COWS MUST BE MILKED TWICE A DAY. Period. This fact was the reason I was in the Cow Pasture in the predawn light. The cows were bunched up – at the far end of the pasture of course. Grandpa dropped me off at the gate and drove away in his old red pickup truck to turn the water. I blew out a breath of frustration, the warm air condensing in the brisk morning air. Each breath produced a white puff in front of me. For a young man of 11 growing up in Texas the chill mountain morning felt more like winter than the crisp August morning that it was in the rocky mountains in northern Utah.
I began to trudge across the field my feet slipping in the waders that were several sizes too large for me. The boots had been on the back porch and the wet grass would soak through my tennis shoes, a fact I had learned a few weeks earlier, leaving my feet wet and cold. So I put up with the oversized boots. I left tracks in the dew covered pasture grass as I made my way to the heard.
As I approached the heard I noticed that they were on a small rise, but there was a ditch between me and the cows. I looked to see if there was a bridge to cross. I didn’t see one. I could just cross the ditch. As I arrived at the edge I realized the ditch was an irrigation ditch filled with water and it was about five feet across. Too far a distance to jump. Well the oversized waders would let me cross the canal, so I stepped into the ditch. The cows just looked at me. I took a step and then another. The water level was higher on the third step. I realized that the forth step would be even deeper, deep enough that the water would pour into the oversized wader effectively rendering them useless. I backed to the edge of the ditch and climbed back up. I yelled at the cows hoping that they would just get up and cross the stream. The nearest cow just blinked at me and chewed her cud.
Yelling wouldn’t work.
I looked around for a board or log that I could put across the canal and cross.
Grandpa would be back and he would want the cows on the road towards the milk barn. I didn’t want to disappoint Grandpa. I had to have the cows on the road. The ditch was deeper than the waders were high. I looked around for some rocks to throw at the cows. I was in a cow pasture with an irrigation ditch. There were no rocks, no bridge, and no planks. Just pasture grass, cow manure, water, cows, and me in oversized waders that were worthless at the edge of a ditch.
A feeling of helplessness and despair washed over me. I had to have the cows on the road. Typically I walk up and they move. This morning they were in a different pasture on the other side of an irrigation canal. I had to get across the stream. The air was chill, the water cold, and my nerve failing. It dawned on me the only way across was to take off the boots and wade across in bare feet.
Reluctantly I pulled off a boot and a sock. Then I stood in the wet grass on my bare foot. The ground was cold! Then I removed the second boot and sock. I rolled up my pant legs. Taking the boots in one hand and courage in my heart I stepped into the canal.
The water was cold! Gritting my teeth I forced my self to take the next step. Soon I was in the middle of the stream and the water was almost at my knees. The mud squished between my toes. Frigid water swirled around my legs, my feet grew numb. I was afraid I’d lose my balance and fall into the inky dark stream.
The cows just watched. I pulled my nerve around me once again and took the next step. Soon the water wasn’t getting deeper and soon I was on the other side. I slipped the boots back on and got the cows moving. Slowly the cows stood, tails whipping and the still air was filled with sounds of tramping cattle and splashes as the cows stepped into the stream I had tepidly crossed.
The last cow was in the water sloshing to the other side of the canal. Once again I stopped and took the boots off. It was easier to get into the water this time, but I didn’t enjoy the crossing. I got the cows to the road and Grandpa picked me up and we followed the cows to the milk barn.
More happened to me that morning than getting a heard of cows to cross a stream. I found that I could do something for myself. I had a job to do and I could do it, and find ways to make things happen without someone telling me what to do. I didn’t wait for grandpa. I didn’t cry. I didn’t want to get in the cold water, but I wanted to get the job done. So that morning in the cow pasture I learned a few things about myself. I learned to dig deep, I learned not to quit, I learned that sometimes you have to do something you don’t want to do, to stretch yourself to get the job done. Sometimes you must rely on yourself. The cow pasture was the location of one of my first moments of self discovery.
Dean C. Rich