Sunday, June 22, 2014

I'm a Bona Fide Bovine Heroine!

There is something about me that seems to beckon strange adventures.  Anyone who has heard this story has said something along the lines of, "It completely does not surprise me that this happened to you."  Truth be told, I kind of like that I have this kind of a reputation.  My life is interesting! 
I actually can't believe that I haven't posted this little story sooner.  Once it was all over, I was on an adrenalin high, and kind of in shock, to be honest!  But I can honestly say, it was one of the best days of my life.
It all began as I was taking my favourite route home from my storage unit.  I'd just bought a new house and so I'd gone to the unit to make sure it was ready for the movers I'd hired, and to pick up a few stray items that I didn't want to deal with on moving day.  I had the kids in the backseat, and as usual, I was doing a running commentary of all the things we saw along the way.  There was the strangely bent tree branch that we always liked to point out, the house with the wood carving of an eagle with a real trucker's hat perched on the eagle's noggin, the swampy pond that the kids call "Shrek's Swamp", and our favourite rugged, rocky farm with the creek running through it.
As I drove past this farm, I said, "Hey kids... there's our favourite farm! Looks like the cows are out!"  Then I did a double take.  I noticed a cow acting a little strangely.  I almost missed seeing her, but she was standing at this oddly severe angle and was nudging something with her head.  I kept driving, but something made me turn around to take another look.  Of course, any unannounced change in our itinerary was cause for alarm and repeated questions and shouting from my two travel companions - sooo helpful.  As I returned for another look at the cow, I craned my neck to see what was going on, while I fielded the onslaught of questions from the kids.  It kind of felt like one of those moments you see on headache remedy commercials, where the crazy demands of the world are all swirling around a headachy person's head, and it all starts to sound like the principal from Peanuts.  Suddenly I realized precisely what was going on... there was a baby calf stuck in the creek struggling to keep its head above the water.
I'll admit, there was a fleeting moment where I thought I'd just keep driving.  Maybe the calf would be just fine.  Maybe the mama would manage to nudge her out.  I am ALWAYS the one who stops to help - it's programmed into my DNA or something.  But then I had a flashback to me wandering around a fall fair with my dad.  We had just seen the prize winning pumpkins and cornstalks, and we had strolled out to where the livestock were being showcased.  There were kids there who were really proud of their calves and sheep and whatnot, and I recall saying to Dad, "I don't get it."  Lucky for me, Dad had grown up on a farm, and the next 10-20 minutes were a crash course for me in 4H and the value of livestock in farming families.  Little did I know, there were kids MY AGE who were getting calves for birthday presents.  This completely baffled me until my dad enlightened me on the worth of full grown cows at auction.  Oh!  Suddenly I saw baby farm animals as an investment.  And those farm kids were so freaking lucky!  (Note:  Dad hadn't, at that point, got to the part about getting no holidays and having to get up at 5 every morning, and all that additional information)
Jumping back to the present moment, I knew I had to do something to save that baby cow.
With the audible sigh of a reluctant martyr, I turned the van around and headed to the farmhouse to see if someone was home.  All the while, the never ceasing soundtrack of questions from the backseat ramped up in intensity. 
"What is going on?" 
"Is that a baby cow?" 
"Who lives here?" 
"Can cows swim?"
As I drove up the long driveway to the house, I suddenly got quite nervous.  What if no one was home?  What the hell could I do about a drowning calf if I couldn't even get to the creek?!  What if the farmer annoyed that I stopped by?  What if the farmer was a killer?!!  My mom loaned me a book a couple of years ago called "The Gift of Fear", apparently all about how fear is something that is a gift or good for survival or something.  AGH!  Why the frig hadn't I read that book!  It was probably written for situations EXACTLY like this!
Nevertheless, I slid out of the van and knocked on the door of the house.  Just when I thought no one was home, the farmhouse killer emerged:  a nice old lady who literally walked with a cane, and was in my best estimation, about 89 years old.  I cannot tell a lie... I breathed a wee little sigh of relief!  She was talking on the phone to someone, and swung open the door to greet me.  I told her what was going on with the calf, and she kind of freaked out... in an adorable way.  She immediately started fretting and said into the phone, "I have to go.  No... no... Hazel... not unless you want to come and fish a calf out of the drink!"  SLAM... she hung that phone up like a boss and headed out the door towards the creek.
And I was just standing there watching her move as fast as she could with her cane, thinking: "Yup... I'm going to have to do this."
