|Author: Cornish, Rick
|The Charolaise, Part Two
Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where just like it has for the past twelve years since Lynn and I and the dogs moved here, nature is renewing itself in spectacular fashion. All blossoms and greenery and some of the most enjoyable weather we'll see all year. Hope your spring has started as well as ours.
Some may recall that when I last posted a welcome I told the story of the Charolaise cow that my wife and I bought…as a pet. (Yup, city folk.) Turned out I had more to say about the subject than I thought I did, which to Lynn’s chagrin is too often the case, so I was forced to split the story in two parts. If you didn’t read the first part of the story, or if you’d like a refresher before finishing it click here. So, here’s the second and last part…
Charolais’ are white, light beige actually, and I could tell that was an immediate turn off for Lynn. We’d had a bit of wet weather and the various pens, there must have been half a dozen, were muddy, which meant the cattle were muddy, which meant the Charolais, a good three-fourths of the thirty or so head Ma and Pa Dubois’ had left, looked pretty ratty, and I knew my wife well enough to know that was not setting well.
“Don’t you just love the brown ones? I love the brown ones. Can’t you just see them in the pasture? They would so go with Gwen and Claire, the beige against the reddish brown? Can’t you just picture it?”
“I’ll tell you what I can picture, I can picture one of those white cows, all cleaned up with no caked on mud. Look, I know you’re not crazy about how the Charolaise look when they’re muddy, but this is temporary.”
“No, it’s not that. Really, it’s just that…”
“Lynn, we’ve already decided…we’ve talked about this and we’ve decided. Nobody knows more about cows than Rich, and Rich says Charolais are the way to go. They make the best pets. And you heard Ma Dubois didn’t you? She said the same thing.”
“Why do you call her that? It’s so condescending.”
In the end we chose the smallest Charolais we could spot. It was simple to tell the Dubois’ which one we wanted…she had a metal tag attached to the ring in her right ear that read #57.
“Well sir, I’d say you picked yerself the best calf of the bunch. Don’t you think so, pa?” Maurice didn’t answer. He walked right past us toward the barn, and when I started to follow, Bridgette stopped me.
“He’ll bring her out here for you. You just go ahead and back up that trailer of yours right up to the barn door, just as close as you can get. You see what I’m sayin’?”
“Sure,” I said with feigned bravado, “not a problem.” (For whatever reason, the Zen of trailer backing has always eluded me.)
“Be careful, Rick,” Lynn said, very, very much aware of just how elusive, “Mr. Epperson was so good to lend us his trailer and we want to return it in one piece.” Now I was annoyed as well as nervous about the backing up job.
“Mr. Epperson owns Sonora Feed,” Lynn was explaining to the old woman as she wrote out a check for five hundred and twenty-two dollars, (which, Mrs. Dubois explained, was calculated by multiplying the animals weight, the Y, times the going rate for “premium stock” the X. Days later Lynn and I realized that neither of the Dubois’ ever bothered to let us in on either the X or the Y.) “We buy all of our llama feed from him and when I mentioned the new addition to our herd he offered the use of his trailer. Such a sweet, thoughtful man.” (Ha, I thought to myself, sweet and thoughtful, maybe, but also one smart feed store owner. If Ernie Gore could send his kid to Princeton on what we paid him to haul away our dead pasture animals, old man Epperson would be able to send his to Harvard once we started feeing #57. Pretty good trade…the use of one rusty old trailer for a lien on Whiskey Creek.)
Off in the distance we could see Maurice still headed toward the cow we’d selected. The layout was an elaborate maze of metal fences, creating several pens of varying size and connected by a network of narrow corridors. Our Charolais was in the pen furthest from the barn with two other, larger cows. When the old man opened the metal gate he just barely touched her broad rump with the wooden stick he held; it looked like a pointer used by a lecturer…and the animal stepped right out and headed down the corridor. I could see why Rich had recommended this breed. Very cooperative.
We watched as Maurice and #57 navigated their way through the labyrinth, she in front but he guiding the way with little nudges from his pointer, until finally they disappeared into the barn.”
“Okay now,” Bridgette Dubois said, “ya wanna swing that trailer door open…yep, yep…wider. There you go. Okay, now you stand right there. No, over…over, yup right there. Now the Mrs., you stand over there,” she said pointing to a spot about five feet away from me. “Okay, perfect.”
“Pa,” she now yelled through the closed barn door, “you say when.”
“WHEN”, Maurice yelled back, and when Bridgette pulled open the barn door it swung open in precisely the right spot to match up with the trailer door and form one wall of a temporary chute for the huge beast, Lynn and Bridgette and I positioned just right to form the other wall. And just like that, the Charolais strode heavily past us and stepped right into the trailer. No fuss, no muss.
“Well, that was easy,” I said.
“Sure it was, ‘n you’ll git the hang of it quick enough. These Charolaise, they just need to know who’s boss,” she said. “Right, pa?” Pa…Maurice Dubois, soon-to-be-retired cattle rancher, unwilling accomplice…glanced in my direction, a pained, almost pleading expression on his face, but he didn’t open his mouth.
“I’m sure we’ll do just fine,” I said confidently looking over at Lynn for confirmation. But there was none there. My wife had gone a little pale and I recognized the look on her face.
“What’s wrong,” I asked?
“Nothing. I guess I just hadn’t ever realized how big a cow really is until now. I mean, you see cows your entire life…in pictures, on TV, driving through the country…but until you’re standing right next to one, you don’t really get the full sense of…” Her voice trailed off.
“So, Mr. Dubois, Maurice, about how much would you say the cow weighs?” I hadn’t gotten my question out before the old man turned on his heels and walked slowly toward the house.
“You git that latch on the trailer door shut good n’ tight else that one, 57, she’ll give you misery,” he said over his shoulder.
“Eight fifty,” the wife said.
“Will she grow much more,” I asked.
“How much is not much,” Lynn asked?
“But, ah, do you have, like, a rough estimate, you know, in pounds, of how big she’ll get by the time she…”
“Well,” Bridgette began, “how big do you want her to get?”
“Want her to get? How big do we WANT the cow to get,” Lynn asked incredulously and looked over at me?
“Well, yeah,” the old woman responded, “‘cause the heft of meat cattle really depends on many things. How much you feed it…you know…is one, ah, variable, you could say.” Lynn and I looked at each other and waited for Bridgette to continue with the rest of the variables, but she did not.
“See here now,” the old woman finally said after an awkward silence, “you got nothin’ to worry about. You kids’ll make out just fine. Just fine. You call us if you have any questions. We’ll be right here. Been here for sixty-eight years and ain’t goin’ nowhere. You just call if you need to. You’ve got our number.” And with that Mrs. Dubois folded the check she’d been holding, deposited into her bra and went off to find pa.
After living under the same roof for over thirty years, Lynn and I have highly evolved, extraordinarily specialized and, for the most part, unspoken job descriptions. Wife: 1) clean house; 2) do laundry; 3) pay monthly bills; 4) feed animals and keep them healthy; and 5), work closely with doctors and pharmacist to keep husband alive for as many years as possible. Husband: 1) do all menu planning, grocery shopping and food preparation; 2) maintain house and the six acres it sits on; 3) complete all projects assigned by wife in timely fashion; 4) take charge of all cataclysmic problems; and 5) talk wife down during freak outs. On the hour and quarter drive back to Jamestown, duty number, for thirty years my least favorite, five kept me busy.
“But…but…but do you hear what I’m saying,” she asked rhetorically, “Do you get it? I don’t know that I can handle that animal. It’s like…it’s like, I have nothing to compare it to. Llamas, they’re big animals too, though tiny compared to this cow of yours, and they can be stubborn, but they’re manageable. Somehow I’m able to get them to do what I want. But, my God, this cow, it’s like…it’s like…a jeep. How do you get a jeep to do what you want it to do?”
“Cow of mine,” I said, “Cow of MINE?” (It would have been easy to go off track here, but I just couldn’t afford doing that so I took a deep breath and continued.) “Listen, I do hear what you’re saying, and I understand why you’re worried. Look, I’ll admit, I was a little nervous too, but you saw how Dubois handled that cow. My God, he barely had to touch it with his little pointer thing and it did whatever he wanted. I’m telling you…hell, Bridgette told you, too…they just need to know who’s boss. Cows, especially Charolais’, are like big, overgrown puppies. That’s what Rich Evans said. This is gonna work, you’ll see. It may take time, but we’ll….”
“We,” my wife interrupted, “did you say WE? Don’t tell me that now you’ve got a mouse in your pocket? We is me, let’s be real about that up front, shall we? Once that animal...”
“That cow. She’s a cow.”
“Once that cow sets foot in the pasture it becomes my responsibility. My worry, just like all the other animals.”
“Nope, no way, I’ve already said that. The Charolais will be different, that’s part of our plan, right? We’ve gone over this. I’ll be equally responsible for feedings, shots, the whole nine yards. After all, I’m the one with experience. Between my experience raising cattle my entire childhood and yours with llamas, for what, going on six years, things are going to fall into place. I’m telling you, I feel good about this. Let’s talk about a name,” I said, trying to change the subject.
(Technically, I did not lie about having experience with bovine. Most years until I was eight or nine my dad and our neighbor, Cecil Huff, bought a calf, raised it in the vacant lot between our two houses and, when it was time, had it butchered and divided equally between the two families. That I didn’t feed it regularly…okay, at all…or have any other chores related to the heifers didn’t in any way negate the fact that I saw it out there, behind the fence, pretty much every day. And my dad, who knew a whole lot about raising livestock, was always telling me stories about when he was a kid on the farm. And this is important—not one time did I tell Lynn I was involved with our yearly calves…but I absolutely did experience them.)
After twenty minutes of tense silence, it was my wife who finally spoke.
“Well, I was sort of thinking about Charlotte.”
“Perfect,” I enthused, “PERFECT. Charlotte it is.”
Whiskey Creek, which is what we call the six acres we own just outside the little village of Jamestown in the central part of the California foothills, the Mother Lode where gold was discovered in 1849, is trifurcated into three, similarly sized elongated plots of land. The first is an area on which our house, the barn and a couple of outbuildings are located and, because it’s fenced, where our four dogs are allowed to roam and be dogs. Adjacent to this area, which we call our back yard despite the fact that it’s over two acres, is a long and narrow pasture, roughly half of which is dotted with massive red oaks and California Live oaks. Running north to south just on the eastern side of the fenced pasture is Whiskey Creek, and to the east of that, a steep canyon wall, thickly forested and running up to the ridge line, which makes up the remainder of our property.
When we approached the gravel road to the front of our property, where I could have opened the big metal gate and driven the trailer right into the pasture before releasing the Charolais, I instead drove past it and went around to the rear of our property. Going up the front drive I’d have had to have made a extremely sharp right turn through the gate, made extremely sharp by the unlucky placement of a towering cottonwood tree, which would have required making part of the turn, backing up, cranking the wheels, pulling forward again, cranking, backing up again, etc.—in short, an exercise that almost never ended well. Nope, it would be easier to bring the girl in through the back way…through the gate into our yard, then over to the pasture and through the gate into the catch pen and then into the pasture proper. A far superior plan given my wanting skills maneuvering trailers.
Far superior except for one problem. When we drove around to the back we realized immediately that while the truck could fit through the gate, Epperson’s livestock trailer wouldn’t.
“No problem,” I said with the confidence of someone who’d spent a few years of his childhood watching livestock being fattened for slaughter but never actually participating in the process, “I’ll pull right up to the fence and we’ll use the same trick Dubois used; I’ll match up the gate and the trailer door once they’re open to form one wall of the chute, and we can stand opposite it, making the other wall, and Charlotte will walk right in. Then it’s just a matter of encouraging her across the yard over to the pasture gate. Right?”
“I guess,” Lynn said with little to no conviction. “But if we went around to the front and you drove right into the pasture, we could close the gate behind us and then let her out. Seems a little safer to me. At least that way she’d be locked in the pasture.”
“I’m telling you, this is gonna be a piece of cake. Let me situate the trailer where it needs to be while you run up to the shop and grab a piece of dowel…they’re in a barrel next to the radial arm saw. I can use it the way Dubois use his stick.”
“Should I get one for me, too?”
“No,” I don’t think so. Let’s not confuse Charlotte…she needs to learn who’s the boss, and it’s better if there’s just one boss…you know, at first.” Lynn rolled her eyes as she headed up to the barn.
Five minutes later we were set. The gate into the yard was swung open, the trailer was parked so that when I pulled the metal door open it would match up with the gate to form one wall of the chute, Lynn and I were strategically placed to prevent the cow from going any way except through the gate, I’d tied a rope to the handle of the trailer door so I could pull it open without leaving my position and I had the all-important stick, my magic wand, with which I’d guide Charlotte through the gate, across the yard and into her new living space.
“Okay,” I said gravely, “here we go.” And with that, I pulled the door of the trailer wide open with the rope.
“Okay, Charlotte, sweetie, time to get out,” Lynn cooed, “you’re at you new home now. Time to meet your pasture-mates Gwen and Claire.”
“I think she needs a little coaxing,” I said. “I’ll go around up to the front and give her a little nudge her with my wand through the window.”
“And leave your post,” Lynn asked nervously, “what if…”
I’d already gone around to the other end of the trailer and peered through the little oblong window. There was Charlotte, chewing on some hay Bridgette Dubois had given her for the long drive home.
“Charlotte…Charlotte. Time to get out, dear girl.” I maneuvered the wooden dowel between the metal bars of the window and gently touched the enormous animal on her forehead.
Instant, wild reaction.
“MOOO,” she bellowed, “MOOOOOOO,” and began thrashing about and backing away from the stick. I hurried around back to the other end of the trailer but before I could get there the cow was out, had turned and was walking away from the gate, in exactly the opposite direction of our property and up a grassy hillside toward a wooded area.
“OH CRAP,” I said and started after her with Lynn right behind me. I was immediately struck by how fast the animal could walk when it wanted to.
“Come on,” I said, we’ve got to catch up,” and we broke into a slow run, and to my amazement, so did Charlotte. She hadn’t looked back, I thought, how did she know we’d begun to run.
“Stop,” I said to Lynn, “she’s afraid now. She thinks we’re chasing her.”
“We are chasing her, aren’t we?”
And just like that, the moment we slowed to a walk so did the animal. The distance between she and her pursuers was about twenty feet. And so we continued to follow our new cow. If we sped up, so would she…if we slowed down, Charlotte would slow down. In no time at all we’d climbed the hillside, which was about one hundred yards from our property line and on an increasingly sharper incline as it approached the wooded area that stood between us and our nearest neighbors to the north.
“I’ve got to stop and rest,” said Lynn,” and the moment we did, the cow stopped as well and began munching the tall grass at her feet…hooves. Still, precisely the twenty feet separating us.
“This is crazy,” I said, “it’s like this animal is taunting us.”
“Now,” said my wife in a low, even voice, “would be the time for you to start using some of your cattle raising experience.” The irony that suffused the phrase “your cattle raising experience” was not lost on me.
I took a few steps toward the beast. She lifted her massive head from the plump blades of grass that glistened from the morning dew and, still munching, also moved forward up the trail, her stride perfectly matching mine. Twenty feet was clearly the buffer with which Charlotte was comfortable.
“Come on,” I said over my shoulder, “she can’t do this forever.” We entered the dense forest and the path we’d been on narrowed. Now the cow took on a new tactic…Every now and then she would look back, get a sense of how far behind we were, then trot ahead several feet increasing the span between us, stop and nibble some grass and then continue her methodical ascent into the forest.
“I don’t even know where this path goes,” I said, “do you?” Lynn shook her head
“Let’s just pray it doesn’t dead end into Jamestown road and traffic.”
After another fifty yards or so we came to a clearing and up ahead could see a pond, man made and probably thirty yards across. The path we were traveling split at the pond, each direction running along its perimeter and then meeting on the other side.
I’ve got an idea,” I said. “You keep following her which ever path she takes. I’ll take the other and hurry around and get in front of her. Once I’ve started around, slow way, way down and hopefully she will too and that will give me a chance to head her off. If that works and she turns, then you take off back toward Whiskey Creek. Hopefully she’ll follow you.
Lynn stopped and looked at me. “Why,” my wife asked, “just why would she do that?”
“Oh, well see, cows will naturally…I have no idea,” I said finally, “absolutely none.
And astoundingly, incredibly and against all odds, that’s just what happened. The Charolais turned right around when it saw me coming down the path toward her and followed Lynn right back down the trail, out of the forest, across the grassy field, past old man Epperson’s trailer and through the gate and into the yard where she immediately walked over to the lawn and began uprooting huge chunks of turf, violently shaking the soil that clung to the roots and then chewing in a way that I can only describe as contentedly. Charlotte was home.
That night I called Rich Evans and told him the whole story. True to his nature he didn’t laugh and he didn’t chide me. He waited until I’d completed my entire tale and then he laid out the facts, one by one.
First, he said, Charolais had been the one breed that he’d specifically recommended AGAINST, partly because they’re among the biggest of all bovines and can never seem to get their fill of whatever is available to eat; and partly because they’re cantankerous and stubborn and very difficult to handle, even for experienced cattlemen. Rich’s recommendation had been a Jersey cow, smallish among all breeds and known for its docility and sunny disposition.
Second, while it was true that the animal sold to us by the Dubois’ probably was under a thousand pounds, there was every reason to believe that it would add another fifteen hundred within a year and, depending on her bloodline, could ultimately reach a ton and a half. (I wondered to myself if Jeeps weighed that much.)
Three, although five hundred dollars and some change was not an exorbitant price to pay for the calf, it’s real cost would be felt, in spades, over time. These were, he reiterated, voracious eaters and would undoubtedly consume twice what our two llamas, two sheep and two goats had. Moreover, since we planned on keeping the cow as a pet and would not butcher it for food, that cost would continue into perpetuity. In fact, it would increase until the Charolais matured and then hold steady until she died of old age. Oh, and there was a good chance Charlotte could outlive me. Hopefully, he added, not Lynn.
And lastly, my friend explained to me that Maurice Dubois’ magic wooden stick wasn’t really a wooden stick at all. He said from the way I described it, and particularly the way I described its effect on the cow, he knew it was one of the late generation cattle prods, small, compact but able to deliver five to seven hundred volts of persuasion. “Your half inch piece of wood doweling,” he said completely deadpan, “delivers far less voltage.”
“Bottom line, Rick, is that you stepped in it…you stepped in a big pile of it. My suggestion is that you call these people in the morning and ask them if you can bring the Charolaise back to Oakdale and have your money returned. If they say no ask if you can get some of your money back. And if the answer is still no, you shouldn’t have any trouble selling her to a local cattleman up where you live. If you go that route, I’d recommend you keep her for a while and fatten her up. That’s the only way you’re not going to lose serious money. I can tell you how to do that.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said, “there’s absolutely no way in hell that Lynn will go along with that. Sell the cow for meat? She’s sooner sell it into the sex slave trade.”
“I thought you said Lynn was the one who got cold feet from the very beginning.”
“She was, Rich, but what you’ve got to understand is that my wife has this, I don’t know what you’d call it, this…code she lives by—once you bring a pet home, once you’ve accepted responsibility for its care and well-being, you’ve entered into a life-time contract. No escape clauses…no wiggle room. And, well, we brought Charlotte home.”
“In that case my friend, your life just got very, very complicated.”
Rich Evans, experienced puncher of cows, life-long buckaroo, was, of course, right on all accounts. Back then I was driving to my office in Stockton most days and each evening when I returned home Lynn was waiting at the door with yet another dreadful Charolais story: Wes, our long time vet, had made a “ranch visit” that day to bring Charlotte’s vaccinations up to date and had finally had to call two of his assistants to drive down to Jamestown to help. “Lynn,” the vet said, “you’ve got one damned angry heifer there. STAY OUT OF THAT PASTURE!”; Lynn had discovered that the cow brought along with her from the Dubois ranch her own species of fly, the blood-sucking horn fly, Haematobia irritans, which she’d found on the Internet and later confirmed with Wes; she had established through first hand observation that cows eat and shit at the same time, a practice so repugnant to her that for nearly a year she stopped consuming beef and dairy products; and worst of all, the llama girls, Gwen and Claire, who’d lived contentedly in their Whiskey Creek pasture for over five years, were now depressed and distraught. How did she know they were depressed and distraught? She just did.”
And yet despite all this and so very, very much more--the huge, snowballing cow pies that littered one end of the pasture to the other, and with it the inescapable, stomach-turning stench…the mushrooming population of Haematobia irritans, which, it turned out, actually preferred human blood over that of bovines…and the relentless, unremitting growth of the beast, like a caricature of some mutant being from a 1950’s Hollywood C movie—there was the CODE. We took the Charolais and we were stuck with the Charolais. Two weeks into the nightmare called cattle ranching Lynn finally agreed to allow me to call Maurice and Bridgette Dubois. Her rationale was that, really, if we returned Charlotte she’d be no better or worse off than she’d have been had we not driven to Oakdale that fateful day.) But Bridgett Dubois would have none of it. In fact, she pressed hard for me to buy a second Charolaise…”these gals, they git lonely without company, you know. That’s probably all that’s wrong with her.” As for Lynn’s resolve, even when, one after another, our neighbors began to complain about the smell and the flies, my wife held fast—she would NOT be a party to the slaughter of a living thing placed in her trust. Period.
Eight weeks and roughly four hundred pounds later…I remember it was a Thursday morning and I was taking a few days off from driving to my office down in the flats…I told Lynn I was heading into Sonora to buy a belt for my lawnmower and drove instead to Hurst Ranch Feeds and Fencing. I’d called Joe Hurst ahead of time, told him what I wanted to chat about and he said I should come on down. And he asked me to bring a photo of the cow. The Hursts ran a few hundred head of cattle up on Table Mountain and the organic meat they sold was prized throughout the county and even down in the valley. From the photo Joe estimated that Charlotte weighed right around fifteen hundred pounds; he’d give me three bucks a pound, and if his estimate was right, I’d get four hundred and fifty dollars, which meant a loss of only seventy bucks. PLUS, of course, the small fortune we’d spent on hay and supplements and vaccinations.
“But here’s the deal,” I said, leaning in and lowering my voice as if there was anyone nearby who was the slightest bit interested in what I was saying, “my wife can’t know anything about this. There’s no way in hell she would let this beast be taken away for fattening and slaughter, and that’s a fact. So this has got to be part of the deal.” Joe shrugged as if to say, so, ah, why are your marital problems any of my concern? In any event, we agreed that a couple of his hands would come by Whiskey creek at precisely 10:15 a.m. the following Monday morning—Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays being Lynn’s water aerobic days at the health club, which she never missed. We had a plan, and for the first time in over two months a life free of the cow, her cow shit and her blood-sucking flies was in site.
Of course, the plan I worked out with Joe Hurst wasn’t a plan at all because for it to have been a plan there would, by the very definition of a plan, have had to have been some possibility, however slight, of its ever being implemented, which there wasn’t. Not even the slightest possibility. You see, I’m a big talker; I once offered a young staffer of mine, a programmer, $250 if, while he was pet-sitting our animals one weekend, he would poison Lynn’s African Gray parrot, Albirdio. Naturally at the last minute I pulled the plug on the caper, just as I was sure to call off the Charolaise snatching.
By the time Sunday night rolled around I’d decided I’d give it another go with my wife. I made a mental list of all of the reasons the cow should be cut from the herd and after the dinner dishes were done and we were preparing to dive into our sugar-free, lowfat chocolate ice cream bars I decided to make my move.
“Lynn,” I began, “there’s something we need to talk about.”
“Okay, I’ve got something to discuss too. You go first.”
“No, you first.”
“Okay. Well, this afternoon when I was out feeding the girls and the cow I noticed something that’s had me thinking ever since. I don’t know why it just suddenly struck me, but think about the shape and size of a llama’s mouth; they’re narrow and smallish and at the end of a long, pointy face. Now the cow’s—enormous, wide and gaping; like a hippos mouth, designed to take in maximum food as quickly as possible. They’re eating machines.”
“So, you’re saying?”
I’m saying that all along the idea was to keep the herd up, but getting Charlotte hasn’t done that. She’s not part of the herd and she’ll never be. She’s separate. Gwen and Claire don’t like her, I can tell they don’t like her. I’ve thought about it and Charlotte just doesn’t belong here.”
“So, we need to find Charlotte a new home.”
“A new home? You mean like a meat locker?”
“No, I don’t, and that’s not funny. We brought her home, she’s ours, our responsibility. So it’s up to us to find that cow a loving family.”
“That won’t eat her.”
“Right, that won’t eat her.”
