PHYLLIS HARPER: Youthful daydreams took flight while helping the cows come home

Spring is a dreamy season that brings an almost palpable yearning to touch Mother Nature and all her children, to watch the greening of earth, to acknowledge kinship with all flora and fauna in a drama that plays its eternal cycle toward another season and another time.

The springs of my lifetime, from past to present to future, are anchored in childhood memories of my grandfather's farm at Fawn Grove. For Grandy and farmers of his generation, spring was a busy time of planning and planting, a time of hard work, of hope and faith, of looking toward a harvest that would come in due season.

And for me, spring was a time to spin dreams. In the warming season I drove the cows from one pasture to another, and in the evening, it was time to drive them from home to the barn and sheds and barn lots for the night. My times of youth are long gone, but memories are vital to the present and the future is filled with dreams of its own.

Captured by M.B. Mayfield in two paintings done years ago: one of cows on his Ecru farm and another with my cows on the Fawn Grove farm. After reading a Daily Journal column, M.B. painted a memory of his own experience driving cows. I wanted his painting, but he said no, and painted one of me driving the cows – a scene he named “Little Miss Phyllis.” Our recollections are quite a distance from Ecru to Fawn Grove, but we met many years ago and became friends, and his paintings and my writings merged in memories.

(Pontotoc Historical Society sells prints of Mayfield paintings and also an autobiography by the Ecru artist, “The Baby Who Crawled Backward.” The Southern Register, newsletter for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss, features him in an article in its current edition. A German crew is filming a documentary next week at Ole Miss and Pontotoc Museum, and will interview M.B., as well as a few of his friends.)

Herding our cows was a favorite farm chore, because most cows are gentle creatures and will follow a leader. In small herds, a natural leader will become apparent, and a bell on her neck leads the other cows, and the bell tells us where the cattle graze through hills and valleys.

I walked worn paths through woods and pastures and fields. As sun dropped westward, I watched above the trees, getting the cows home in time where a few hands fed and milked before evening turned into dark.

I liked to start early and loiter along the way; once they were herded together and headed in the right direction, they knew the way home. Cows ambled along until they neared the barn, and then headed toward feed troughs filled with their supper, and sometimes broke into a trot.

Grandy sometimes told the family dog to go after the cows, but I hoped he might send me. The farther I had to go, the better. Far from the Far Field, I had to open gates, and then close them again. I carried a stick – or staff – which alternately served as a music baton or magic wand.

I watched squirrels, rabbits, birds and all the wild creatures, most of them neared their nests and dens as evening approached. I picked wildflowers and leaves and ferns and made bouquets. I sang at top voice, and gave concerts and speeches from a tall stump or fallen tree – my stage faced an audience peopled with the cows and all nature's children.

And I dreamed of wondrous things, the childhood dreams that were akin to prayer. Twas said that wooded groves were God's first temples. God seemed close and faith near to me on those wandering, wondering paths.

Phyllis Harper's column appears each Sunday in the Daily Journal.

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