One of my husband, The Land Baron’s, favorite activities on the farm is driving a four-wheeler around the property, breathing in the country air, master of his domain. Invariably, this includes a drive along the creek that separates our farm from our neighbor’s cattle farm. We “poser farmers” enjoy watching the cows as they munch their way across the landscape, occasionally mooing their disapproval as we whisk by. Recently, on one such tour, we came across our neighbor, the owner of said cattle farm, out stomping along the creek bed. This fellow is a massive man, burly and strong with a round, kind, face. He reminds me of Paul Bunyan because he’s as big as a, well, a big blue ox. He was poking along the fence line with a long stick, seemingly searching for something.
“Howdy!” the Land Baron called out. “You lose something?”
It seems one Paul Bunyan’s newborn calves had gone missing and Paul was set on finding him. It was a scorching hot day and the calf, born just the day before, could be in real danger in the heat. The mama cow mooed her concern as she followed Paul Bunyan along the fence line and he nonchalantly chatted with us, all the while poking in the grass along the creek bed. “Yeah, they do this sometimes,” he drawled. “Just get curious about the world and wander off.”
I had learned that to be true the previous summer when I was fascinated by one such wandering calf. This rogue calf, on a daily basis, insisted on sneaking under the hot wire electric fence on Paul Bunyan’s property to wander over onto our property to graze. There she was, every day, a few times a day, putzing around on our hillside, munching and enjoying the view. It made me giggle every time I saw her: defiant, independent, her own gal. Every day, a few times a day, Paul Bunyan would have to wrangle her back to the fold. What was a pain in the rear and a lot of work for him was pure entertainment for me (which is kind of a theme for my sometime-pseudo-farm life). Our little rogue gal eventually grew too big to sneak under the fence without getting zapped and her wandering stopped.
So here was Paul Bunyan, a year later, searching for yet-another rogue calf. The Land Baron and Paul exchanged chatter about animal breeding and horse foals vs. cow calves and such. “Is it a male or a female?” I asked, trying lamely to contribute to a conversation about which I knew very little. “Oh, it’s a male” he said. “Males can be that way. The young males can be kind of big and stupid.”
“Just like human males,” I replied. "They can be big and stupid, too.” My gaze lifted to take in Paul Bunyan’s massive form. Gulp. Our eyes met for an instant and I realized I had just stepped in it.
Paul Bunyan let out a hearty laugh. “I guess I left myself open for that one!” he chortled as he walked on through the brush.
I let out a breath and laughed too. What a moron I am.
Paul Bunyan strolled on a bit and we rode alongside until he found his rogue calf. There was Little Guy, in the heat of the day, lolling in the creek bed, cool water trickling past his little form. “Oh my!” I gasped. “Is he ok?”
“Oh, he’s fine,” Paul said. “He’s just cooling off.” The water must have felt fantastic on Little Guy, because when Paul went to grab him, he didn’t even rustle. He just lay there like a nonviolent peace protestor (“Hell no, I won’t go!”). Paul scooped him up with one massive arm, like the calf was a bundle of twigs, not a one hundred pound animal, palming the calf under his soft, wet belly, and carrying him up the creek bed. When he tried to set him down, Little Guy’s legs were like puppet legs, lightly dangling on the ground under him. So, Paul tucked Little Guy gingerly under the hot wire fence and gently scooched him towards his mother. Mrs. Cow still watched the whole thing along the fence line, mooing her approval to Paul and, I would guess, chastising Little Guy for wandering so far and giving her such a fright.
Once on the other side of the fence, Little Guy, finally found his legs and scampered up the hill, Mrs. Cow nudging him from behind. We drove away, waving goodbye to Paul Bunyan as he lumbered up the hill. And there they were, Mrs. Cow and Little Guy, reunited. Little Guy was hungrily nursing. All was forgiven.
Years ago, I had a toddler that was forever going rogue, only it involved her streaking down the street naked after bath time, more times than I can count. I sympathized with that mommy cow’s exasperation, anger and then relief and comfort. Mrs. Cow and I met eyes and kind of nodded to each other. “Kids ….” I said out loud to her, shaking my head. We continued on as they nursed and nuzzled, enjoying their reunion.