Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Milk Moon of May

The first full moon after Beltane is also known as the Milk Moon. This make sense since Beltane signifies a time when cattle were traditionally moved to rich summer pastures—definitely effecting the quality of the milk. One of my favorite milk products is cheese, and, as mentioned in a previous blog posting, Inverbrook Farm CSA is happy to host a new cheese share from Hillacres Pride Farm. The good folks at Havest Market Natural Foods (which also carries Hillacres Pride cheeses) recently paid a visit to the farm—click here to see pictures and read up on their visit (the photo above is from this posting). If you are interested in signing up for the cheese share you can call or email Mandy at Hillacres Pride--email or call 717-548-9031.

There is a short but lyrical chapter on the Milk Moon in Ted Browning’s collection of Kennett Paper essays Notes from Turtle Creek. The chapter is so full of wonderful sensory references appropriate for the season, I thought I would share it will you all now (hopefully I am not breaking any copyright laws). Enjoy the descriptions of milking barn and do not forget to sign up for the cheese share.

Native American tribes called the full moon of May the milk moon. May is calving season. Udders are brimming, but the idea of the milk moon flows across the rich earth of May and through the nights of middle springtime.

Some of my earliest memories bring me back to our first barn and our small gold-brown patterned cows with large eyelashed eyes and soft faces like deer. Milking time – the most important and exciting part of the day. Sometimes at bedtime, I just couldn’t force my eyes shut – lying there on top of the quilt, hearing the sounds of the night, counting the minutes, waiting anxiously for first light when the cows would gather and snuffle in the barnyard, and when I would wolf my corn flakes and stride down to the barn with my father for milking.

I remember as if it were yesterday – the barn, the hay, the cows, the milking. The barn was half sunk into the hill, making the milking shed more a cave than a building – sounds, smells and memories condensed, amplified, heightened.

The smell of the barn – a stewpot aroma of cows, milk, meadows; of oats and corn mashed into cowfeed; the spicy tang of chopped corn in the silo, churning and fermenting and stewing down to sour mash and cow beer; the brown squishy smell of manure.

I remember the soft rustle of the cows as they settled into their stanchions – the low murmuring sounds they made, almost like the cooing of pigeons, and the sound of water gushing as if from a hundred springs deep in the earth, when the cows pushed their noses into their water bowls.

We didn’t have milking machines yet, back in those days. Streams of milk hit the sides of steel milking buckets with a pinging sound like hard rain on a window pane. The milk gathered in the pails and rose to the top in a froth of heavy yellowlike melted butter.

One time a cow kicked over a milk pail full almost to the brim. The picture remains frozen in my memory – every detail, every sound and smell. A gush of thick yellow paint gleamed in the shadows of the barn and spread over the barn floor like the flow of warm lava. The milk vanished magically into the straw bedding that cushioned each cow but which ended up kicked all over the place.

The funny thing about it was that nobody got upset. My father and the hired man went back to milking; the barn cats soon gave up trying to tease the spilled milk out of the straw and the whole incident just sort of settled out. But something was different. I could still smell the milk down in the straw. Even a few days later, I could smell it, all mixed up down deep with the other familiar smells of cows, hay, feed and new milk.

Several nights ago I went outside for a night walk up Locust Grove Road and down into the basin of Owl Creek. The sounds of night are muted this time of year. Spring peepers and singing toads have calmed down, and bullfrogs and katydids haven’t got going. But the smell of the night is as strong as the night is dark and silent. Autumn olive throws out a perfume so strong your nose tingles and you might sneeze. Low to the land it sits, enriched by the earth smells of marshy wet places.

Starlight is softened by the mists and the heavy moist air, but the Big Dipper shines out strongly, almost directly overhead, a bit to the north.

At this time of year, the Big Dipper stands up on the edge of its bowl. Whatever is held in the bowl of the Big Dipper spills out through the night and into the earth, rising back up in luminescent vapors and rich milkhouse aromas.

I think back to the time when the milk pail tipped over…
No wonder the Native Americans called the moon of May the milk moon.

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