This is about cows with boundary issues, and if you read this column regularly, you’re already saying, “No it’s not.”
Five heifers from my sister’s farm recently went on the lam. The jailbreakers are young, just weaned. They don’t even eat grain yet, but they’re brave and bold and maybe highly incentivized. How’d they escape the pasture? They didn’t jump the fence (though I’ve seen this). They didn’t find a break in the fence. They went under the fence at a stream.
Now they are their own herd of guileless youngsters, out past curfew, and it’s a bigger problem than you would think. They’re black, and even this young, they weigh close to 600 pounds. If a motorist were to suddenly come across one in the road at night, it would not be a good thing. Law enforcement was notified, animal control, neighbors, a veterinarian. It took days to even figure out if they were still on the property. Proximity to an airport precluded the use of a drone and the farm’s 80 acres feature a lot of wooded hillsides and sheltered hollows of oak, maple, and pine. But eventually they were located on a neighboring farm having a drink and some recreational weed which is cow-equivalent to water and real grass though I picture them having a beer and a smoke behind the barn.
It’s a serious problem. I love my sister and brother-in-law and would fix this if I could. As a mother, my theory is that the calves are heading for their mothers on the farm where they were born 100 miles south in Amherst. But that’s because mothers want to believe they are lifetime homing beacons for their offspring when it’s likely your offspring hasn’t thought about you in weeks, maybe months, and rightly so.
So cowgate has become a thing. My other sister and I check in periodically to see if the cows have come home, but I swear every time the answer is no, there is sincere concern for my sister, new brainstorming of solutions, and (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry), a little fist bump for the cows.
As I write this 3 have been recaptured by experienced cowhands. The mastermind heifer and his cohort are still at large. They are all going to be shipped out west. Once a jailbreaker, always a jailbreaker, my brother-in-law says, and he should know. He’s been successfully raising cattle for decades. (Irrelevant fact: he is very handsome which makes you want to believe him.)
The cows can’t run forever. We know their freedom is limited, they’re on borrowed time. But I guess there is something about an underdog we can’t help but champion.
If you are an American, you are here because of another group of rebellious underdogs. The colonies, of which Maryland was the 4th largest at the time, took on an enemy 4 times their size in terms of population and one armed with incomparable resources. American Revolutionaries endured over 1,500 military engagements with a professional army over an excruciating 8 years. And unlike conventional wars, the War of American Independence was fought for an ideal. A principle.
Once declared, there was no going back. We’d be free or die trying. And we did die trying–25,000 men lost their lives in battle or from disease.
A ragtag army fought in below-freezing temperatures without coats or adequate clothing, marched for days without shoes, without medicine, shelter, adequate weapons, or food. Recruits could enlist at 15 years old with parental permission, 16 otherwise. A lot of teenagers fought this war.
George Washington’s biography, which details these years, will bring you to your knees in awe and gratitude. When you come to understand the sacrifice exacted, you come to appreciate more fully the absolute miracle of this or any republic.
We are surely as imperfect as a nation as we are imperfect as individuals. How could it be otherwise?
Yet what an astonishing privilege it is to live in a democracy. Happy Birthday America. I’ll be grateful long after the cows come home.
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.