On a breezy afternoon in late June, five small heifers escaped from a hillside pasture on my sister’s Virginia farm by squeezing under the wire fence at the stream. It took days of searching wooded knolls and valleys to find them about a mile away on an adjacent property, hanging out under a leafy canopy of oaks and maples, reminiscing about their great getaway.
Black as a starless night, cute and curious, they were newly weaned and highly skittish. Because they’d never had grain, they couldn’t be lured back to the farm with food. They were in fact, impossible to recapture. So, they enjoyed the lush green bounty of early summer grass, found a source of water, and enjoyed their freedom for as long as it lasted. That’s where we left them—five rebellious adolescents on the lam.
Cowhands volunteered their time to round up three of the five after a week or two and they were shipped out west. As my brother-in-law said, once a jailbreaker, always a jailbreaker. But two have proved elusive–the mastermind and his Number One, his Executive Officer. Then, last week the best friend was driven off the property as well and only the CEO of Adventure Unlimited remains at large. Except he’s not large, he’s surprisingly little with an outsized strength of will. He’s actually the kind of guy you’d want in charge of your business– ingenious, resourceful, charismatic. I think he should run for governor or become a life coach.
I’d cheer for him except he’s kind of breaking my heart. I don’t have a formal policy, but I rarely choose meat these days. Just doesn’t feel right. This little cow had what he thought was a good idea. He just wanted to head out on the highway, looking for adventure, for whatever comes his way. Right?
But now he’s alone and making his last stand. Butch Cassidy without the Sundance Kid. I’m thinking he’s about to stop having fun.
So, the tactic to get him off the private property he has made his Air B and B, is to bring in a girl. A lovely, brown-eyed girl with a tag in her ear. It won’t be a romance. Romance was taken off the table the usual way for young male cows. But the theory is these two will bond because cows are herd animals. Just as horses are. And they are social. Just as we are.
Given a few days of proximity, they will gravitate towards each other. And she, a fetching but docile homebody, will be led out of there with junior following.
It will be a relief to have finally rounded up all the escaped cows. They were a nuisance and a liability, although in cow county this is not at all unusual apparently. And if this were India, not Virginia, the cows would be revered and roaming freely through the pedestrian mall in downtown Charlottesville.
These, like most of today’s cow population, are the descendants of cattle domesticated 10,500 years ago from black aurochs which became extinct in the 1600’s. But the cows you see now were never wild. Just like dogs were once wolves, but there has never been a pack of wild poodles.
The one exception is a bunch of cows that escaped in Hawaii in the 1800’s. They remained too elusive to be caught, were aided by mild weather and plenty to eat, and they are now a feral herd.
So, there’s a chance I suppose that the brown-eyed girl everyone is counting on, will be won over. That her little foster brother will convince her to elude the posse and head for the hazy hills of the Blue Ridge. Maybe when the cowhands return for these two there will be nothing there but a note. But I don’t think so.
I’m betting that what couldn’t be accomplished with ropes and roundups will be achieved by recognizing a near-universal need of all things sentient.
The desire for community, to live a shared experience will win out. It’s as if every life is a story that deserves to be read.
We all need to know we aren’t just what happened in the world, we are why what happened in the world mattered—to someone. Love longs for a beloved.
When the cowboys come back, I think a little black heifer and a patient brown cow will be waiting. Side by side.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.