My favorite selection in a particular book was written by Robert P. Tristram Coffin. So good were his words that I did not want to come to the end of them. His subject was “Cathedrals of the North,” a celebration of the Maine barn and the “worship” that is performed therein. He speaks of the fullness of summer being brought into the barn and stored against the leanness of winter. It is fed there to the patient beasts under the farmer’s care.
Here the farmer is in the place of God and stands for Him. Spiritual winter is the only time a human has deeply to experience his constant dependence upon God. For all a human has is given to him. Even the ability to work is given. In the spiritual summer this is only dimly perceived. The cow grazes peacefully, contentedly, upon the hill and perhaps does not remember the farmer’s labor for her. But in winter she sees him fork down the hay and shovel out the grain for her. Then is her worship more heartfelt and sure. The farmer is more present than ever.
“Going out to this cathedral of our green religion….When a man goes out to feed his stock by starlight…And when he gets to his barn and feels the worship in the eyes of the beasts he feeds, he is bound to feel he had deity in him….Milking a cow is as fine a poem as man has ever had his hands on….”
Coffin wrote a poem, “The Gracious and the Gentle Thing,” which describes how three cows left off their enjoyment in mown clover to receive the farmer’s caress.
Yet when I patted each young lady’s sleekness,
Each young lady’s lips grew bland and still,
She left the hay that sweetened the whole evening
And beamed on me with eyes deep with good will.
She kissed my hand where it lay on the fence-rail
And breathed her sweetness in my smiling face:
She left her supper, turned her slender beauty
Instantly to practice of good grace.
Gratitude plays a major part in this place of worship. The cow leaves off enjoying the blessing of hay to enjoy the blessing of the farmer’s company. And this response is singularly pleasing to him. This is northern worship, Maine worship at its best.
The quotations here are from MAINE: A LITERARY CHRONICLE (1968). It’s full of selections pertaining to historical succession.
P.S. that grain pictured above? It may be for human consumption. The kind one can drink, blessed.