Sunday, July 22, 2007

My Own Tell Tale Heart

I have not been spending much time with the cattle lately. Especially since it is such a new skill for me, I need the practice. Spending time with the cattle means that you know them and they know you a bit more. This mutual understanding can make things a bit easier when you have to ask them to move. The familiarity for me also means that my nerves are a bit more accustomed to the size of the cattle and the steady gaze in which they decide whether to go as you have suggested or to run over or through you.

Cattle, like Bartleby the Scrivener or any of your favorite cats, still do only what it is they really want to do. The trick, as always, is to make them believe that they want to do what you want them to do.

Nine cattle are going off today. While the steading is still in the quiet early morning waking up period, the call comes that the lorry is on the way. Morris and I are alone on the farm. "Do you want me to boot up?" I ask over porridge, willing to help but heart sinking fast at the prospect.


My heart sinks even lower and I look for warm socks to put inside my boots: another aspect of the magical thinking that has been a near constant companion for the past several months. If only I have warm socks, then everything will be fine.

As if I needed to be reminded what the mass of a beast in motion can do, Morris points out the remnants of a steel gate that apparently came between a cattle beast and his ambition to be elsewhere. The cattle come willingly into the large, airy room of the big barn and stay there despite the remnants of the gate behind them and the little human fencerow of Morris and myself behind them. I know it is important to look confident and to stand close enough to dissuade them from going back, but by this time my heart is pounding so loudly that I am sure that they can hear it and know that I am just a flimsy excuse for a fencepost between them and the sunshine outside.

Morris indicates that I should move forward. I take the kind of cautious step that we used when we played "Red Light Green Light" on the playground. I watch the leader of this little bunch, a wily red steer that can easily persuade the group to turn or to stay, even more closely than I watched the leader on the playground. Red Steer looks at me and at Morris and then back at me. While doing my best to convince Red Steer that I am a sturdy fencepost, I am also keeping one eye on the heifer lingering in an awkward spot in the angle of a gate. When the bunch decides to go through the narrow opening in front of them, which I sincerely hope they will decide to do very soon, this heifer will have to back up to join them. I have to be in a spot close enough to keep her going forward but far enough way for her to feel comfortable backing up.

Red Steer looks once more over his shoulder and pivots in a kind of pirouette and then pushes his way through the narrow gate. The others follow him as if they were beads on a string. The heifer backs up and quickly joins them.

Now the cattle are on the slats where there are gates and better still someone else has arrived. I fade back into the house and realize that the pounding in my ears has subsided enough that I can hear again.


At 2:39 AM, Blogger Hayden said...

How vividly you tell it, and how frightening it sounds!

At 8:02 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

I am at heart a coward. If I had grown up here it would not be as scary, but everything is so different that I have to push myself to learn and to do what others around me do naturally, or at least more easily. I feel braver when I can write it down.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

Maybe the cattle don't hear as well as you fear....?

At 3:16 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, Cur, frightfully clever of you.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you got it right:once you control the bull/steers, the rest fall in line. You've always got to remind them that you're in charge. I used to occasionally take a fast step or two toward the bull, just to let him know that he didn't want to mess with me. Now that I'm grown, it's no big deal, but that's important when you're 10 years old, and learning your way around cattle. I learned from my grandma, who always had a small herd of polled Black Angus on her farm. Brings back old memories.

Mark Newton

At 9:22 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hello, Mark! Good to hear from you. I am always glad when I can conjure fond memories for folks. Likewise, it is a pleasure for me to remember you and to imagine you as a little kid with cattle.
Best wishes.

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

the beauty is your courage in the face of fear, and your determination to explode your boundaries. Comfort w/o fear isn't courage, it's familiarity.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, Hayden, thanks for good words about courage. I have left anything familiar a long way behind me, but I am getting more used to the way things are here now.


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