The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A matter of perspective

A herd of of Holsteins making milk under the dinner oak.First impressions often are as much reflections of our own perspective as of the person we are evaluating.

After 20 years in the Navy, I matriculated into the University of Maine at Farmington, where I learned stuff and met a nice young woman who lived on a dairy farm with a husband heavy into Holstein husbandry, three daughters of which one actually enjoyed working in the barn, and a son who, after making sure Mommy was watching, reveled in walking atop tall picket fences, figuratively and literally.

I often went down to the farm and helped with evening chores, after which we three would sit in the office and be social. One of those days, early in our association, as milking was proceeding and I was moving the pneumatic milker from one cow to the next, Shelly – about 12 at the time – explained to me there was one cow, I disremember her name (all cows have names by which they are called by 12-year-old cow girls) with an injured teat. When I got to her, the young lady directed, I was to call her and she would milk that one by hand.

Sometime later, she accosted me to complain about how long I was taking to get ‘round to that one bovine in need of special attention.

“Already done,” I said.

“You don’t know how to milk a cow,” she replied.

“I was milking cows before your mommy was born,” I said more or less truthfully, “but you’re welcome to check whether I missed a few drops.”

She did. I hadn’t. She admitted, as obliquely as only a 12-year-old girl can, to new-found respect for the Harley driver her mom knew from college.

I would like to think all these years later she would remember the time she thought a college guy who’d traveled the world in the Navy couldn’t possibly know how to milk a cow by hand.

My first pocket knife was a KampKing. It had a blade for cutting string and small branches, another useful for punch a new hole in a leather belt, a third for opening cans of pineapple chunks swiped from Mom’s pantry, and a screwdriver blade with a bottle cap remover.

Over the years, I have had many other knives. There was the bos’n’s knife with a marlin spike to help braiding rope, and a Randall-made that had a hollow handle for storing matches and fish hooks and wrapping parachute cord around for tying and tugging in a variety of survival situation in which, fortunately, I never found myself. Nowadays, I carry a multi-tool that opens to a pair of pliers, has a blade for sawing through a piece of rope, and another for splitting pills that the doctor had prescribed back when I needed twice as much of the medicine as I now require.

I was wearing a Gerber-brand folding sheath knife with a four-inch blade – country lads typically wear trousers because they have pockets, and loops in which to thread a belt to hold a sheath-knife – when I boarded a plane, circa 1987, in Portland, Maine bound for San Jose, California. At the Portland jetport, the security guy measured my blade against a line drawn on his table. It didn’t touch the line and therefore was not too long to be allowed onboard with me.

When it was time to board in San Jose to return home, the gate guard looked at the sheath and declared I could not carry in onto the plane.

“That type of knife is intimidating to the rest of the passengers,” he explained.

It’s a matter of perspective.

I hope you enjoyed the journey. Thanks for coming along. Comments are welcome. Before you go, please tap a button to share.


  1. Douglas Allan Pugh

    April 11, 2021 at 22:17

    Enjoyed the telling of the tale, John.

  2. John Hartzell

    April 12, 2021 at 08:02

    Another gem, John. Thanks.

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