Monday, July 25, 2005


If you come right down to it, a cow is a pretty dumb creature. It's hard to build up a relationship with a cow, because they have an obdurate streak and tend to go east if you want them to go west. They do give us milk, a wondrous substance, but they don't think a thing about stepping in the pail just as the task is completed, or kicking you with a swift hoof to the shins, for that matter. And they whisk their tails around in your face as though taunting you as you try to complete your chore.

Try as they might, my parents never succeeded in getting me to milk a cow, although my mother could do it swiftly and easily. But the minute I grabbed hold of the handles, those pesky cows would refuse to allow a dribble of milk to come through. They just didn't like me. It has been a burden on me all of my life...the girl who is hated by cows.

Once in a while, the cows would get out of the pasture and lumber about the yard. It was my duty to round them up and I can tell you that you can't believe a thing you see in those cowboy movies. It is well nigh impossible to make a cow go in any direction that she doesn't want to go. All you can do is stand and wave a stick in the air and shout at them. Usually, they ignored the noise, but after running in circles in all directions, I would finally get them back in the barnyard.

I think I have an antipathy toward cows because it was a cow that caused me the fright of my life. Like children do, we named every crook and cranny of the Farm. There was the Forbidden Plateau, the Pirate's Cove, and Dinosaur Hill, among many other places. And there was Dead Man's Cave!

Dead Man's Cave was formed by a circle of gnarled old trees standing in an oasis surrounded by swampy water. We discovered the cave by accident, then named it because the twisted old trees, the shadowy darkness and the dank, rank smell of the surrounding swamp reminded us of pure unadulterated death and disaster. Even the birds stopped singing when they flew around Dead Man's Cave, and the only sound was the occasional splash of a frog. It was eerie.

I was walking through the orchard one time on one of those golden Blessed Days when there was no school and I was free to play around the Farm as I wished. I spent a short time standing on a picnic table at the lake's edge singing and dancing and pretending I was the darling of the adoring masses, but I ran out of songs in my repertoire and skinned my knee trying to do the hula. So I jumped down and continued to walk around.

Then I heard a noise coming from the swamp. It was a strange, gutteral noise and my first instinct was to run for home, full speed ahead. But my curiosity won out and I walked slowly in the direction of the sound. I heard it again! And I realized it was coming from Dead Man's Cave. Frightened, I walked toward the cave, fearful of what I would see. But, as I parted the leaves of the trees and peeked inside, there was nothing there. Nothing!

I stepped inside, surrounded by the gnarled trunks of the old, wizened trees, some of them dead and leaning like invalids on their brothers and sisters. Their pitiful display of leaves seemed to shiver and sway in the windless cave, and the silence was threatening. I swallowed and turned to leave.

At that precise moment, with an inhuman scream of rage, this huge monolith came rearing out of the center of the cave, its body covered with an odorous film of dripping, nasty swamp muck, it's fiery eyes glaring at me as the roar continued! My heart leapt into my throat, my knees knocked together as I watched this dark, evil presence lunge toward me.

With a shriek, I turned and ran for home. My screams brought my mother and father running down the path to the orchard toward me. I was so out of breath I could only point back toward the cave and mouth my gibbering fright.

It took my father's team of mules to pull Pansy out of the muckhole. She walked along behind him, dripping mud, none the worse for wear. But I never quite forgave her for frightening me. Not only that, we were told to stay away from Dead Man's Cave, lest one of us fall into the muck.

So, you see, I have never had a great affinity for cows, although most other animals bring out the best in me. You can't hug a cow. You can't ride them, teach them to sit up, or take them for a walk. And a cow is sure a spooky sight lunging around in a muckhole!