So, I called after her, already knowing the answer, asking, "Do you want me to come and help you?"  This amazing woman didn't even stop to turn around, and hollered, "Do you mind getting muddy?  I really do need your help!"  So, in a split second, I needed to decide what to do with the kids.  I surely wasn't about to risk them getting trampled by a freaked out mama cow, so I aimed the front of the van at the pasture, locked their doors and told them exactly what was going on, and instructed them not to leave the van for anyone or any reason and to watch their mommy attempt to rescue a stranded calf through the front window.  Ok wait... that's terrible grammar.  I was NOT going to try to pull a calf through the front window.  I was just trying to keep my kids contained.
So, off I ran, trying to catch up to my new friend. In hind sight, I don't know how on earth she got out to the creek so fast.  When I say this pasture was a complete mud pit, I actually mean that the one and only way to get to the calf was goopy, clingy, mushy, wet, foot deep mud, manure and cow pee the WHOLE way.  I found out later that the reason for this was that the pasture had been flooded for a few days prior.  Perfect timing!  I did my best... I honestly did, but I was wearing these Mary Jane style hiking shoes - NOT engineered for manure spelunking.  I would take a step and sink so far into manure and mud with each and every step that it made a splooochy sucking sound every time I tried to pull my foot back out of the mud for the next step.  My shoes got stuck in the mud so many times that I finally gave up and carried my shoes the rest of the way.  Oh, and I should mention that I made that decision after this slurping shoe business caused me to fall face first into the mud.  When I put my hands out to brace my fall, I had absolutely no option but to plant my hands in manure, and THAT was the moment I decided I needed a new plan.  How I managed to just take this all in stride is a mystery to me.  I guess sometimes you just commit.
I finally reached the creek, where Hettie (I never did find out her name, but I am finding it awkward to refer to her without a name, so now she is Hettie!) was trying to coax the calf out of the water.  There was about a metre and a half incline down into the creek, and I slid down it as fast as I could to help.  I apparently felt the need to make a dramatic entrance, because I slid down the bank and fell into the river.  Like, right on my stomach in the middle of March in a freezing cold river!  All I could do was laugh about it and scramble to my feet.  The poor mama cow was frantic on the other side of the creek, pacing back and forth, seemingly unable to step into the creek or help her baby.  I asked Hettie what I needed to do, and she suggested that I wrap my arms around the calf's chest and try to get her to stand up.  As I heaved on the poor little calf to try to get her to stand, it seemed to me that the calf had no clue how to stand.  Hettie kept surmising that "Kathy" (the mama cow) had tried to lead her baby through the river and the calf got stuck.  As I kept scanning the scene, though, it became very obvious to me what had actually happened.  The mama cow had all sorts of birthing junk hanging out of her rear, and there was afterbirth streaked all over the other side of the creek bank.  This mom had just birthed her calf on the riverbank, and the poor thing rolled down into the creek!  I quickly concluded that I certainly wasn't going to be able to teach this newborn how to stand in a rocky creek!
So, I started trying to drag her up to drier ground.  This was no easy task.  This cow felt like it weighed a hundred pounds.  And it wasn't like the little tyke was helping me at all.  Oh no... she kept trying to roll herself back towards her mom... and the creek.  With Hettie cheering me on, I lugged that calf all the way up the creek bank and onto level ground.  It had a definite "1 step forward, 4 calf rolls backward" type of a feel to it, but after a good long while, I got her up to safety.  I felt victorious!
This side of the creek was actually pretty steep - you just can't tell from this picture.
As I stood there breathing hard and basically using my legs to prevent the calf from rolling back into the water, I said to Hettie, "Now what?"  Well, turns out that Hettie's best plan was to go get a wheel barrow from the barn.  I kind of started to panic.  First of all, which one of the two of us was going to lift this freaking cow into a wheelbarrow, when I could barely DRAG it along the grass?!  Second, I really think that trying to navigate a wheelbarrow full of slimy new cow through that same poop-filled gauntlet that had bested me earlier was going to be an exercise in futility.  So, I started to grill her about who we could call.  She couldn't think of one person that we could call to come help us - partly because she didn't memorize numbers, but partly because - according to her - most of the time if they wanted to talk to someone, they just drove to their house! 
So, Hettie decided she'd go get the wheelbarrow.  This was when I frantically started texting my friend, Milja.  The text basically said, "I am in an SOS kind of situation.  I am rescuing a baby calf and I need help!  If you guys are bored, can you come help?"
No reply.  I called her.  No answer.  I stood in that field for what felt like an eternity!  It must have been 20 minutes at least.  Maybe more.  And let me tell you... that is a LOOONG time to be trying to stop a slippery calf from trying to fling herself back at her mom.  Finally I saw Hettie heading back my way, sans wheelbarrow. Turns out she did have someone she could call, and that someone was her daughter and son-in-law.  Joy of joys, her son-in-law was on his way!!!
