The Folklore Project
Brown, Blue, and Gray
By Elizabeth Chandler
It began with dull brown and vivid blue.
For the first two months of her life, J-14 knew only the greens and grays of cloudy summer days. The Black Angus calf would diligently follow her dam around the pastures and would sleep whenever proper for a young calf. Every once in a while, usually when the clouds left for a day or two, she would follow the herd into the pasture’s shallow pond, and on rainy days they would seek shelter under the pasture’s single tree.
The only interesting incidents during this time came in the form of the farmer, his family, and his two dogs. Some days, the silver haired farmer would visit her, perceived the calf, and sometimes the smaller human who had a white and black tail on her head. Rarely did the smaller, noisy one with two stringy black tails visit. She liked the humans with tails. Some days they gave her treats. Those days served as notable happenings, and they were the best happenings of which she knew.
Then things changed, starting with the sky and pasture. Slowly and unyieldingly, the green faded and the gray clouds turned to thin white streaks in the sky. Now the browns of dead pastures and the blues of empty skies surrounded the calf.
She began to notice some oddities. The grass crunched underneath her hooves. The pasture’s tree lost its green, and its shadow shrank thinner and thinner. The farmer occasionally brought out treats for her dam. This confused J-14, but she just kept on like nothing had changed. The calf did, however, decide that she would choose green grass over brown grass any day.
Soon her dam and the other adult cows ate special golden grass, or so she believed. One time the little human with two tails on her head accompanied the silver haired farmer when he visited the cows. The black and white dog came, too.
“Gramps, why is it fall but not fall?” the small human asked.
“Well, that’s hard to answer,” the old farmer replied as he checked J-14’s dam. After he seemed satisfied, he patted B-24’s side fondly.
“’Cause the grass says it’s fall, but it doesn’t feel like fall. It’s way hot for fall.” The little human patted the dog, mimicking her grandfather. “Say, did I tell you? Mama says Grams says the cows are your pets!”
The farmer smiled at his granddaughter fondly. “Maybe I just like them, and hope that they’re happy enough.”
“Huh,” she replied, putting on a serious face. “I guess I do, too.”
“Do you want to pet her?” he asked.
A bright smile stretched across her face. “Sure!”
J-14 watched the proceedings with mild interest, tried to walk away from the farmer when he examined her, and kept a careful eye on the little human’s pocket. Treats were never out of the question.
Time passed in its dry manner. An especially warm day hit the pasture about eight weeks into the brown and blue living, prompting J-14, her dam, and a few other cows to seek the cool water of the pond. When they made it to the very center of the shallow pond, it did serve as some relief. The water, however, barely brushed her dam’s stomach.
The sky remained a clear blue color. The sun rose; the sun fell. The moon shined on earth unhindered by clouds. Brown grass and wilting plants met the calf’s eyes when she looked around herself. Worse was the dwindling amount of water in the pond and the shrinking size of the herd.
One night, J-14 woke to the sight of the farmer. He watched the stars, and she watched him until she gathered the courage to investigate. Speaking to someone she could not see, he leaned against the fence gate with his hands wrapped around a lower bar. The calf blinked once, then slowly nudged his fingers. The farmer jerked away from the sudden touch, but quickly discovered the culprit. He smiled at the black calf and looked into her eyes comfortingly.
“If it’s His will, He’ll send us rain. And even if He doesn’t, we’ll be thankful,” he murmured.
She met his eyes, not understanding a word, but uttered a moo anyway.
Time continued, and the brown earth and blue sky seemed to be stuck in place. The farmer spent more nights out by the pasture, talking to that unknown someone. J-14, a late season calf, grew slowly but surely.
For some, life went on as normal. For the young calf and her farmer, however, each day held an ironic gloom of a clear, rainless sky. Then, yet again, disaster struck, and everyone felt — or, rather, smelled — the trouble in the sky.
Wildfires razed the area north of J-14 and her brown and blue world; the winds blew the smoke to her pastures and the surrounding community. The sky’s blue no longer seemed a curse. Plain blue, now, seemed fine … livable … safe. For some, it may have been even then. For her, however, blue had been a danger, a curse. Now, however, she would have preferred it. Now she knew gray smog and stinking smoke.
It lasted for two days.
Mistakable for heavy fog, the hope of some sort of moisture would vanish as the awful scent hit one’s nose. The calf could no longer make out the trees on the horizon. Her brown and blue world had gained a new, worse color: sickly gray.
Then the little human saw a cloud, the farmer felt the cold, and the calf felt the wind.
Thus came hope, change, and cleansing.
When the farmer next checked J-14 and her dam, he patted her head and looked at the clouds slowly gathering. “If He wills it, don’t you agree? And if He doesn’t. . .” The calf thought the farmer had ended his noises, but he spoke again. “If He doesn’t, we’ll still thank Him.”
The next day, she watched the brown grass, the blue sky, and the graying clouds with her large dark eyes. It began with the blue and brown, but the gray — the good gray that purified and softened — would end it. Rain would cleanse, and it would heal.
It took longer than anyone wished, but when it came, it came wondrously. It only took that single cloud and that bit of wind to turn into pouring blessings. The evening that it happened, the farmer and his wife stood near the pasture and watched the darkening sky. They waited. J-14, her dam, and the other cows waited too. Just when the humans began to retreat to their home and the cows began to disperse, the first drops fell. Slowly but surely the drops multiplied. The calf huddled closer to her dam, but somehow she knew that this uncomfortable wetness held something more and something wonderful.
The farmer’s face was wet, and not just due to the sought-after rain. He took off his hat and held his wife’s hand. Eyes closed, he again spoke to and thanked that unknown someone.
It began with the dead, brown earth and the glaringly clear blue sky.
It ended with the blessing of gray.