The gnats and other little insects so annoying on a mid-June morning stopped attacking my face as I parted the light brush along the pasture’s fence line. The bugs seemed to be taking the same curious pause taken by the cow standing a few yards across the fence from me.
None of those creatures likely ever had seen a person approach the pasture from that place. There were gates, roads, paths and lanes for that. It was senseless to be poking through the bug-infested brush on such a hot, muggy afternoon.
But there I stood, between some trees and the fence, looking out at the cow and whatever else I could see in the pasture.
Truly, the approach I took made some sense. The Angus cow is one of several owned by my neighbors and is kept at our farm and those neighbors’ adjacent pastures. The cow’s owners had asked if, while they were on a fishing trip, I would check on their cows. The afternoon previous I’d found one of the cows soon after she’d given birth to a calf.
The cow seemed to be having some post-calving difficulties, so my intent was to check on her the next day. When I saw her then, I looked for the best route to approach without startling her.
I hoped I also would get to see her calf.
Getting a closer view of the cow required a round-about approach to the pasture fence – a trek that included a couple stumbles on a decaying windfall and the incessant insect attacks.
Whatever minor inconveniences there were on the way to the fence went away the moment I pushed aside the last couple limbs between me and the barbed wire.
There, in front of me, was a view toward Timber Creek that I’d never seen. I’d been close to that spot plenty of times since we moved to the farm, but it struck me that I’d never viewed the couple-hundred yards from the top of the ridge down to the creek’s beginnings.
Life from the brush behind me and the pasture in front of me oozed into my widened pores and into every sense of my being. The oxygen dripped with honey’s sticky sweetness from the leaves and grass, tickling my nostrils while it surged through my cells.
A meadowlark’s tune carried briefly through the coulee, a couple of crows clumsily trying to add gravely harmony.
Though she stood more than 10 yards from me, the silence allowed the passing of the cow’s cud-grinding chew and an occasional deep breath and sigh from her flexing nostrils.
The cow was knee-deep in the pasture’s tossed salad of grasses, clovers and thistles. Her occasional single step or two rattled the salad gently across her legs, her heavy hooves splitting to grind the mix against the firm soil the same way her large, flat teeth were grinding her cud.
The pasture was still, except for the cow’s occasional sloth movements. But then, there was a wiggle in the middle of a taller spot of grass.
There. The movement in the grass.
Another wiggle. A flick, there.
The calf’s need to rid itself of some of those annoying bugs gave it away. Even in the best hiding places, the twitch of a calf’s ear echoes its location through a visual megaphone. The movement could just as well have turned down the sky’s house-lights and shone only spotlights onto the calf for all of nature – good and bad – to see.
And then, another twitch, in another patch of tall grass.
An unexpected sight, was that spotlighted second calf.
The calves remained true to their hideouts until mammalian urges steered the cow toward them.
A few steps toward one of them, and then she mooed gently.
A few more steps, and then another gentle moo.
The calf nearest to her responded with a still-weak bleat, and then stood and did a newborn-wobbly stretch of its legs.
The cow and calf took the final few steps toward each other. Though the day glowed brightly, the instinct that drew them together made it apparent they could have done as well during night’s deepest blackness.
The calf stayed beside the cow as she started moving toward the other calf.
A gentle moo.
The hiding calf’s bleat in reply.
The second calf staggered to its twig-thin legs, just as the first had stood, and wobbled toward the cow.
Their snouts became their eyes, searching for the white treasure that stretched the cow’s udder. Near her middle, to near brisket and then back, the calves’ heads starting to bob in anticipation.
Finally, both found what they sought.
The birds having fallen silent, the calves’ sloppy sucking reached me in a hushed “thshuk, thshuk, thshuk, thshuk…” with the milk spilling down their lower jaws and onto their necks.
The feeding was short-lived, the calves soon each stumbling back to their hiding-spots.
They lie quietly, the only signs of them again an occasional ear-twitch caught through the grass. The quiet around them only was interrupted by the uneven, muffled sound of paper torn from a spiral notebook as the cow’s grass-cutting front teeth harvested nutrition for a later round of nursing.
The calves relaxed, sated by full stomachs and the cow’s motherly instincts. I relaxed, sated by a full heart and the land’s natural instincts.
Without crossing the fence, I was moved to lie on the pasture’s most comfortable spot, drifting with the puffy dinosaur cloud that I watched passing through the blue nothingness above.
A nearby crow in the woods called me back to mortality, alerting me that I was so comfortably leaning against a large oak tree I didn’t notice when I’d arrived. Insects resumed their incessant buzzing of all my senses, signaling that I’d devoured that day’s ration of the land’s nourishment.
There would be more on another day, but for then it was time to re-enter the material world.
I will return to that spot, which will provide a good place for reflection and to absorb all the rural countryside’s goodness. Though we’ve called this place home for a few years, I also know there are many more similar spots to be found here – some maybe only a few feet away.
— Scott Schultz