Tonight I was walking out of the Hillside Farms Dairy Store where I have been buying my milk. It was dark and chilly and there was a distinct smell of cow in the air. And while that smell is not one that I would bottle up and sell at the perfume counter of Macys, it was still strangely soothing.
The smell reminded me that the bottle of milk I was holding in my hand had a tangible connection to the land I was walking on. The air I was breathing in was the same air that the cows’ breath was misting in as they walked into their barn across the street. The water I saw in the stream next to the road was the same water that those cows drank. Everything around me, from the dirt and grass beneath my feet to the sun that shone so brightly that day, was part of the milk in the bottle in my hand.
Years ago, when I was younger than my own children are now, that connection with nature was something that I rarely thought about. Right in our backyard, my Mother had a vegetable and root garden. I still remember her warm potato salad, made with potatoes and onions from her garden and covered in chives she had cut that day from her flower garden. I remember going to an orchard in Noxen and picking our own apples fresh from the trees. I remember driving by Harter’s Dairy and seeing the cows that made the milk the milkman delivered to our house. I remember stopping on a fall afternoon and buying gallons of apple cider that Mr. Spencer and his family had pressed that day from apples they had picked from the trees behind their barn. On that same road, we used to pass by a house where you could see the bee hives they kept and where you could buy quarts of “… the freshest honey outside of a hive.”
But mostly I remember my Mom, Dad, Brother and I filling buckets with wild blueberries at Rickett’s Glen State Park. Then we would stop in Steele’s Restaurant after a day of hiking, swimming and blueberry picking to have some fresh cooked food and Blueberry Pie made with blueberries picked by Mr. and Mrs. Steele and baked that day. Nothing to this day has ever compared to the taste of Mrs. Steele’s homemade blueberry pie, served warm with vanilla ice cream.
I wonder how many of today’s generation have ever felt that connection. I wonder where they think food comes from. Do they realize that there is more to food than supermarket shelves and boxes of prepared meals? How many of them have ever seen a cow, up close and in person? How many of them know what an apple fresh from the tree tastes like, or have ever felt a freshly picked strawberry squirt juice all over their tongue as they take a bite? Can they even know what they are missing?
In this world filled with email, virtual pets, on-line dating, e-books and digitally altered photography it is a good thing once in a while to walk on a farm and rest in the shade of an old tree while eating an ice cream cone that the cows in the field below you made the milk for yesterday morning. Touching the grass that the cows ate and seeing the milk the farmer collected and then turned into the ice cream that cools your tongue on a warm day will put you in touch with yourself. You will discover things about yourself. You will realize that you are indeed a part of this whole universe, this chain of being. Whoever you conceive God to be, it is easier to get in touch with the divine when there are fewer man-made things between you and the universe. Whether we evolved in this world to be a part of it or if we were designed and made to fit into it, it is still better to realize that we are a part of this world. We are made from the bones of this earth and it is a good thing to touch them once in a while and ground ourselves.
So, if you can, get out today and find that part of you that lives on a quiet farm or in an autumn-tinted forest. Bask in the sunshine, let the water of a stream tickle your fingers and deeply breathe in the air around you. Take your children there and let them learn about that part of themselves. And teach them that it is a good thing, once in a while, to stop and smell the cows.
For more information about the wonderful volunteers and sublimely beautiful dairy and farm at The Lands at Hillside Farms, see their webpage here or check them out on their Facebook page.