I was inspired to write fan fiction by a cow.
Not just any cow, mind you. Her name was Iris, and she was a big, beautiful brown Jersey with dainty black hooves and eyes that could melt your heart.
An Accidental Farmer
In the 1970s, I was swept up in the Back to the Land Movement. More accurately, my parents were swept up in the Movement—I was nine, so I was along for the ride. Truth be told, I was pretty happy as a suburban kid: I loved to read, I loved Star Trek, and the suburban life gave me lots of time to do both.
But that was not to be. In 1976, we moved from suburban Philadelphia to a 40-acre farm in northeastern PA. Everything I knew was gone: TV, friends, TV, nearby relatives—did I mention TV? That’s right, Captain James T Kirk and I stopped seeing each other for a decade or so.
We fixed up the old farmhouse, planted a huge garden and got farm animals. Lots of animals. Pigs, chickens, geese, goats, one sheep, ducks, cows…we even raised earthworms at one point. Farm animals mean chores, and my favorite chore by far was milking the cow. Twice a day, every day, lovely Iris needed to be milked.
The Zen of Milking a Cow by Hand
Most dairy farms today are production lines where cows are milked by machines. That’s too bad, really. If you’ve never milked a cow by hand, it’s something you should try at least once.
Picture this: You carry your empty milk pail into the barn, and Iris greets you with a gentle lowing. She’s glad to see you; having a full udder can be uncomfortable! It takes a few minutes to get her some fresh hay, clean her udder and arrange the milking stool and pail before you start.
It’s hard to describe the zen of the moment: the warm flesh between your fingers, the gentle zing of the milk hitting the pail, the feel of your forehead against her flank. After all these years, the closest thing I can liken it to is yoga or some other repetitive exercise. (And it is exercise–milking a cow by hand will give you a serious grip.)
So How Does Michael Bunker Fit Into This?
A few months ago, I read Michael Bunker’s PENNSYLVANIA. The opening scene in the book is two Amish brothers talking while one milked a cow. (The cow’s name was Zoe, a great name for a milk cow.) That scene drew me into the story, putting me right back on a milking stool next to my friend, Iris.
Bunker’s story stuck with me. I finally contacted him to see if he would allow me to write fan fiction in his world of Amish sci-fi. When he said yes, I knew one thing: my PENNSYLVANIA story was going to have a cow in it.
My short story, The Yesterday Adjustment, is a tale of espionage, but I did work in one scene where my main character has to milk Zoe, the cow. There’s only one problem: Damien, a Transport spy posing as an Amish man, has never milked a cow in his life.
I never gave the scene another thought until one of my readers posted this review:
There was a particular scene with Agent Damien trying to milk a cow that was particularly well-written–Bruns must have had some experience with this in his personal life.
Iris is long gone, but somehow I think she’d approve.