The first cup of steaming coffee was just beginning to boot up my brain when I caught a glimpse of a large, shaggy beast lumbering past our living room window.
Was it Bigfoot or a sasquatch or maybe even Keanu Reeves? Sadly, no. If it had been any of those, I wouldn’t be here. I would be on E! TV, showing off my cellphone video and sharing all the juicy details about my epic encounter.
The beast was, in fact, one of our Jersey steers. His presence on the sidewalk was every bit as shocking as if he had been a mythical forest creature or someone from The Matrix.
Our handful of Jersey steers are free to roam around on an acre or so of grass. They are prevented from roaming the entire planet by an electric fence which is connected to a charger that sends out jolts of electrons that are powerful enough to bring down a satellite.
So the steers have a deep respect for the “hot” wire. It was all the more puzzling that one of them had somehow escaped the cattle yard and got so close to our house that he could have rang the doorbell.
Inspection revealed that the electric fence was working perfectly. The steer had escaped by crumpling a corroded old cattle panel next to the water fountain. Not exactly a Houdini move, but effective.
The cattle panel clearly needed to be replaced. I built that section of fence roughly 30 years ago, so I doubted if there would be any warranty on the cattle panel. They don’t make things like they used to!
As I wrested the new cattle panel into place, I thought about Old Frank, my erstwhile landlord.
Old Frank was well north of 80 when I met him. He was a wiry old guy, with a shock of white hair atop his head and eyebrows the size of hamsters. I got my start in farming more than four decades ago when I leased a humble little dairy farm from him.
When I say “humble” what I mean is “rundown.” The farmstead was a collection of ramshackle buildings that were in various stages of advanced decay. But my desire to farm was so great that I didn’t care about the condition of the buildings. I would have lived in a mud hut and milked cows by hand if it meant that I could be a farmer.
Shortly after I moved onto the farm, it became apparent that I was Old Frank’s pet project. He would drive out almost every day and regale me with stories about his long and colorful life. He told the same epic tales over and over, but I figured this was simply part of the cost of doing business with him.
Recognizing that my farm desperately needed repairs, Old Frank would putter around the place, tacking up some tin here, sloshing on some paint there. He came to the farm one morning with a bucketful of crooked nails that he’d purchased at an auction for 50 cents.
“Nothing wrong with these nails!” declared Old Frank as he hammered them more or less straight on the top of a wooden fence post. “They’ve only been used once!”
Old Frank had to rest frequently. He would rub the small of his back and take a deep whiff of the spring air. “I got soft this winter,” he would murmur. “I just need to toughen in.”
My Holsteins often escaped through the rickety pasture fence and wandered onto a nearby highway. This was scary for both the cattle and for passing motorists. Cows aren’t known for following the rules of the road.
One day, Old Frank brought me several large, unwieldy rolls of rusty barbwire. “Can you believe that somebody left these at the dump?” he asked. “Nothing wrong with this wire! I bet it was used only once!”
I saw that particular type of barbed wire again a few years later. It was part a museum exhibit.
I thought about these things as I installed my new cattle panel. It was an onerous task, but it felt good to be out in the warm spring sunshine after our interminable Covid-19 winter.
I took a deep breath and smelled the earthy perfume of warming soil. “There it is!” I thought, feeling as though I had just reconnected with an old pal whom I hadn’t seen for years.
Hammering in all of those staples took a good amount of effort. It was surprising how often my arm needed rest.
Straightening up to rub my back, I thought to myself, “It’s been a long winter. I just need to toughen in.”