Daphne woke up with the coming light. She heard the train whistle but it was far away. Where was she? She wasn’t on the train or in New York. No, she was on the ranch in Montana and Clay was sound asleep.
She quietly slipped out of bed, threw on a shawl and tiptoed out of the bedroom. Like every morning, she made herself a latte and sat down to write her daily entry in her Corona Chronicles journal. But these were the Montana chapters.
Monday, July 14, 2020
4:30 am – robins start chirping and trilling as day begins to break.
4:35 am – curse birds and grope for earplugs
5:44 am – get up
5:45 – 9:30 am – read blogs, eat something and putter around
(7:50 – 8:50 am– Clay goes to town for coffee with friends. Then comes back and does stuff outside or in the shop.)
Noon – Watch local news and weather, check cattle prices and eat lunch.
12:30 pm – 5pm – Take a walk and listen to Jimmy Dore on iPhone with earbuds, write a little, read a little, do some laundry, straighten up.
5pm – 6:30 pm – Cocktails at The Grand with Clay. (Favorite time of the day when we philosophize and reminisce.)
6:30 – 9 pm – Eat dinner and watch something on TV. (Patriot, Mythic Quest, Get Shorty, Little America, something with Nazis, other thing with Nazis, yet another thing with Nazis, back to any comedy, dark or light like Avenue 5, The Great….)
9 pm – Go to sleep to The Garth Channel on Sirius.
12:49 am – wake up after nightmare of people coughing on me and thinking I have a sore throat.
Like many, the days came and went for Daphne without much thought about what day of the week it was except for garbage day. It dawned on her that this timelessness was darn normal for ranch life. There are no real weekends in ranching. Cows don’t have work days and idle days. All their days are pretty much the same except when birthing a calf. And even then, after giving her calf a good cleaning off with her tongue, she’s back to doing what cows do; eat grass and chew their cud.
Daphne had arrived back from Upstate New York on April 6, 2020 and another quarantine began for her, but this time she had a friend, a mate in Clay as opposed to wandering alone from window to window in the house in Catskill talking to herself or to the squirrels. Going slowly nuts. Clay had his work to do. He was nearing the end of calving. That’s the time of year when the cows have their calves. And so, for the next three weeks, Clay would check the cows which meant a lot of butt watching to see if the calf was coming out right or whether she might need help while Daphne would occupy herself with various chores, mostly cleaning up inside and out since she had left Clay to “batch it” for way too long. She also remembered she had to get a shower in early before the two hundred other women on the ranch, namely the cows, began to drink at the water tanks. Then there would not be much water pressure in the house as their water supply came downhill from a spring and not a from a well. It would be this way until the river unfroze and the water would start to come from the river through the canal and into the ditches that crisscrossed the pastures. This year it wouldn’t happen until mid-May.
After calving, the routine changes a bit. Clay no longer needs to drive through the cows. Now it was time to fix fence, clean ditches, and wait for the water to come down from the snow melting on the mountains. For him there was not much different in the quarantine that started around March 30, except for not going to town for coffee or beer. And ranchers usually social distance when they talk to each other in their pickups facing opposite directions or across a fence line or even at the bar. They are not much for crowds or crowded anything.
The first day back Clay told her to go and break up the cow turds in the backyard. The cows had gotten through the fence a couple weeks back and the yard which was the size of half a football field was covered in cow pies. Now this was not what her friends expected her to do. They envisioned her helping Clay bring in an owly cow, rope her to a pole, and try and turn her backward calf around. Or they saw Daphne making her way back to the ranch house in a snow storm and throwing a log on the fire. Nope. She was breaking up turds in the backyard on a sunny 55º day. And that was just fine with her. Twenty years ago, she loved all the excitement of calving like the drama of Clay coming out of a blizzard carrying a calf into the kitchen to get him dry and warm or watching him pull a calf and then handing her a piece of straw to put up the newborn’s nostril to make sure he could breathe. But she couldn’t run as fast as she used to and so it was better to just stay close to home and not be in danger of being run over by a 1500 lb. angry mama. Yup. This turd harrowing had been just her speed.
So, the quarantine went for 4 weeks with nothing but the IGA open for groceries, Ace Hardware open for supplies, The Fort open for gas, groceries, ammo and liquor and The Grand Restaurant and Bar open for take out and staples.
They branded the calves on Sunday, May 3 and so mingled with the first people in 4 weeks which is another whole story just in itself including coughing neighbors who thought they “mighta had something in February.” Then on Monday, May 4, 2020, Montana entered Phase 1 of easing the lock down after weeks of quarantining. Restaurants could open to half capacity with lots of space and lots of sanitizing. It was to be “the new normal”.
But as each state, each county, each town would soon discover, the new normal was more of what each person made of it. This was when the idea of neighborliness would be put to the test as the government opened the padded cells and let the inmates out.
(Next episode, the restaurants open up in Montana.)