The Cane and The Cow

by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei

Featured in Mountain Record 27.3, Spring 2009

S omealabitch! The old yankee farmer Freeman Masker would say when he got into a tough patch.

Somealabitch, get up you!

Now, early one autumn November morning with a cane in his hand he stands over a prostrate cow on the floor of his barn. Get up you! with a cane I knew for easy taps on the ample rumps of some seventy-odd Holstein cows as we led them to and from the still green pastures of this farm where I lived for a time and grew up a bit from young man to something more.

Get up you Somealabitch, now! the cane coming down hard on the back—with the force of a man who aims to get his way and knows—with some unacknowledged fear—this time he may not.

Another hard smack and my own fear now is in the mix. Who is this man, I think, recalling the dawn some weeks back, I surprised him—and shut him up quick—as he was sweet-talking his herd in the barn at the day’s first milking. Where is that man who has no clear name nor boundary for work and leisure, business and affection, property and reliance.

Another smart cane falling on her back, and now the cow slowly, painfully, shifts her weight, back legs up then front. She stands unsteadily as Freeman leads her to the door, his face red and sweaty on this frosty fall morning.

With a quick nod to me he says, “Milk fever. If she stays on the ground, she could die "

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei is the second dharma heir of John Daido Loori Roshi. He entered residency at Zen Mountain Monastery in 1986 and received transmission in 1997. He teaches at the Zen Center of New York City, as well as at the Monastery.

From the Fall 2008 ango art presentation at Zen Mountain Monastery.