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by Barbara Power
Calving heifers will make any country woman age fast. Especially when the heifer has no concept that she might require a humans help during this difficult time.
Young cows often have trouble giving birth to their first calves, particularly if they are too young, too short and dumpy, or bred to a bull that is genetically disposed to throw large calves. As a safeguard, we routinely pen our calving heifers where we can assist them if the need arises.
Usually I find calving heifers an interesting and rewarding experience. I mean what can be more wonderful than helping a new life into the world? Then came Bossie. This heifer was young and short and dumpy and extremely unhappy to be in a pen by herself. She was also "springing heavy" (ready to give birth).
One evening just before dark, I made my tenth trip of the day to check on her. She had been showing early signs of labor and I was convinced a successful calving would require the assistance of me as mid-wife. When I reached the barn, however, I found the corral gate open and Bossie gone. I stared with trepidation at the 20 acres of brush land that she had escaped into. I had to find her before dark.
An hour after searching fruitlessly on foot, I finally saddled a horse. And as fate would have it, I found her standing in the middle of a thorn thicket on the backside of the pasture just as the last rays of the sun faded from the sky. She was now showing signs of advanced labor and would require assistance soon.
I tried driving her out of the thicket by yelling and waving my arms, but she knew she was safe and refused to budge, so I dismounted, tied my horse to a sapling, and waded into the thorn thicket. She stood right there and watched me until, scratched and torn, I made it into her small clearing. Then, dodging past me, she ran out the way I had just come in, spooking my horse into jerking loose and heading for home, bridle reins flying. By the time I scrambled my way back out of the thicket, Bossie was gone, my horse was at home, and the sun had set.
The mosquitoes accompanied me home, where I learned that my husband was still at work, and my sons had not returned from a "necessary" trip to town. Meaning simply that I had to find that heifer by myself.
Armed with a four-wheel drive pickup, a spot-light, mosquito spray, and my calving equipment, I returned to my search. (I did stop long enough to remove the tack from my now happy horse and give him some feed).
This time, Bossie didnt intend to be found. I drove places in that pasture that even four-wheel drive vehicles werent supposed to go, including over a mesquite sapling that nearly high-centered my truck. I had to back cautiously off the tree and find another way through that particular area. (The boys later spent a half hour de-branching the ranch truck).
I did find a deer, three rabbits, a skunk, and a family of raccoons, but no Bossie. My husband joined the search two hours later, spent fifteen minutes surveying the situation, and declared Bossie unfindable until daylight and went home to a cold supper and bed. My boys never did show up.
I searched for that heifer for two more hours until I was exhausted, frustrated, furious with my husband, and convinced that I had allowed Bossie and the calf to die a terrible death. With that thought in mind, I searched another hour. After all, where could one cow be in only twenty acres?
It was almost 2:00 a.m. when I gave up. I went home, fell into bed, slept a little, and woke up groggy, tired, and rumpled. By dawn, I was beginning my thousandth trip around, through, and across that pasture.
There she was.
There she was standing in the same thicket I had chased her out of the evening before. She was standing there licking the prettiest red baby I think Ive ever seen. She shook her head at me threateningly as I tried to get close enough to make sure she and the calf were both okay. I took that as warning enough to leave her alone and went home to bed where this aging country woman needed to be.
Romance, horses, and adventure.
A short story by Barbara Power
all rights reserved
Callie slammed the ranch house door as she stormed toward the barn. “The nerve of that jerk!” she thought as she entered the warm barn and grabbed a halter. She had just finished saddling her favorite mount, a stout sorrel mare named Diamond, when Old Ben appeared out nowhere.
“Girl, it’s too late to go riding in these mountains.” Startled Callie jumped and screamed. She had been so preoccupied with her angry thoughts that she had not seen him until he spoke. Being frightened just made her angrier.
“I’m not a little girl and I can take care of myself,” she snapped at Ben and then softened. After all Old Ben had taught her to ride and he was only looking out for her safety.
“I won’t go far, Ben, I promise. It’s just that—I’ve got to get away for a little while. I won’t be long.” She turned and busied herself with bridling the mare so that he wouldn’t see the tears.
Ben had lived a long time and he recognized the pain in Callie. He nodded, “okay, then, but take the north trail. And, Callie, stay on the trails. I saw panther signs at Mirror Lake. There’s nothing a big cat likes better than horse meat.”
