The Scent of the Field

My sister is married to the son of a cattle rancher whose property is near Spokane, Washington. Well aware of my attraction to the countryside, she urged me to spend spring break with her and her family. Sensing an antidote for my sedentary life as a professor, I leapt at the chance. The Belsby ranch sprawls over 9,000 acres in Washington. Besides sprouting hay, alfalfa, a bit of winter wheat, and the odd cluster of apple, cherry, and plum trees, the ranch gives the Belsbys their living through its animals—some 700 head of cattle and two endearingly out-of-place geriatric water buffalo, old gifts from a rancher friend. Inside the house itself, calving paraphernalia was everywhere: sacks of milk powder slumped on the floor; syringes and vials of probiotics cluttered every surface; drying esophageal tubes hung from the backs of chairs; and rinsed bottles, recently separated from their plastic areolae, dripped into the sink and onto counters. Outside the house, vistas are expansive, and the openness of the landscape invites gales of wind and a nourishing sun that bestows its blessings all day. The men and women who work there are hearty and hale; the cows content; and the dogs, with huge bales of bound hay to leap over, livestock to bark at, and bubbling springs to quench their thirst, are in their own terrestrial paradise.