Mornings at the Murphey house are typically quite productive. In the past, my job involved waking early to drive the kids to college and school, visiting the grocery store en route back to the house for some amenities and a Starbucks iced tea. Since Shannon acquired his license, I’ve been afforded the pleasure of another half-hour sleep before waking to scratch, stretch, and sit at my chair to write. This morning promised to be quiet and productive, the day gray and contemplative, Pandora performing a piano piece by Yasunori Mitsuda as Word finally loaded and Mom burst into my room to tell me that the Sean’s cows had escaped their pen again.
In case you’re new to the site, my brother Sean keeps cows — heifers to be agriculturally correct — on the family homestead. Four or five critters of varying ages, mother and children. Though on occasion butchered, mostly they act as show cattle, breeding and being bred for various farm shows around and outside the state. We keep them here at the house in pens designed and constructed by my brothers with minute precision, which explains why they’re constantly escaping their enclosure.
Today the Mother found . . . or rather created a hole in the fencing and scampered out into the surrounding woods. My sister Katie, already late for class and in pair of pink loafers, met me outside.
“Murph,” she said. “Try to cut her off. If we lose her in the woods, there’s no way we’re getting her back.” Not to mention if she manages to find the road, someone could get severely hurt. Deer as I mentioned one time before cause enough problems for Maryland drivers. Heifers are at least a hundred times as heavy as Bambi and not nearly as nimble. They’re ugly, smelly, and dumb as bricks too, but that’s just my own personal bias.
As I eased my way downhill to the barn and the broken paddock, my foot was nearly swallowed in a patch of thick slime that made a sucking noise as I slowly tugged on my trapped shoe. Sluuluckkk . . . Due to rain and poor water management much of the area surrounding the barn is essentially a thick muddy swamp. The pens themselves are no different. In some spots, the level of muck can swallow the animals up their thighs like prehistoric tar. Human beings with only hiking boots and pink loafers stand little chance of ever making it out alive.
Luckily the slime would have to wait as the heifer moved deeper into the trees, munching on dry leaves left left on a several fallen branches. My job as Katie explained — as I possessed no experience whatsoever with the animals — was to get ahead of the animal and cut off its path into the woods, keeping it close to the border of the paddock, while she attempted to lasso it with the holster.
At first, this plan worked well. I scampered through the forest like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, jumping over logs and through brambles until I felt comfortable enough cut off the animal from the deeper forest. Katie moved in rope in hand. Now if I were to graph the family’s experience with farm animals, it would look very much like a bell curve, peaking in the middle with Sean and falling away with the oldest and younger siblings. In 4-H I mostly baked cakes and built wooden trashcans from wood kits. Farming to me is like cleaning septic tanks, necessary but only if someone else is doing it.
Katie raised and showed pigs for years, and thus acquired far more experience with livestock. As we closed in on the animal outside the fence, I trusted she could wrangle the creature and lead it back safely to the pen. She . . .
“Hey Murph,” she said eying the large, highly muscular animal. “So what do you think about switch places?”
“You know . . . how about you putting this thing around its neck.” She sounded nervous, imagining no doubt the creature kicking her in the head like a mule or suddenly bolting with her in tow.
“Seriously?” I was willing to try, but knew instantly that it would not work. The animal seemed particularly spooked by me, as sensing the contents of my dinner plate last night, smothered in gravy and seasoned to perfection.
“Yeah . . .” she said edging towards me with the rope. “. . . here. Oh shoot!”
The cow suddenly took off. Running along the treeline and back towards the barn. I too took off into the woods, keeping my distance in case she should suddenly change direction. We cornered her in one of the old paddocks that share a common side with their current pen. The heifer was pushing her head through the planks of the broken fence, trying to gain footing in the muck and grime from several days worth of rain to leap through the opening. We tried to coaxing the animal back among its fellows, but it refused to budge. As I said, stupid creatures.
Katie sighed. “We’re going to have to move her somehow. Let me go up and grab some boots. Murph, you stay here an block this entrance so she doesn’t get out again.”
And so like some human scarecrow, I stood guard at the cow pen until my sister ran down the hill again, took one step into the enclose and sank down to her knee.
“Ahrg . . . I can’t move. Murph! I can’t move my feet.”
“I am you idiot!” NOTE: ‘idiot’ was not actually said as much as implied. Katie routinely does not insult people, even if she wants to. I chose to add it here, for the sake of integrity.
With that, she jumped onto the fence, and made her way inching along the planks to the corner where the cow stood watching us. She resembled a cat-burgler, scaling a wealthy high-rise or an dame from the old dime-novels, inching past molten lava. One misstep and incineration. Exaggeration aside, if she fell into the mud, no doubt there’d be no coming out again without a shovel and several bottles of Purell. Quickly, she kicked off the broken board, and after more wrangling, involving the halter, our mother, several shots with the camera phone, a few curses, and some texting to relevant family members, the cow finally jumped through the crack and back into the enclosure.
Among the muck and mire, we then wailed at the broken pieces of the fence, attempting to repair the broken planks. Hands that have only used a hammer to break open steamed crabs and deflect Donkey Kong barrels tapped steadily at nails much too small and thin to piece winter-soaked wooden planks into place. Our feet gurgled with every step. Shloop! Shlop! While the cows gathered together and watched with some interest at the stupid humans trying in vain to convince themselves that all was safe, all was fixed. Those silly animals can never escape from THIS again. HA!
And with our feet corroding with slime, our skin welling with cold, our minds filled with delusion, we vacated the barn and trudged back up to the house for hot tea and warm showers.