Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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Things happen when you stop trying to make them happen. Maybe letting go simply allows the Universe to work. Disappointed at not coming through with Bette’s bucket list request, I gave up the idea of finding a cow knowing I’d done what I could. But I phoned one more person. Just in case . . .

If I’d called Mimi in the first place, I would have had a cow at once. A docent at the Rio Grande Zoo, companion to four Wheaten Terriers, master gardener, erstwhile art teacher, Mimi is a resource for virtually everything.

"I need a milk cow," I told her answering machine. She phoned back, laughing. " How is it possible that I met a woman with a cow this week and then you call looking for a cow?"

Bette, Robyn and I met Linda Bumkens—the woman with the cow—at the Bernalillo gas station at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. We followed her on winding back roads to a sprawling house where we were greeted by two extremely large dogs, one ordinary size large dog, and seven variations of Chihuahua. Several cows grazed the grass of a large field to the right of the driveway. Handing us each a hay bale to throw into the cows’ field, Linda taught us that bribing them closer was simple. With all of them at the fence, she snapped a lead onto Rosie’s halter, opened the gate and led her to the milking stall. The three of us, and several dogs, followed. Bruce, Linda’s husband, placed a milk crate as a stool for Bette, while Linda demonstrated how to milk. Understanding the technique at once, Bette set to work as if she had been a milkmaid all her life. Linda worked with her and, between the two of them, milk flowed in a steady stream into the tin bucket. It is not easy to milk a cow. I tried once, never developing the rhythm that seemed natural to Bette. Her cancer makes her tired, and causes pain, but none of that showed as she simply kept at the task at hand. Here was a woman who, wanting to milk a cow, was doing exactly what she wanted.

When the bucket was almost full, and Rosie had given as much milk as she had, she lifted up one back leg and placed it in the bucket.

Perhaps this was a way of teaching us that what matters in life is the act, not the result. Or maybe it was Rosie’s acknowledgment of bucket lists.

Linda poured the milk on the ground. The dogs were pleased.

The Bumkens’ place is largely self-sufficient. Backing up against the Rio Grande, with no other houses visible, it seems a private, hidden secret. A small lake they built-- then stocked with blue gill, catfish and bass to eat, and little fish that eat mosquito larvae, but also provide food for the larger fish—is fed by a stone waterfall at the far end, aerated by a wooden windmill on the near end.

Between the milking shed and the lake, we passed a chicken coop on wheels that can be moved to different areas of the yard, taking pressure off any one piece of ground. The hens, providing the family’s eggs, walked around the yard of their coop. A sunpit greenhouse, designed for growing mushrooms on the dark side, vegetables on the other, extends a number of feet below ground level. Everything on the place is powered by active solar, with electrical backup.

We were invited inside for a glass of milk, poured from a glass container Linda took from the refrigerator. Rosie’s milk (which cannot be sold) provides all the nutrients destroyed by the heat treatment of pasteurization, and none of the hormones or pesticide residues that commercial milk possesses. Besides that, it never touches plastic, and the problems plastic presents. In other words, it is real.

Linda also poured milk into the bowl of her pink electric mixer to make butter. Although living in an authentic and sustainable manner is vital to the Bumkens’, the churning of butter is very 21st century. Linda said the mixer would have been chrome if her sister hadn’t gone shopping with her. I think pink adds a certain cachet. Sort of like butter from Nieman Marcus. After tasting the newly made butter, I can say with certainty that no commercial butter equals the taste of butter churned by a pink electric mixer. The fresh butter is formed into bars in antique molds, then stored in the freezer.

Linda gave us each a bar. Although I use butter for baking or sautéing, I stopped eating it on bread years ago after returning from a year of living in Austria. There, my nightly supper at the local milchbar was hot milk and a butterbrot, with butter, spread thick as cheese on the bread, then scored with a knife for its presentation. I loved that butter. When I returned to the States, where butter was not the same, I stopped eating it. Until now. Now I’m spreading Bumkens’ butter on bread as if I’d never heard of not eating butter. When my bar is gone, I will return to a more austere approach to bread. Either that, or buy a cow.

Linda and Bruce plan to offer classes in sustainable living at their place as soon, Linda says, as "they learn enough about what they’re doing to teach others." Because everything they do seems easy and natural, and because they transmit that to anyone in their presence, I think their classes will be in great demand. The house is beautiful. The setting is gorgeous. The Bumkens’ are kind, talented, inventive people. And, of course, there are all those dogs . . . .

Bette was tired when we left. And in pain. But her happiness was so huge that all any of us could do was smile. We went to lunch before she and Robyn headed off to the next part of their journey –Sedona for the vortexes, the spiraling spiritual energy that facilitates healing, and the magnificence of the town’s surroundings.

I do have a small history with cows. When I was about four, my father, our dog, and I, out hiking, were chased by a herd of them. We ran for the car. It was not until high school that I ever actually looked at cows. On a visit to the State Fair, smitten by the beauty of their eyes, I fell in love with them. I decided to become a cowgirl, a career interrupted by college and a later encounter--when I first hiked in the Alps-- with a horned cow standing in my path. I thought anything with horns was a bull. (I needed to lower my gaze a bit . . . and learn more about cows.) Now, after living so many years in Montana, and gaining a better understanding of the West’s essentially wild cattle, my feelings about cows have moderated. They are a part of life. You eat them. Or, as at the Bumkens’, you get milk, butter and cheese from them. But oh, their eyes are beautiful!

Copyright © 2010 Ruth Rudner