Instead of just waiting for him to arrive, Hettie kept asking me to hoist the calf to its feet to try to teach it to walk. I don't know anything about cows, so I just did whatever I was told in that cow pasture - including teaching this calf one of the basic foundations of cow life.  I whispered soothing words of encouragement into the calf's ears as I wrapped my arms around its belly and tried to make its dangling hooves plant firmly on the ground... at least at the rear end.  I really, really wish someone had a video of me smooth talking a calf into standing up - I probably looked ridiculous.  I finally got her on all 4 hooves, but it only worked when I was holding on to her.  The instant I attempted to let go, she just slumped forward face first into the ground.  This was going nowhere.
And that's when the song "Dreamweaver" started echoing in my mind as I looked up and saw Hettie's son-in-law walking in slow motion across the field toward us.  We were saved!  I was never in my life so happy to see a dusty, sturdy middle aged man in overalls, a trucker hat and rubber boots walking my way!  My Dreamweaver sequence was abruptly interrupted as Hettie rightly pointed out that he was taking his sweet time getting to us.  As I watched him, I realized that he really, truly couldn't be walking any slower!  Didn't he know that I was a selfless city girl doing them a favour!  Come on!!!
After a painfully long wait, he arrived on the scene, and without so much as a word or a tip of the ol' farmer's hat, he bent down, scooped the calf up into his arms and walked her about 40 feet into the field and set her down.  Then he walked over to the muddy land bridge (that the mama cow had presumably forgotten existed!) and headed over to Kathy, and with a few whacks on the bottom, he guided her through the mud and over our way.
Redirecting \Mama Kathy
This whole time I am acting like a complete loser, taking selfies of me and the calf and Hettie with my crud-covered phone, and talking to the calf like I was the only one in the whole word who understood it's struggle - cooing and petting and reminding her that her mom was on her way.  Her little heart was beating a mile a minute!
There was only one problem.  I hadn't actually anticipated what it would be like when that glorious moment actually came to be.  Suddenly I was jerked out of my nurturing state when I heard the son-in-law holler, "HERE COMES MOM!"
I looked up just in time to see wild-eyed Kathy come running full tilt right at me and the calf.  Talk about the gift of fear - I almost wet my pants trying to scramble out of the way!  Kathy came to screeching halt when she got to her baby and started licking and nudging her calf, cleaning her up and trying to get her to stand.
Hettie and her son-in-law and I headed back to the barn.  Hettie was quite worried about the calf, but her son-in-law just urged her to let Kathy do what her instincts wanted her to do and give her some space.  I managed to get back to my van, where my kids were waiting, all doe-eyed and confused about why I smelled so bad.  I let them out of the van for a stretch and some doting from our new friend Hettie.  She took the kids over to the fence line and picked them some pussy willow stems and let them look at all the other calves that had been born this spring.  Apparently our calf was #9!  The son-in-law turned out to be so grateful that I had stopped to help that he let me and the kids name the calf!  I turned to the kids, who after an hour in the van of complete model behaviour deserved the honour of naming her, and said, "Well, what should we name her?"  Apparently all the calves this season had to be named with an "M" name, so the kids chose "Molly".  My heart melted... what a sweet name.
Then Hettie brought a little reality check to the moment when she inquired as to how I was going to drive home.  It was a good question, as I was literally covered in mud and cow waste from head to toe!  Suddenly I remembered that I had randomly grabbed a tarp from my storage unit as a last minute take away just hours earlier!  I dragged it out of the back of my van and fashioned a giant shower cap for the driver's seat that did quite nicely!
A bit of a sidebar - while this was happening, Milja had finally got my text and called me to say she was game to come and help.  It was all so confusing because everyone was talking to me while she was on the phone, but I was able to convey that we were all good now, and she did text later to call me a "bovine heroine".  No wonder she's in marketing!
As the kids and I got into the van, Hettie's son-in-law extended an invitation to us to come and visit Molly any time we liked. As we backed out of their driveway, the kids and I looked out into the field and saw Kathy and Molly nuzzling one another, and Molly was up on her feet... standing on her own! 

I headed for home, and as the kids and I excitedly recapped our adventure, and as my tarp flapped in the breeze from the open window, I had the biggest smile on my face.  I had just rescued a freaking cow!  I have never felt so simultaneously heroic and completely filthy and drenched in all my life - it was wonderful.