Home on the Range

We were out walking the dog last week when a neighbor pulled up and asked, “Any cows in your backyard?

“Two brown cows wandering around.”

He explained how the cows had been grazing on the new grass down their way for two or three days and said we should keep an eye out for them in our end of the neighborhood. He’d seen them at least three times. We thanked him, and Betsy asked if he’d come and tell us if he saw them again. She didn’t want to miss cows grazing in the suburbs.

As we walked home I remembered that I’d seen hoof prints on the trail by the creek, but I had assumed that somebody was back there riding horses. Suburban cows just weren’t on my radar, though I knew there were some close-by across the creek off Country Club Road and others up on Fernwood-Glendale Road. Why did it feel so strange? It wasn’t as if we were in the middle of New York City.

I was amused, but Betsy was really excited. Living along the creek she’d seen some wildlife, but cows somehow were even better than deer or turkeys or a fox. Escaped cows seemed more exotic in Pierce Acres.

About 7 pm that evening our neighbor knocked on the door. “The cows are down at the end of the street,” he said.

Seeing is believing, so we jumped in the truck and cruised down to the intersection of Starline and Fairlane, and there they were, two brown cows calmly grazing in someone’s front yard. They could have been in Iowa for what they cared. We didn’t know whether to call the police or Ben & Jerry’s.

I knocked on the front door. The people with the cows on their lawn weren’t home. From their driveway I looked out over the yard and saw several deposits left by the cows and realized this neighbor wouldn’t need to call Chemlawn this spring to fertilize. Soon the mini-herd was on the move, headed for greener lawns across the open range.

“Oh, no. Those cows are headed for Lake Forest Drive!” Betsy said, feeling like an urban cowgirl. “Use your truck to turn them back. Some teenager might plow into them out on the curve.”

So I speeded up, and the cows speeded up and before I knew it we were racing two brown cows up Fairlane. “Stampede!” I yelled out the window and slipped in front of them.

The cows responded when I yipped out the open window like Roy Rogers or Hoss Cartwright did in my TV youth. Their eyes grew large and alarmed. Then from a full gallop they turned and slipped through a gate and disappeared into the trees along the creek.

We haven’t seen them since, though we look for them every day. We see hoof prints in the mud along the creek but have no idea if they are recent. It’s as if the cows have disappeared back into the flood plain along the creek after one attempt to break out into the thick new grass of the suburbs.

In PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK Annie Dillard says cows she sees on her walks are “a human product like rayon… like a field of shoes… cast-iron shanks and tongues like foam insoles. You can’t see through to their brains as you can with other animals; they have beef fat behind their eyes, beef stew.”

Our insurgent cows are much more noble than that. Into their jailbreak from a steak and stew beef future I inject the will to live free and create their own destinies.  I’ve imagined them like the buffalo that used to roam the piedmont. I imagined these two brown cows like the last of the Mohicans bringing wild ungulate energy back to the Lawson’s Fork.

At night I stand on the deck and listen for their mournful bellow from the woods. Cows on the lam. It doesn’t get much better than this for a poet on the banks of the Lawson’s Fork.

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