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Irons in the fire: Which self am I today?

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 31 January 2020

Tag number 549. I made a mental note of the number and wrote it on the back of my hand when I made it back to the pickup and loaded the horse and dogs. It was mid-December.

A hunter had stopped by the house a couple days earlier to tell me he’d seen some critters on the back side of the hill by the Adams place, just below the forest boundary fence. I loaded a horse in the trailer and made my way as far as the snow would allow. A short 15-minute ride took me to the back side of the hill, where I easily found the objects of my search. There, on the south-facing hillside, I found one of my missing bulls, a coming-2-year-old heifer, a dry cow with the neighbor’s brand on her left hip and a waspy, high-headed black cow with a nice but equally high-strung red steer calf by her side.

It didn’t take any of my super-buckaroo skills to get the little herd gathered and headed toward home. In less than an hour, I had them off the hill and tucked in the 320 where I’d dumped the open cows. I kind of surprised myself when I was able to sort off the bull and kick him down the road to the bull pasture.

A few weeks later, we gathered the open cows to ship them. I sorted off number 549 so I could stick my arm in her to see if she was pregnant. Of course, she had a big calf in her belly, so I didn’t load her on the truck. Days earlier, when my son was home from college during Christmas break, we’d gathered the calf and sent it to the feedyard with the rest of its contemporaries.

The attitude of the calf, as it bounced from fence to fence, gave me reason to question his mother’s disposition. My suspicions of her savage attitude were confirmed when she put me over the fence as we attempted to load her up and kick her out with the rest of the cow herd. My dad, who in a few days would see the dawning of his 10th decade and thus had some experience in such matters, suggested we allow someone else the privilege of owning this cow.

We put the old girl in the corral with a couple heifers to keep her until we could haul her to the sale the next week. Whenever I’d walk by or chuck a flake of hay over the fence, she’d throw her head in the air, blow some snot, look me in the eye and shake her head and ears at me with ferocious indignation. I’d certainly not shed a tear to see this one go to town.

The next Thursday, sale day, I somehow miraculously got the savage beast sorted into the alley so we could run her up into the trailer. Upon realizing she may be captured, the winged bovine started ricocheting from one side of the alley to the other, jumping and flailing herself against the 7-foot-high fence with all the caution of a suicide bomber. She snapped the top rail on the west side of the alley but slipped and was flipped onto her back in the ruckus. This only added to her fury and gave her more resolve as she flung herself at the east side. This time, she managed to crash through the top three rails and escape into the big pen.

A string of R-rated profanities escaped the Pandora’s box where I try to keep my most vile and putrid emotions and language. In my current state of mind, justified as I felt I was, I matched her every maniac move with an equally vile and nasty string of cuss words and phrases. I cobbled up the fence with some panels and somehow got her captured in the trailer, though a couple of the panels now resembled the former Bridge on the River Kwai, post-David Niven’s final scene.

As I made the 25-mile drive into the sale, I was eventually able to feel my blood cool down to a manageable simmer. I wasn’t particularly proud of the way I’d handled myself under the pressure of dealing with such bovine-induced anxiety. At the time, I felt I could easily validate my anger. With a little reflection and the aid of a few minutes, however, I realized that’s not really who I wanted to be. What worried me, though, was the probability that that’s who I actually was.

If that’s the case, then I can’t help being myself, can I? I needed another minute or two to unravel that boondoggle of a thought. I came to the conclusion that I, like pretty much everyone else, am an amalgam of a whole bunch of “selves.” It brought to mind a quote I recently read and thought enough of that I wrote it down: “Be yourself, but always be your better self.”

I was more than a little ashamed that I let a knot-headed cow make the decision for me as to who I was at that moment. It seems I keep a tighter lock on the box where my better self hides than I do on my anger management Pandora’s box. I’ll have to find the key to that box and keep it in my shirt pocket – a little closer to my heart.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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