Here we're taking the Jeep through one of our favorite cow pastures. Upon closer inspection, though, we see these are not cows, but some beefy bulls. All the better then to be inside the Jeep rather than outside. These are some big boys. Having lived for a few years on a farm, I learned just few things about the bovine – some things to do, some things not to do, and some useful terminology.
One of the first things I observed was that compared to the cows, the pigs were much less, well... piggish. The pig pens actually had a clean side and a dirty side. Without any obvious training that I was aware of, the pigs tended to keep their hay-filled sleeping end of the pen relatively clean, while dutifully heading to the other side to dispatch their barnyard business. This would have been very valuable knowledge to have as a child. When mom would complain that my room was a pig pen, I could have countered that no, it is not, since a pig pen is only half filthy, while my room is fully 100% a disaster. I could then point out that it would have been more accurate to describe my room as a cow pen. Proud of my wisdom and quick wit, I then would have swiftly ducked to avoid the stinging blow of mom's wooden spoon. Covered in tomato sauce from stirring the pot, the spoon's resulting splatter only served to make the room cleanup all the more difficult. But enough of that, back to the cows...
Unlike the pigs, the cows drop their loads pretty much anywhere they stand. After adding some liquid, they complete the recipe by slowly mixing with the steps of their cloven hoofs to make what I heard the farm hands call “gravy”. “Watch out for that gravy!” they would yell. And, “Hey there! Grab that shovel and scoop that gravy!”. Let me tell you, there was a lot of gravy. Calling it gravy stuck in my mind for a good while. The similarity in appearance between barnyard gravy and dinner table gravy is staggering. I had a few dry roast beef dinners before the memory faded enough to where I could again ask someone to “pass the gravy”.
Also, from what I could tell, I don't think the cows are on to us yet. They don't seem to know what we're up to, you know, with the steaks and hamburgers and such. At least they're not letting on that they know. In general, I found them to be quite playful and curious with people. The young ones especially are like big dogs that want to be petted and chased around. I witnessed a few calves escape their pens and lead the farm hands in a game of “catch me if you can”. When they were finally caught, the disappointed look on their faces wasn't all too different from that of a third grader when recess was over. Even the adults showed an occasional playful curiosity. Here's an example...
One afternoon, I was heading to a favorite fishing spot and the quickest way to get there was to cut through a cow pasture close to the one in this picture. Usually the pasture is empty, or the cows are clear on the other side, or out about town somewhere. This particular day was no different. As I hopped the fence to cut through, I saw a herd off in the distance. I passed by, minding my own business, and they seemed to be minding theirs.
After a few hours of harassing the local bass population, it was time to head back. I climbed back over the fence, and passed through the wooded section into the open field. Suddenly, I was startled by a noticeable change in the strategic positions of everyone involved. The herd had moved! There I was, staring at about ten to fifteen Holstein heifers who were all curiously staring right back at me.
Not wanting to go back and walk the long way around, and having seen my farmer friends work closely with these animals every day, I thought I would just walk on through the herd to the other side and try hard to look like I knew what I was doing. Taking a deep breath, I began my slow march. Each cow's eyes were fixed on me, turning their heads slowly to follow me as I passed. As I got through the herd and kept walking with my back to them, I heard something that almost caused me to make my own instant gravy – hoof steps! I stopped and looked around. Immediately they stopped, some staring right at me, while others quickly looked away as if to play it cool, like “No big deal. We're not following you or anything like that.”
I started walking again and at once heard the hoof steps pick up again behind me. When I stopped, they stopped. When I sped up, they sped up. When I slowed, they slowed. At that one moment, I wondered if it was possible that they weren't being playful and curious after all, but rather were on to us meat lovers and saw this as an opportunity to score one for the team when nobody was looking. It's funny how a lone thought like that can take over and single-handedly decide your next move.
You guessed it... I started running for the fence. And as expected, so did the cows. I still didn't know what they had in mind, but with a dozen thousand-pound, suede-wearing freight trains on my tail I figured I wouldn't stop to ask. With a few yards to go before the fence, I threw my rod and tackle box across the rail before taking the jump, in what, to this day, must be my most athletic moment ever. No sooner did I land on the other side that I saw the whole bunch of them crash into the fence, and each other, in an attempt to make a sudden stop rather than try to make the jump themselves. Dazed and shaken, we all took a moment to gather ourselves and get up off the ground. I picked up my fishing gear and took one last look at them and they at me, as if we were all trying to figure out what had just happened.
The rest of the walk home was uneventful, and I was never so thankful for the part that had just a plain old sidewalk for people. To this day I still don't know if the cows were wanting to play or trample, but I do know one thing for sure... I was thereafter resolved to have a little more protection, perhaps inside a Jeep, the next time I passed through a crowded cow pasture.