He watched until Callie disappeared over the first rise before saddling his gelding. He took enough time to retrieve a rifle from his cabin before following the head-strong young woman.
Callie held the tears until she was out of sight and sound of the ranch and then gave in to the pain, anger, and despair she had been feeling ever since that jerk of a fiancée had broken their engagement three months ago. Tonight he had called to “check on her” and to request that she return his ring via the postal service. After telling him exactly what he could do with his ring and his request, she had stormed out of the house to escape the sympathy her Aunt Martha insisted on bestowing on her. All she wanted was to be left alone.
Forty-five minutes after Callie’s emotional outburst had subsided, she was roused from painful contemplation to present awareness by Diamond’s sudden restlessness. Trying to quiet the usually passive mare, she realized that she was in unfamiliar country. She had ridden the north trail only once before and then she had been with Ben.
“Easy, girl.” Her voice sounded more reassuring than she felt. Something was frightening the mare. Remembering Ben’s warning about the panther, she reined Diamond around and headed back down the trail, retracing her steps.
The thunderous crack of a gunshot split the peaceful quiet, startling her and spooking the already nervous mare. Diamond whirled and raced headlong back up the trail with Callie hanging for dear life. Pine, cypress, and spruce branches scratched and tore at her clothing and skin as she struggled to control the frightened animal. Once Diamond stumbled and Callie’s heart stopped in her throat. If she couldn’t stop this headlong race through the forest, she and the mare would both be badly injured or killed.
Suddenly a man was standing in the trail; he stepped quickly to one side as the mare slowed and then ran past him. With practiced ease he caught the bridle rein and pulled the mare’s head around, using his weight as a drag to slow her momentum. It was a rough few moments for Callie until the mare accepted the man’s control and came to a stop.
Shaken, Callie allowed the stranger to help her down and then leaned heavily into his strong arms. He held her to keep her from falling as her knees buckled and she felt the warmth and strength of his arms and shoulders against her body. She looked up at him and into the most handsome face she had ever seen.
“Are you all right?” the concern in his face and voice was genuine. She shook herself back to reality and stood on her on power.
“Yes. I think so.”
He held on to her as she found her balance and then turned to check the horse. Diamond was still breathing hard and was favoring her left foreleg. Callie watched as he spoke gently to the mare and examined her leg. She found herself attracted to his calm confidence.
“I’m afraid you won’t be riding her home,” he commented as he stood up. “She may have pulled a tendon.”
Callie’s concern for the horse expressed itself in anger. “Some fool fired a gun. It scared her.”
“That fool was Ben trying to scare that mountain cat off your trail. He may have saved your life.” He regarded her seriously, “I can only assume that he thought you’d be able to handle your horse if it spooked.”
Callie flushed with embarrassment and anger. “I. . .” she stuttered unsure of what to say. Ben had taught her what to do if a horse spooked. She had just been preoccupied. In self-defense she changed the subject.
“What are you doing out here anyway?”
His amused expression only flustered her more. “Well, just now I was stopping a runaway horse. Before that I was following that panther.”
She stared at him, confused. Why would any one follow a dangerous animal? He was amused by her confusion. The thought crossed her mind that he found everything she did amusing.
“Jeff Daniels, animal behaviorist, at your service. In answer to your next question, I have permission from Mrs. Wright—and Ben—to work here.”
Callie collected her dignity. “I am Callie Wright; Martha Wright is my aunt.” The last remark was to let him know that she had more right to be there than he did.
“Very pleased to meet you Callie Wright.” He performed an extravagant bow. She laughed at him in spite of her frustration, and then blushed as their eyes made contact and held. Something passed between them then; she could tell that he felt it as strongly as she. He finally broke the spell by focusing back on their immediate problems.
“My cabin is just over that ridge. It’s much closer than the ranch. We’ll take the mare there and call your aunt.”
“What about Ben? He’s still out here and it’s nearly dark.”
“Old Ben was raised in these mountains. He’ll be back at the ranch before we make it to the cabin.”
“He followed me, didn’t he? I knew he didn’t want me to go out.”
“Why did you then?
She looked at him and laughed. “Right now, I can’t even remember.”
They walked side by side on the forest trail, leading the limping horse. The night breeze was soft and cool and smelled fresh and alive. The stars blinked into existence waking the night creatures who serenaded the couple with the soft music of nature. As they walked, they talked and Callie felt her broken heart waken with new interest and new love.
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