunk, it was the last straw. That menace was about to fall like the House of Usher.

 

The Poe Tree

It’s curtains for you, Edgar.

Our neighbor owns an electric chain saw that she’d borrowed back from us for a few days, since we weren’t using it. In order to determine whether the chainsaw had the horsepower to cut through the trunk, before I went to the trouble of reclaiming it from its owner, I gave the trunk a couple whacks with my ax. (Technically, it’s a splitting maul, but splitting mauls don’t capture the imagination like axes do).

The wood wasn’t so tough, so I gave it a few more whacks. Those few more whacks turned me into Paul Bunyan. The notion of chopping down a tree with an ax captivated me. Why shouldn’t a man chop down a tree with his bare hands instead of waiting until the lady next door gets home so he can borrow her power tools?

An old lumberjacks’ trick: use your rest breaks to take pictures.

I always like to find activities to distract my masculinity before it turns toxic. Chopping down this tree had my masculinity skipping like a child in knee pants. I highly recommend the activity to anyone suffering dangerous levels of manliness.

After some short breaks to catch my breath, because my woodsman skills have been in decline for the past six generations, I toppled the tree with a soul-satisfying crash. I put my ax away and, just like the true pioneers of yesteryear, went inside for a well-deserved Gatorade.

My wife looked up from Netflix. “What happened? We heard a loud crash.”

“You didn’t rush to see if I were hurt?” I asked.

“I sent the little one to look out the window,” she reassured me.

Every strong man needs a good woman.

Seriously, she would have paused her movie if the preschooler’s assessment of my injuries warranted such drastic action.

down and out

Didn’t even hit the house with it.

Having reassured my worried family, I went out to clean up the debris. I thought I might build a log cabin out of my timber, but our frontier Homeowners Association won’t let us put up a 4×4 shed, so they probably wouldn’t approve my sod roof designs.

I cannot tell a lie; there’s a euphoria in going all George Washington on a Cherry (okay, Maple) tree. It’s a stirring experience – makes you want to party like it’s 1799.