Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Bad Case of Hoof and ...Truck.

The Bagpiper Speaks!
Today's blog entry comes from Tir na nOg Farm's Other Farmer, a cattle-tending, bagpipe-playing food bank manager.

"I was taking a long, hot shower, getting ready to go to a party. The steam, the hot water--after not much of a holiday vacation, it just felt good to stand there and let myself relax. I was thinking about how great it would be when our friend Ed shows up tomorrow to push some round bales into the pasture. (They'd been delivered this morning--eight bales at about 1,800 pounds apiece.)

Ed's a retired truck driver who lost his wife to cancer nine months ago. His wife was a regular volunteer at the food bank. Like her, Ed's always looking for people to help and stuff to do, stuff that will get him away from "the gawd-damm tee-vee." Ed came in to the food bank last Friday and announced he'd just got himself a new Ford 4WD pickup with a plow rig. "I bet," said Ed, "if I was to give you two minutes, you could come up with a pretty good chore for me and my new toy." Well, I thought for a moment, then told of our impending delivery: eight big round bales, too heavy to move on my own, each needing a mighty 200-foot shove into the pasture. Ed responded with a double-thumbs-up and an exaggerated wink. "Sounds like a plan!"

So, there I was in the shower. I was thinking how sweet it would be to not have to worry, to not have to pitch and wrestle hay twice a day. I was thinking my cow-feeding worries would soon be over. I stayed in that shower a long time. Tomorrow, I'd have to leave the farm again for my full-time job, and I wanted to enjoy this hot, peaceful moment for all it was worth. But there was that party to get ready for... eventually, I had to get out. I was just coming out of the shower, mindin' my own business, when I heard a man's voice in our house.

I scrambled into the rest of my clothes and found our friend, Mr. Ed, standing in the kitchen. I figured he wanted to show off his new truck, so I looked out the window. "Oh my God," I said. "There's a cow in the yard."
"Yep," said Mr. Ed, "That's what I came in ta tell ya."

I tried to clear the steam out of my head and make sense of the situation.
Me: "How did the cow get out?"
Ed: "Cows. Two of 'em. Came out through the gate."
Me: "Why was the gate open?"
Ed: "To push the bale through with the truck."
Me: "Why didn't you close the gate?"
Ed: "Cause the truck is stuck in the gate. Stuck in the mud. Can't go forward. Can't back up again."
Me: "Well, how are you gonna get that truck back out?"
Ed: "I have NO IDEA."

My hair was wrapped in a towel. I sent Ed out ahead of me. I'd join him as soon as I lost the towel and found my boots.

The first thing I saw when I got outside was Iona, our alpha cow, munching the remains of an old bale on the wrong side of the pasture fence.
The second thing I saw was Mr. Ed, hunkered over a five-foot-high round hay bale, grasping at it for support. For a moment I thought he was having a heart attack, but he was just trying to regain his composure, having slipped in the muddy yard on his way to the pasture. He grasped briefly for his dignity, too, but there was no retrieving THAT when his truck was still firmly entrenched between the posts of the pasture gate.

The truck was muddy and definitely worse for wear. It didn't look much like a brand new truck, and I told him so. "Well, this ain't my truck. Ya see, my buddy Lenny, here," (he gestured to a shadowy figure slouched in the cab), "Lenny's got them winter tires, and I figgered I'd use his truck today, 'cause mine's got summer tires and no weight in the back."

Ed climbed into the cab, leaving muddy handprints on the door panel as he manuevered up and in. He and Lenny conferred for a while as the cows munched. April, the two-year-old heifer, made a tentative move towards the pasture, but Iona exercised her alpha-cow rights, tossed her horns and blocked the narrow truck-free avenue. April backed away and plodded up the hill to eat the old hay in the yard. Iona, with a saucy twitch of the tail and a queenly, authoritative snort, marched over to a freshly unwrapped round bale. It sat just inside the pasture, right in front of the stuck truck.

Ed rolled down the window and asked to use the phone. "We'll get Josh and Billy down here with the jeep. They'll pull this thing right out in a minute."

Several minutes later, Josh and Billy arrived in The Jeep, bearing a twelve-foot chain. They hooked it up to the back of Ed's--I mean, Lenny's--truck.

You can probably guess the next bit. Ed and Lenny and Billy and Josh, with their combined ingenuity and horsepower, proceeded to get stuck, stuck, and stucker. April and Iona went on chewing. A yearling heifer daintily sidestepped all the flying mud and testosterone and snuck through the opening when Iona wasn't looking. She paused to look back at the pasture fence, then joined April on higher ground.

Here was a dilemma with some serious horns. We had two trucks stuck where the cattle should go, and cattle out where we'd rather see trucks. After chewing up a significant amount of ground, Josh and Billy had eased Lenny's truck backwards until it rested with the snowplow blade nearly filling the open gate. "What ever you do, guys," I pleaded, "Please, please, please don't hit the gateposts. If you snap them on your way out, I'm really, really screwed." Lenny gave me a thin little smile. Engines were engaged and the vehicles started to move again...and I turned away. Everything ELSE had gone wrong...surely the fence was next.

By some miracle, they cleared the fence. Then they kept on going--no thumbs-up, no cheers, no goodbyes, just four angry men driving off in abject embarrassment. With the help of some portable fencing, we rigged up a wedge-shaped temporary electric fence and tried to shoo the heifers back toward the pasture. Unfortunately, Iona had declared the freshly-rolled bale a queenly outpost, and she refused to let the heifers anywhere near the gate. I stormed back to the house and called Mainecelt at work in the British Goods shop: "If you want to be a freakin' writer, you better get home right now, 'cause we've sure got something to write about!"

She sped home and pulled out the secret anti-Iona weapon I'd forgotten about: a bottle of organic flyspray. Iona hates the smell and shies wildly away whenever she sees, smells, or hears it. Mainecelt did a rapid change from shopclerk-clothes into farmgear, stomped down to the pasture gate, and started squirting in Iona's direction. Our startled alpha cow grunted, shook her head, and lumbered down into the middle of the pasture, thereby clearing the way for The Return of the Heifers. We closed the gate in pitch darkness. The temporary fence could damn well wait to be gathered up in the morning light.

I missed the party. I ate dinner, played my pipes for a while at the kitchen table until I felt better, then called to check on Ed. I wanted to be sure that he'd hurt nothing more than his dignity. He seemed to be in good spirits. "How's Cowboy Ed?" I asked.

"Well, Cowboy Ed's been thinkin'... next time, why don't you have them fellas load them hay bales, one by one, right into the back of my truck. I'll just drive 'em right down."

Don't tell Ed. Don't tell Lenny, Billy, or Josh--but we're thinking of getting a tractor.

No comments: