By Alicia Beach
Before I go about narrating our most recent almost-disaster, you need a mental image of our farm.
Our farm, like most this time of year, is a bit of a mess. (Welcome to Canada!) The trees are bare, and what isn’t covered in slush and brown snow is grey and dull and gloomy.
Tractors, delivery trucks, hooves, and twelve pairs of rubber boots have churned up the half-frozen earth of the barnyard into a muddy mess. The fences are sagging, waiting patiently for spring repairs. It’s warmer in the barn – though not much cleaner – insulated with sweet-smelling hay and occupied with our beloved menagerie of farm animals.
Now, on this particular day, I’m in the cozy farmhouse kitchen, happily stirring brownie batter and singing our national anthem with gusto. My littlest brother howls along with me, a cluster of forks and spoons in his small hands and on the floor around him. I think he was supposed to be setting the table. Out the window, I see Mom and the “troops” marching out to start the evening milking and barn chores, wielding buckets and pitchforks in their mittened hands.
Just another ordinary night at the Beach family homestead, right?
I pour the batter into a pan and slide it into the hot oven, check on the simmering soup, and slice a loaf of bread. On second thought, I slice another. My brothers eat like bears fresh out of hibernation.
Another glance out the window and I freeze. Cats of all sizes scatter out of the barn in all directions, roosters and hens flap and squawk, feathers and bits of straw and chaff whirl about the entrance to the barn, and out of the chaos comes Lily – 500 pounds of galloping brown cow.
I’m out the door in a flash, joining the rest of my siblings. We shout, herd, block, chase, coax… The runaway bovine jogs about the barnyard, hooves sinking into the soft ground, laughing our antics and tossing her head. For a moment we almost have her. I hold Lily’s head, practically hugging her and dig my heels in. Clare and Cal grab her collar on each side. I talk soothingly. Lily blows hot breath into my face, and stomps on my foot. Mom runs to get the halter. My glasses slip off my nose, Lily steps sideways, and I let go to save my glasses. Clare and Cal lose their grip on Lily’s collar.
Lily tramps victoriously away. A round of moans and groans, and we’re off again with new determination – and in a new direction.
The road. It’s a country road, just off the highway, but it’s paved smooth and drivers tend to whip by with no thought to speed or caution. “Lily!” we scream hoarsely, with various degrees of panic, coaxing, and agitation. Lily slows, swings her big head around to glance at us. “Come on girl, turn around, want some food? Come here, Lil, there you go, that’s right… No!”
First one hoof, then another, and then she’s halfway across the pavement. She stops in the middle of the road, looking at us with her dark eyes. Way down the road, a car turns and accelerates towards us, headlights flashing.
Lily spooks, and takes off, crossing to the farmer’s field on the other side. She runs and runs, skipping and zig-zagging farther and farther away. I stand, out of breath and slightly stunned, as the cow gets smaller and smaller. “Did we just lose her?” one of the kids says.
“Be quiet,” someone else snaps. “While we figure this out.” What’s there to figure out? Our goof of a cow just disappeared onto someone’s enormous farmland! In this weather, it’s not like we can take a car and drive around the muddy fields to look for her. And besides, it’s getting dark already.
“There she is!”
“She’s coming back!”
“Watch the road! Check for cars! All clear?”
“Come on, Lily! That’s a good girl! Grab her, Clare!” A cheer from all persons involved rises, and Lily, panting and exhausted, trots obediently into her milking pen. Sweaty foreheads are wiped with stiff, cold hands, and our family scatters once more to go about the necessary farm chores. Crisis averted, all animals safely tucked into their cozy stalls at last…
With new appreciation for the well-deserved hot dinner and chocolatey brownies, I might add!