“Dear, I don’t quite know how to break this to you, but you see there are just not a whole lot of people walking the streets and not locked up in the loony bin who are crazy enough to keep a three thousand pound pet in their back yard.”
“Well, I didn’t say it was going to be easy. I’ve got some ideas. Now, what did you want to talk about?”
“You said you had something we needed to discuss.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. If we’re going to get a vegetable garden in this spring, we’d better get on it.”
“Lynn looked at me with a puzzled stare. “I thought you said you didn’t want to have a garden this year. You said you were too busy at work and didn’t want to put the time into it.”
“Oh, did I? Yeah, I did. Okay, forget it, no garden this year.”
The next morning I called Joe from work and told him the deal was off.
“Wife’s not going for it, eh?”
“Something like that,” I said.
“I thought you just weren’t going to tell her.”
“Right, that was the plan.”
“Good luck with the cow,” Joe said. “Call me if you decide to sell her.”
That evening just as I was approaching Whiskey Creek Road on my way home from work I saw a medium sized livestock truck making a left turn off our little gravel lane onto Jamestown Road. There, through the wooden slats, I could clearly see our little calf…all thousand and a half pounds of her.
Lynn met me at the driveway.
“Did you see,” she asked excitedly, “did you see her go? Were you able to wave good by?
“Yes, I waved.”
“Charlotte is on her way to Covers, her new home. You could probably guess…I cried when they walked her onto the truck. She mooed. That’s the first time she’s mooed since the day we brought her home from Oakdale. What do you think that meant?”
“Ah, that she’s a cow of few words? I don’t know. So what happened, tell me.
“Well, you know Covers, right. Up in Apple Valley…just before you get to Tuolumne City? We went there for lunch once.”
“The apple farm…or ranch…or whatever. The religious commune where all the women wear bonnets and old-fashioned dresses and where all the men wear long beards. Right?”
“Right, it's a touristy place, except I’m not sure they call it a commune. It’s called the Old Brethren Congregation. They have the little restaurant where we ate and a bakery and they sell apples and other produce and…are you ready for this…they have a farm animal petting zoo with goats and a horse and ducks and sheep and chickens and pigs and geese and, as of today, a beautiful Charolaise cow named Charlotte.” My wife was beaming.
“And these people actually told you they were going to add the cow to their petting zoo? They told you they wouldn’t eat the cow?”
“Here’s what Zachery, the elder I guess is what you’d call him, said…these are his exact words—‘We’ll keep the cow and we’ll raise her and I promise you she’ll have some good years on the ranch. Beyond that, I can’t make any more promises.’ I told him that was good enough for us. It was, wasn’t it? I mean, if you can’t believe an elder, who can you trust?”
“Absolutely good enough for us,” I said.
Two weeks after Charlotte went off to Covers, Lynn and I drove up Highway 108, past Tuolumne City, past the Indian Casino, to the Circle W Llama and Alpaca Ranch, where we bought Chelsea, a two-year-old black and white female llama. A week later when I arrived home from my office in Stockton I spotted a fourth llama in the pasture; her name was Little, a small half-llama-half-alpaca who we renamed Olive. Within a few days Lynn became worried that the new llama wasn’t adapting well to her new surroundings and sensed Olive was lonely and missed her herd. She called the woman who’d given the llama to us, the wife of a vet who specialized in camelids, and she agreed with my wife…the little llama-alpaca mix was struggling with abandonment issues. What she needed was a friend from her former herd to come pay a visit for a few days and so the next day Dulcinea was delivered to Whiskey Creek by the woman and her veterinarian husband. Olive perked up right away, Dulcinea’s couple of days visit turned into a couple of weeks, then a couple of months, until finally we just stopped talking about her returning to her former home. And that’s were the herd is today, five llama girls strong.
We try to make it up to Covers at least once a year to see Charlotte, who the kids on the apple ranch have renamed Snowball. It’s a funny thing…during her brief time at Whiskey Creek the enormous lumbering Charolaise never so much as looked up in Lynn’s direction, never acknowledged her in any way. But when we drive up to Apple Valley to see her every so often, she immediately runs right up to the fence for an ear scratch. I guess what’s true for people is true for cattle—you don't’ miss your water till your well runs dry.
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