Tony Vagneur: Fences are put up for a reason
After a long day on the mountain, clearing trail after the big windstorm we’ve been having, I rounded the corner to my horse pasture to see several people in it, with a photographer and a couple of sun reflectors. Wandering over to get a gander, everyone ignored me but one small boy, who gave a friendly wave. They were taking photos of a young couple who looked to have at least one child of two or three and maybe a baby in the mother’s arms.
Such a peaceful scene, I hated to ask them what the hell they were doing in my horse pasture, so I didn’t. The horses ambled over that way, with my same sort of curiosity, and when they were totally ignored as well, moseyed off to greener grass.
And the thought occurred to me, what if I’d turned an ornery stud horse loose in there, or a mean cow or two, or what if I had a seriously protective herd dog bent on running them off? What if! Only a couple of days before, there had been five pairs of cows and calves and a Hereford bull out of there. One of those cows was very protective. It’s always good to ask before you just assume it’s all right to climb over the fence, for you never know what might be waiting just out of sight.
When I was 8 or 9, my dad had a Black Angus milk cow along with his Brown Swiss. She must have been a helluva producer to be in such highly revered company. Anyway, in the evening he’d turn the milk cows out in our grass-filled orchard below the road, which was kept weed-free for milk quality. The gate was about 50 yards from the milk barn and this one evening, he’d sent me down the road to make sure the cows turned into the orchard and not continue down the road.
Blackie, as she was most creatively called, was a bit nasty to work with, requiring hobbles to be milked, but seemed to be all threat when she’d put her head down and snort at you. Only on this particular evening, my sister, who was 4 or 5, had gone to visit the hired hand’s wife, whose cabin was near the gate to the orchard. Just as the cows were turning into the orchard, my sister had decided to return home to our house and was caught out in the open without protection of adults or anything else.
Wisely, my sister had stopped and waited near a pole fence for the cows to go by, but Blackie, the ornery bovine (well, bitch actually, if you want the full detail), saw the opportunity and on the way by, attacked and pinned my unsuspecting sister to the ground with her head, grunting and slinging snot from side-to-side all the while. People have been killed in such a manner.
It was a bit of a dust-up, my sister yelling for help, my running toward the confrontation, and fortunately my dad, who was following the cows along, managed to get the nasty-tempered cow off my sister who after, getting over the shock, was found to be mostly unharmed, at least physically. Blackie went to the sale barn shortly thereafter.
Imagine a college freshman, who grew up tending and herding cattle, who had spent the previous summer riding practice bulls at the W/J Ranch and who had faced down some ornery brutes along the way. Imagine him taking an unknown shortcut through a wooded expanse on his way to a spring get-together at a private lake somewhere north of the city.
The cutoff was through the pasture of a large herd of seemingly peaceful cattle, mixed breeds to be sure, but a refreshing sight to yours truly who was looking to get back to Woody Creek and the life of a cattle rancher.
Suddenly, the sound of an unhappy critter let me know there was trouble afoot and turning, saw the body and angry eyes of an outraged black mother hurtling toward me. I was quick and fast in those days, and made it to a tree before she got me, but it was close.
So, for a long time, there I sat, the cow glaring up at me, waiting for her to leave so I could get on with my trek and join the party. It was fortunate, it seemed, to be all alone for how embarrassing it would be for anyone to see a cowboy of my supposed stature stuck in a tree with a peeved cow circling the bottom.
If you have to climb a fence to get where you want to be, ask permission, or at the very least, know why the fence is there. It might not be to keep you out — it might be to keep critters unfriendly to humans away from you. They’re not always obvious at first.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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