Friday, October 05, 2007

Chasing Phantom Cattle

When the phone call came, I had time to save the file I was working on but not to close the computer. The voice on the phone was urgent--cattle had been reported moving onto the road near Balmore. I knew where that was and could even discern that the caller had an Orcadian accent. A far cry from the first days when words on the phone collided with each other and turned to mush before they entered my brain.

My self-satisfaction was short lived when my husband asked which side of Balmore? And which side of the road? Next time--and there will certainly be a next time--I'll know better. Slowly the bits and pieces of experience collect in my mind and make patterns on which my intuition can grow. As I jump into the car, I also note that my husband has no sense of urgency. As we drive down the farm road and out on to main road, I, too, remember how many times we have responded to a phone call and how few times the animals have been real.

Perhaps someone driving home from the office saw a gate open and thought: "Oh, the cattle might get out..." and this message as it gets passed along increases in urgency. The cattle that might get out are in fact out. Or perhaps urbanized wayfarers have a deep seated fear of animals that leads them to believe that the docile herbivores are, in fact, ready at any moment to pursue them. The first scenario seems more likely; the latter, more interesting.

While I look for errant cattle and think about the psychology of communications, my husband, as usual, is more pragmatic. One of the things to look for when looking for runaway cattle is, well, cattle shit. Breakaway cattle take their hygiene with them. If they passed this way, they will have provided some evidence of their passing, so to speak.

We roll up the road past Balmore and turn around and come back again. We see no evidence of the cattle or an open gate. Once again, it has been a false alarm. I am relieved but can't help thinking that chasing phantom cattle is just one example of how we get tangled up in good intentions--our own or someone else's.


At 4:22 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

But it's not a prank call?

So what, then, did your caller actually see?

At 2:58 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

Donald Hall has a marvelous poem about seeing cattle on his property and what happened that night, in his newest book of poems. I'll try to remember to show it to you next time I see you, or image it and send it to you.

At 7:47 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

No, not a prank call. I think it is one of those Rashomon moments: at least as many versions of what happened as observers.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, ampiggy, you always recommend good poets/poetry. I'll look forward to seeing that.


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