It was mid-summer and the local radio station had sounded its weather alert alarm. Tornado watches were announced again. They followed the severe storms that had been in and out of our area all day. This time, when the alarm sounded, I no longer cared. Statistically, I had already come closer to being trampled to death, than being blown away by a tornado. Besides, the strong and rapidly cooling wind felt amazing. It caressed every part of my sore body, still damp from a shower.
I lay at the opposite end and on top of the bed. My aching feet were propped on the pillows and my throbbing head was hanging off the foot of the bed. My wet hair mopped the dirty floor. Frankly, I didn’t care. I wanted to get my head as close as possible to the west window, where the stormy wind invaded the room.
Meanwhile, I noticed the ceiling fan above me was covered in dust bunnies. They were clinging for dear life. Many folks would have slaughtered them long ago, when they were young and tender. But, maybe if I waited long enough, the dust bunnies would hop off by themselves. And if I was lucky, they’d retreat into rabbit holes that led to a land, far away.
For now, their plight was insignificant and was added to the very bottom of a long “to do” list. The same “to do” list that had only one item checked off, while several more items had been added. It seemed to be an ongoing game of prioritizing everything and never completing anything.
The morning had begun with heavy rain and culminated with marble sized hail. It ricocheted off our vehicles and metal roof, tormented unprepared livestock, and battered helpless seedlings. Then the afternoon delivered 90 degrees, piping hot and followed by a side of extra humid. Nature’s entre for the day: blood. Every possible biting insect had hatched and was starving. The air was thick with gnats, mosquitoes, bull flies, deer flies, and small black flies all competing for the same meal. Combined with our main task for the day, there was always one fly too many.
All afternoon, we had stood ankle-deep, in rich slurry of mud and manure. Drops of blood and sweat dripped off our bodies. We all swatted bugs that landed in hard to reach places. And one attempt after another was made to herd our cow, Eliza and her heifer calf, Emma into the corral. Even though they were the only two, I felt the odds were stacked against us.
There were so many things that were not in our favor. There was only Keith and me. The bovines were bigger and younger than both of us. They each had four legs and we only had two. We did not have a cattle shoot, as our fencing and corral system is crude. While the pasture area where they chose to stand kept ankle-biting bugs away, it was deep in mud. And each step was a battle to maintain balance for both man and beast.
Since my rubber boots would have been sucked off, my lace up ankle boots that leaked had to be worn. And I wasn’t the only one frustrated. Eliza and Emma were skittish from the earlier hail and of us, too. Instead of working with them a little every day, I had ignored them while trying to catch up on other projects. And even though they really wanted the sweet molasses treats that I offered, they wanted to be left alone even more.
After multiple attempts and failures, I finally got Eliza to follow me. As I was walking, the mud sucked in both of my boots and she almost stepped on me. She got startled and retreated again. After that, I stomped off, slipped, fell, and nearly ate poop pie. So, without a word, I left Keith behind and headed for the hydrant.
With ice-cold water, I hosed off the thick mud and clumps of manure from my clothes. By the time I was done, I was soaking wet. Then I sat at the picnic table and sulked. It wasn’t a pretty sight. As mosquitos nibbled my arms, black flies gnawed through my wet jeans. And even though our dog came to comfort me, she ended up leaving because the flies were too much. She returned to her refuge, in the dark recesses between hay bales. I felt so defeated and had a strong desire to follow her.
In the past, my way of loading the cattle had worked, even though it took more time. I would coax them along with treats and kind words and they would follow. And at the same time, I would fuss at Keith for his more aggressive and no-nonsense cowboy approach. Today, I had failed and I would have to eat crow. There was no way I was going to get Eliza and Emma loaded into the cattle trailer, no many how sweet treats or kind words were offered.
Just as tears were welling up in my eyes, I heard an engine start up behind me. My first thought was that Keith had given up and was pulling the cattle trailer out to return it. When the engine stopped again, I knew better. My hopes soared. Keith had successfully chased Eliza and Emma into the corral without me and was ready to load them.
Now, I should’ve just stood back and watched Keith. But, I still wanted to help; meaning do it my way. So, Keith patiently waited, while I tried offering treats again. It didn’t work; again. So, when Eliza and Emma loaded, it was the cowboy way. And at that point, triumph surpassed all else including my pride. I offered Keith the congratulatory concession- his way worked best and then I qualified it with, “this time”. After I grabbed a mason jar of cold water for Keith, we headed out to deliver the girls for their ménage-a-trois.
At one time, Eliza’s breeding was done here at home. We had our own Brown Swiss dairy bull, but as Thor grew, our fencing system was not set up to contain his aggressive behavior. For our safety and his, he was sent to the livestock auction. So, now Keith’s folks let us “borrow” a Buelingo.
We are most grateful that Keith’s folks have beef cattle. They’re also set up for their own bull. When we arrived at their place, we backed the cattle trailer up to the bull’s corral. Then bad jokes were made, comparing the beef cows with our dairy gals. Eliza and Emma don’t have the “booty” that Buelingo’s offer. And I laughed when Eliza and Emma unloaded their skinny asses from the trailer and made their clumsy grand entrance. They reminded me of teenage girls at a Jr. High party.
Eliza’s and Emma’s awkwardness seemed to make no difference to the white belted black bull. And he wasted no time in greeting them. The bull bellowed and stuck his broad nose under Eliza’s tail. Then with an outstretched neck, he deeply inhaled her essence. She was not offended and he was captivated.
Shortly afterwards, Eliza proudly paraded the muscle-bound bull in conga line fashion. In the meantime, Emma looked lost. Eventually, she followed the bull. While Emma was new to this dance, it was only a matter of days before she learned her place. For some us however, learning when to lead and when to follow has taken years.
When Keith finished his shower, he found me stretched out on the bed. He chuckled and commented that I was upside down. Then he joined me. Keith sighed and commented that the breeze felt good. For a few minutes, we were content to lay in complete silence. The sun was setting and our evening chores were already done.
At half past 9:00, Keith worked to coax me to the kitchen. He promised the best barbecue ribs around and a treat of a frozen chocolate bar for dessert. Then Keith offered his hand to help me up. I gladly accepted and he lead the way.
Dinner was one of the best reminders of why we do, what we do. A rack of our homegrown ribs had been slow cooked in the oven. There were red potatoes from the garden, beside the roasting pan and a small pot of sweet-corn. The ribs were drained and the broth was reserved for the dog and cat. They were lightly coated with barbecue sauce (the ribs, not the dog and cat). The broiler was turned on and the sauce was cooked until candied. They were coated and candied two more times.
After we filled our plates, we sat at the table. It didn’t take long for us to eat our meals. And as Keith added a little more butter to the last bite of his potato skin, I licked the barbecue sauce off my fingers. Then forks were placed on the empty plates. Cloth napkins wiped our sticky mouths and hands. And a few moments of quiet contemplation followed.
I thanked God for our families, livestock, our ability to work, that the hail had not damaged more of our garden, and so much more. Then leftovers were packaged for Keith’s lunch for the next day. And dishes were washed, dried, and put away. The cool broth and rib bones were relished by the dog and cat. By the time we finished, it was quite late. So, I took Keith by his hand and headed for the bedroom. He was willing to follow.