Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pissed Off Cows

I received a huge dose of life-affirming adrenaline yesterday courtesy of 1,500 pounds of mobile beef.  For some unknown reason Betsy the ringleader, an enormous hunk of coal black cow, didn't like Bella and I within her confines and decided to expel us from her territory with utmost urgency and sense of purpose.   I don't know what the difference was yesterday -after all, I do this a lot- but the shot of adrenaline I received re-affirmed with an exclamation point that life is all about experiences, nothing else. No object, material possession, or money could give me the sensations I experienced in that brief 90 second encounter.

As I often do, I took Bella to the large open space in the hills near our house to let her run.  Local cattle ranchers have an agreement with the homeowners association, which owns the land, to allow cattle to graze freely in the area.  The cows keep the land "mowed" and reduce fire hazards, and the rancher gets free food for his cattle.  I typically avoid any open space when I can see the cows, not out of fear, but because it means there will be fresh piles of sludgy dung all around the area we want to walk.  Any dog owner knows these piles entice the animal the same way a raw piece of meat does.  Also, the fragrant smell of the dung is absolutely irresistible and triggers the instinctual crocodile death roll in the dog.  The theory is that it masks the scent of a dog on the hunt. If you haven't seen it, it's an aggressive and urgent roll in the dung, starting from the neck on one side and moving down the back and then over to the other side, then repeated multiple times until you run screaming like an idiot and can physically reach your dog and make them move.   Typically the dog leaves the scene with a gigantic smile and sense of accomplishment while you mumble to yourself about having to give the dog another god**mn bath.    I recently took Bella to the veterinarian to have poop removed from her ear canal due to a particularly aggressive roll.   As you can see, there are multiple good reasons to avoid the cows.  Now I was about to have another one.

I couldn't see any cows when we first approached the gate, so I let Bella crawl under and I jumped the chest high post.  I took quick inventory and couldn't see any fresh piles, so we proceeded.   These first few minutes of freedom seem to be heaven for Bella.  She trots around the area with her nose to the ground like a vacuum, taking in the thousands of scents that are available to her.   She's 12 now so her movements are a bit slower, but she is never happier than in these moments.  Inevitably she creates her own fresh pile, nose twitching and smelling the air, reading the situation and scanning the environment.  From what I can tell, this moment is the highlight of her day:  Pooping in an open field with unlimited sensory stimuli tickling her nose.  We soon reach the crest of the hill and that's when I saw the herd of 20, and Betsy's ears immediately perked up.

As soon as I saw Betsy, I casually called Bella and started walking the other direction.  Bella had assumed the alert wolf stalking posture, but I knew it was an act.  I've tried to bring her close to the cows by the fence and she doesn't want any part of it.  She eventually turned towards me and we started walking in the opposite direction.   And the cows began to walk with us in the same direction.   I wasn't too alarmed, after all cows are curious by nature and I had seen them do this before.  Typically they will escort you in the other direction, making sure they can see you at all times and will stop at the top of the hill and watch until you leave.  I'm sure I could have done something differently at this crucial point, but let's discuss this snapshot in time just a little bit.

I am 100% suburbanite and large farm animals tend put a scare in me regardless of their alleged docile nature.  I was currently being approached by 20 such animals.   My research suggests that perhaps I should have acted like "the boss" and shooed them away with a large stick (maybe tapped Betsy the ringleader on the snout), or opened an umbrella to startle them.   Alas, it was 70 degrees and sunny so my umbrella was in the garage and thus, useless to me in this circumstance.  I am also not in the habit of carrying a walking stick like a shepherd when I go out with Bella, although I may change my stance on this.  Like her owner, Bella is also 100% suburbanite.  She doesn't possess the craftiness of a border collie, which will toy with cows and bulls all day long.  I've observed it myself, and it is something to behold.   Large, hoofed animals with great mass also tend to frighten Bella so we didn't have any other inkling other than to extricate ourselves from this situation.  To put it in evolutionary terms, we clearly chose the "flight" response over the "fight" response.

Because the cows are so prevalent in the area it's easy to watch them from a distance and I commonly see them running down the hills.  I always look for coyotes - which are also common - or a mountain lion - which are rumored to be in the hills-but have never seen either in pursuit.  Nonetheless, it's surprising the speed with which they come careening down the hills after each other.   I didn't study much in college, but I remember this:  F=m(a)  force=mass x acceleration.  The bulk of the animal running down a 15% decline must create amazing force and I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of it.  Yet, here I was in that exact position.

I fully expected the group to stop at the crest of the hill and watch us leave, but Betsy started trotting, which energized the herd.  "You're the boss, you're the boss" I told myself in my head.  I didn't buy it.  Here they come.  Son of a...."BELLA RUN, LET'S GO!!!!!!!!!!!  Bella can't move like she used to and Betsy was closing in.  I watched in horror as my sweet Bella was about to be crushed.  Valiantly, she turned and snapped, which surprised and distracted Betsy for a moment.  Betsy regrouped and re-engaged Bella, both running down the hill directly at me.

As I watched this scene unfold, I was actually thinking I wish I had my camera with me because the scene would have made an incredible photo.  The behemoth Betsy was directly behind Bella, head to ground, nearly touching her butt, and they were headed directly at me.  I would have used my 70-200 lens to completely fill the frame with Bella at the bottom and the big black blob with crazy eyes in pursuit.  I was actually lamenting the loss of opportunity.   It's Funny that in such a moment of abject terror the brain can calmly carry on a conversation in a parallel universe at the same time.

I fully expected Betsy to lift Bella with her nose and flip her, opening up the possibility for a mauling with her hooves.  I took a quick inventory and the gate opening was at least 300 yards away, not a possibility.  I looked to my left and the fence was right there, but it was chest high.   Mercifully Betsy didn't flip Bella and we jumped across a concrete v-ditch drainage channel certain that cows won't cross  that type of thing.  It turns out they will.

Bella and I both made it across the ditch, and Betsy crossed as well.  As I reflect on this, I'm not certain why Betsy didn't pursue us and push us up against the fence.  I know she crossed the ditch, which was was only about 10 feet from the fence, but she didn't crush me.  In a huge panic I lifted Bella over the top of the fence and dropped her on the other side.  The hair on her back was raised like a mohawk and her tail was squarely between her legs.  I quickly jumped the fence and realized we had escaped the full wrath of Betsy.

Immediately my legs felt weak as the adrenaline began to leave my body.  I began to chuckle, out of nervousness and amusement at the same time.  I began the process of assessing the situation in my mind and two things immediately became clear:  1. I'm so thankful neither Bella nor I was hurt.  2.  What a great story, I can't wait to tell people about this.  And so it is with experiences.  Unlike money or possessions, experiences never go away, they are always there for the re-telling and psychologists say experiences without a doubt are what bring us happiness.   I believe it.  This didn't cost me anything and in an odd way I feel euphoric about it.   Adrenaline is good for the soul and this shot of it has my soul soaring.  By the way, Betsy, I can't wait to see you on my grill.  I know Bella and I will have a laugh about it.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree that experiences are what enriches our lives and make them meaningful, let alone memorable. I'm sorry you didn't get the money shot; the picture worth a thousand words and then some, but you described so visually that I'm sure everyone got the picture. At least anyone who has ever rounded a corner and unexpectedly seen a herd.