Monday. Los Parronales. Through my window drifts the shhh of wind and a cow mooing. The cow brings to mind cow plops and manure. I write it in italics as a sign of reverence. Yes, reverence.
Out walking along the dirt road edged by fields, I smelled that sweet scent of manure. It’s a pleasant fragrance to me, evoking other rural places I've known. I particularly recall the two interludes I spent as an adolescent at a Girl Scout Camp referred to as primitive. Situated near the town of Sierraville in a high cattle-raising valley of California, it was a place devoid of any constructions, except a storage hut. We slept on the open ground, dug our own latrines and cooked our food over campfires. I remember the walk to the creek that required careful watching to avoid stepping in the cow patties.
Back to the link between manure and reverence. One of the books I brought along here is Wendell Berry’s Imagination in Place. I wanted to read Berry after learning he is a poet, writer, farmer and environmentalist. In an essay dedicated to his poet friend, Hayden Carruth, he refers to the poem “Marshall Washer” about a dairy farmer in Vermont. Apparently New England farmers sometimes refer to themselves as “cowshit farmers”.
Notice how many times
I have said “manure”? It is serious business.
It breaks the farmers’ backs. It makes their land.
It is the link eternal, binding man and beast
Hayden wants us to know that it is by their returning the manure to the fields that these farmers are involved in the fertility cycle, allowing the fields to be cultivated by which the living world can eat. “Cowshit” then, says Berry, is “the link eternal.”
This is a big, awesome thought, one to carry with me as I walk the aisles of the supermarket, far from fields and the scent of manure.