Going, Going, Almost Gone

June 05, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Havre de Grace.--Unnnnh. Unnnnnnnh. Unnnnnnnnnnh.

We were having a ball, or somebody was, perhaps the queen. Everybody was waltzing in the courtyard of the castle. There was Bill Clinton in his jogging togs. Leo Gomez, still in his Orioles uniform, was singing a Chilean love song. Hillary and I were drinking daiquiris brought to us by a waiter in a Richard Nixon mask.

''Don't you love a polka?'' asked Helen Bentley. Hyman Pressman, who for some reason I knew was really Jack Lapides in disguise, snickered rudely. At the sound the bandleader turned around, and I noticed that he was Millard Tawes. The music was lovely, but something seemed to be very wrong with the sound system.

Unnnnh. Unnnnnnnh. Unnnnnnnnnnh.

It was making a noise like cattle bawling. Why would I be hearing cows when I was talking to Mrs. Clinton? I decided to ask the late Governor Tawes for an explanation, but the music suddenly stopped and I woke up in the dim light of very early morning. A cardinal started his figaro-figaro routine outside the window, but other than that it was quite still. And then, again:

Unnnnh. Unnnnnnnh. UNNH! UNNH! UNNH!

It was cows, all right. They sounded as though they were almost in the bedroom, although they were supposed to be in the 40-acre field, over the hill and almost out of earshot. The bawling had a desperate tone. I supposed they'd gotten out through a hole in the fence, and cows and calves had gotten separated.

I got up and went out into the grayness. There were no cows to be seen close by, but I could still hear them down in the woods. That worried me, because my neighbor over that way has cows too, and if my cattle had broken through the fence and gotten in with his it would be a mess. If my bull was involved in the breakout it would be an even bigger mess.

In the woods I kept expecting to encounter cows, but saw none. I waded the shallow creek and came out on my neighbor's land, and there, still on the proper side of his electric fence, were his cattle. One of his cows looked at me. Unnnnh. Unnnnnnnnh. Unnnnnnnnnnh, she said. Presumably it was her calf that had been misplaced.

It was now about 5:45, and the sun was almost up. There didn't seem to be any point going back to the house just then, so after I crossed back over the creek I walked over the hill to make sure my cattle were still where they were supposed to be. On the way I found a patch of mayapple with a squashed place in the middle where a deer had bedded down.

My cows and calves were the picture of contentment, lying in the dewy grass and watching the sunrise. It was still very cool, and the flies hadn't yet appeared. Even the bull looked at me amiably. It's remarkable how his disposition has improved since he was turned out with the herd six weeks ago, at the close of a long celibate winter.

This is a good time of year for cattle, and for their managers too. Out on pasture, with plenty of grass and some woods where they can retreat from the heat and the flies during the day, they don't need much care.

We make sure we take a look at them each morning, checking their supply of mineral salt and their insecticide-soaked backscratcher. We watch for lameness or signs of pinkeye, and inspect fences and watering holes. All this takes a little time, but most days it's more of a pleasure than a chore.

In a couple of weeks we'll have to get them in to deworm them, replace missing ear tags, and castrate the bull calves. That's always a hot, noisy and dirty morning's work, and afterward the cattle will be spooky for a while. But right now everything's going their way.

On the way back to the barn I walked past the pond, where mist was rising the way it often does on a September morning.

Frogs jumped as I passed, and barn swallows swirled over the water. A kingfisher flew off, rattling loudly. The sun shone through the clear air and began to warm it. Soon it would be hot.

It's hard to believe, with the memories of last winter's ice still so vivid, that summer's almost upon us, but here it comes. You can feel it approach like an advancing army. In a matter of days, the soft ground will be hard, the rushing springs down to trickles, the bright green of the grass made not so bright by heat and dust.

That hasn't quite happened yet. Fittingly, one of the toughest of winters was followed by one of the loveliest and longest of springs, lingering quite amazingly into June. It would have been wonderful to hold onto it. But it's going, going and almost gone, like the mist over the pond, or like an early-morning dream.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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