The Red Stone and The Herd

short-story

The most cliché expression we may have heard could be that life is full of difficulties. Breezing through life without the occasional pinch and pain is almost impossible. Dairy farmers know very well, that life is not that easy. 

But even with all the difficulties and the chaos, and the madness, a dairy farmer will often be heard saying “life is good.” 

This is also true. 

There are times you feel happy. There are certain times where, a cow becomes more than a cash-generating asset—and you feel the oneness in spirit with a cow—the kind of oneness in purpose that makes you understand its personality. How it works, how it talks—not with words, but how it moves. So you can provide the best care possible to the point of its slaughter.

There are few people that experience life in its full spectrum—difficulty and beauty. One such person is Oliver, an aussie dairy farmer in the Goulburn Valley. 

Here’s one of the most intriguing things that ever happened to him:

Running a dairy farm comes with its glory days and quite a handful of uneventful days. When things are going well, a farmer must keep never forget those bad days may also occur. For a dairy farmer, unpreparedness can mean waterloo for the farm. 

These musings ran through Oliver’s mind as he struggled to get up that morning. In a time that looked distant to Oliver, getting up in the morning felt joyful. He even had a routine he had grown very accustomed to. Always a light sleeper, Oliver would be the first to open his eyes and begin a new day. He’d look to his left and see Jessica, his childhood love who became his wife. He’d give her a gentle kiss on the forehead.

Then, he’d look into the room of his children. Oliver had a boy who was 15 years and a daughter who was two years younger but no less smart. He’d say his prayers of gratitude expressing how thankful he was for his first family. He loved them very much.

After completing his morning rituals, Oliver would set forth to meet his second family – the herd. The herd reminded Oliver of a lot of things – his father, his mother, his childhood, amongst many other things. Back then, dairy farmers developed strong connections with their cows. Now and then, dairy farmers could be heard talking to their herd like their favourite pets. It was all beautiful.

Good things had been happening all year long—for many years.

But, this morning was different. Oliver struggled to get up. He wasn’t feeling grateful and wasn’t excited about any of his morning rituals, especially the one that involved the herd. He was unhappy. His time of difficulty was here, and he was as unprepared as one can get.

He cursed the day he found that red stone. He remembered it like yesterday, even though a tremendous amount of time had passed.

That beautiful day, Oliver said to Jessica “The sun is golden today. I’ll start early so we can gather enough litres of milk to sell.”

“Alright, then. Be back in time for lunch,” Jessica said.

He had spent hours with his son on the farm and was now ready for a well-deserved break when he noticed his cows gathering at a spot and mooing at something. Cows always mooed, but this felt different. So, he walked to the ‘troubled’ spot and saw it for the first time. It was red, and it was so bright in the sun. It was the kind of object that compels anyone who sees it to touch.

Oliver picked this object up and was about to throw it far away, but something held him back. Oliver didn’t see the need to fight the urge to keep it. It was a harmless object anyway. So, he slid it into his pocket. He called his son, and they went home to eat. Jessica had prepared cheese and bacon rolls.

At first, everything else seemed normal around the farm. Except for one thing—Oliver had found something quite odd to occupy his mind. He couldn’t keep his eye off this shiny red object that he now called ‘the red stone.’

Soon, things began changing.

First, it was the dreaded John Bovine’s disease. Oliver noticed his cows falling ill and several on their last legs. It felt worse with the young calves. The signs of the cow epidemic had been there for a long time, but Oliver couldn’t see it. He saw only the red stone.

Oliver felt powerless in the face of this incurable disease. But, he knew what had to be done. In a short period, the herd was reduced to two-thirds of its former size. 

Then came the drought. 

“This can’t be right,” thought Oliver. 

And so more dairy cattle died.

For a man, who had just lost a little above half of his herd, Oliver seemed happy to the ordinary person. But, Jessica and the children knew something was wrong. Oliver didn’t seem to notice the extent of the damage. The red stone and the red stone alone had his attention.

As time passed, the farm crumbled even further. Oliver was beginning to notice that things were not right. The sudden realization that the legacy of his parents and the legacy he wanted to leave behind for his two children was approaching extinction.

He became distraught. And right in that moment of despair, it became clear to him.

“When did all my troubles begin?”

“When did I lose guard.”

As these thoughts caused a stir in Oliver’s mind, the red stone shone brighter. Oliver, in one glance, looked at the red stone, and it hit him. It all began with the red stone.

Even with this new revelation, Oliver couldn’t bring himself to let go of the red stone. He had oddly grown too attached to it, so he felt reluctant to let it go. 

Life felt unbearable.

Even when the answer to his troubled was clear, Oliver could not bring himself to do what needed to be done – He had to get rid of that stone. 

The act of getting rid of the cursed red stone could only be inspired by something extraordinary. Something that reminded Oliver of what truly mattered. 

This inspiration came from the most unlikely of sources.

One afternoon, grains of sugar that had spilled was gathered around a spot on the ground. 

Oliver, caressing his red stone, had nothing much to do but stare at how ants gathered around this sugar. They were trying as hard as they could to move the sugar into a tiny hole somewhere on the wall.

Oliver watched as each ant worked tirelessly to transport this much-craved food. He wondered how they could be so organized.

On a closer look, Oliver noticed what seemed like a leader ant giving instructions while all the other ants followed. The working ants reminded him of how hard he and his family worked to keep the herd alive.

Without warning, a colony of bigger ants approached the small mountain of sugar. At that moment, Oliver felt like he knew how the smaller ants felt. 

To be so powerless in the face of forces seemingly indestructible.

He kept watching. At that moment, he was a little ant, and he needed direction.

A faceoff against the big ants would have meant sure death for the little ants. The leader ant did not put up a fight. There wasn’t any such need. The tiny ants had gathered enough sugar already, and there was no point holding on to something that seemed precious but would only cause damage. 

A short while later, the little ants were now out of sight, having retreated to their home. The bigger ants had their share of sugar, and they went on their way.

Oliver smiled. It was now clear what he needed to do.

He put some clothes on, walked to the edge of his farm, and dipped his hand into his pockets. His hands found the red stone, and with his full strength, he threw it into the lake.

He went back to his home. 

The next morning, Oliver felt grateful again. He took the challenge of restoring his farm and, in no time, worked hard enough to get things running again.

His episode with the red stone had reminded him that choosing life is most important. As a father, husband, and farmer, his purpose, like the leader ant, is to make sure that he chooses life even if he has to let go of seemingly precious and mundane things.

In the end, Oliver takes a joyous glance at his family, 

…laughs on the porch, and as his cattle feeds, he’s happy he made the right choice.

Choose life, with all of the goodness in it. (and the not-so-good too)

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