‘Ah, times are changing, that’s for sure. A farmer can’t make a living anymore. If it wasn’t for the grants, we’d be down in the town below, living like animals in a block of flats. She went down there, y’know. She set herself up down in the town. She said couldn’t stick the mountain n’more. Didn’t want another hard Winter, she said. By God, she didn’t have to worry. It wasn’t even three months after when she got sick. Me? I’ll die up here, and I’ll die happy’
He was picking dandelion leaves that were growing in tufts along the cement path. One hand was picking, the other holding his stick and the bag. Three ragged farm dogs were around his knees, annoying him. He waved his stick and yelled at them. They backed away a little, enough so they could still watch his every move. He was their God.
‘I’m picking these, now, for the hens. They don’t have a bad life at all. But they’re not free range, are they? Not politically correct’
He chuckled to himself as he continued. I coughed awkwardly.
‘Are they not? Well, I suppose they’re up there in that dark loft, so technically, they’re not free’
He stood upright and looked at me. He had a hard face with small eyes and deep dry lines. He had the type of face that had felt the cold and wind all it’s life.
‘But sher, it’s a big loft and they’re not shut in. They can sit there, in the fresh air looking down on the yard, with their handpicked dandelions, can’t they? It’s not a bad life at all’
He shook his head.
‘It’s the likes of these big foreign supermarkets coming over here and breeding their deformed chickens in big warehouses with no light; they’re the ones that are causing all the problems’
We both turned outwards towards the mountain gorge, looking at the majesty in front of us in silence. I’m sure we were both contemplating how the world was changing, and how we never wanted to leave this place.
A loud howl came from behind. We both turned to see. A bony cow was making her way down the narrow village lane. She investigated every doorway and window along the way, bellowing and grunting as she went. When she reached the opening where we were, she stopped. She roared again; she was upset. Moving her head up and down, bucking at the air, I watched her massive udders shake from side to side.
‘Aaaah, haha, there she is!’
‘Yah yah’, he roared, as he waved his stick in the air.
She responded with a long agonising cry.
‘What’s wrong with her?’
I asked with the hardest tone I could find in me. After seeing him skin a wild boar with his son the night before, surely I could handle a sad cow.
‘She’s looking for her calf. It’s up there, in the top barn – hand-fed twice a day by my very self. It has a gammy leg, that one, but it’s not a bad life for it. The old cow there is protesting, but she’ll be fine after a day or two of milking. Back to normal’
I continued looking out onto the panorama in front of me.
‘She’s wandering around the village looking for it. You can’t get more free range than that now, can you?’
He was chuckling again, his shoulders bobbing up and down. He steadied himself with the stick and put it against the fence.
‘Right, a few more of these for the hens before I drive cows down to the bottom field’
As I walked away, I watched the distraught cow walk slowly, still crying, still bucking in anguish, up towards her field. As she entered, I watched some other cows come to greet her. They understood her loss.