A warm day in February I came home from working at the university all day and decided to give Mary and Rachel a vacation and go to the barn myself.
My first task was to get some new calves in. They had been let outside for the first time today. The five young calves were out in the pasture with about ten older heifers. The babies I was after were small enough to walk right under the bellies of the other animals. They also were better at hiding themselves and at this point I could only see two. One, named Bambi, was in the corral by the barn. I was glad to see her so close as she was also the oldest and heaviest one.
Bambi was not going to go in the barn without a fight. I followed her around and around the corral cajoling her with soothing baby talk in an attempt to grab her collar. At times she would decide to try to bolt for the barb wire fence and I would have to run and head her off before she jumped through it. I finally captured her up against the barn wall in the far corner of the corral. I had a second to get a firm grip on her collar with my one hand and set my other hand on her back before she took off, bucking and kicking.
It’s hard to hang onto a twisting bucking calf. It’s harder when you’re both on top of what amounts to an ice rink. Then, if your hat falls over your eyes, you just plant your boots in a skater’s stance, hang on tight and pray that you don’t crash into the fence or the barn wall.
We crashed into a metal feeder. I quickly shoved my hat off my eyes and put my other hand around her head.
“Woah, baby!” I said, firmly.
She kicked me in the shin.
I gave up peaceful measures and dragged her step by step into the barn. Once inside she perked up her ears and trotted happily into the pen where she laid down with a happy sigh.
The second calf was easy. After her, I spotted the last three sunning themselves in a snow-free spot on top of the hill. I climbed up and took two by their collars. They didn’t want to follow me. They went into a classic Jersey passive-aggressive mode of defense: playing possum.
“Come on,” I pleaded, rolling my eyes at them. “It’s getting cold out here.” I poked one in the belly. She rolled her eyes back further in her head to emphasize the fact that she was dead.
“Fine,” I said, “be dead. See if I care.”
I took the two “dead” calves by their collars and began to drag them across the snow. They slid along quite easily as the snow had the perfect half sticky crust on it and the hill was steep. They started sliding so fast they actually got scared and got up. We ran the rest of the way to the barn together.
The last calf was just a little baby. I ran after her, and picked her up in my arms. I ran back to the barn with her, occasionally positioning my feet like a snowboarder and sliding down the muddy hill.
I dropped the last calf in the pen just as Mom came into the barn to drop Danny off. I was panting and covered with mud and snow.
“What happened to you?” she asked.
“Calves,” I gasped out, pointing weakly with one hand.
“Yay! Baby cows!” said Danny.
“Come on, Danny boy,” I said, “Let’s go get the cows in the barn for Daddy!”
“No, Fweeba! Baby cows!” he yelled defiantly. He got down on his hands and knees and tried to crawl under the gate into the calf pen.
“Listen, beautiful, we have to go get the momma cows for the baby cows.”
That made sense to him. He sat up.
“Yeah, Danny! The baby cows need their momma cows so they can have milk to drink. Okay?”
“Okay! Momma cows an’ baby cows! Milk!”
I swung him up on my shoulders and we began climbing the long steep hill to the cows. The sky was just beginning to blush a deeper shade of blue.
“Fweeba! Look! Moon! An’, cows!”
“That’s right, Danny. There’s the moon and there’s the cows.”
Danny kept his gaze fixed on the moon as we climbed. He was chattering quietly to himself in a serious tone.
“’Ey, ‘ey, diddle, cat an’ diddle, cow an’ jumped an’ moon, an’ dog an’…”
Suddenly I realized that he was reciting the old nursery rhyme.
“That’s right, Danny! Here, let’s say it together.”
It was going to be one of those moments. I tried hard to remember everything that touched my senses. I wanted to lock this moment in my heart to keep for always. My boots made squelching sounds on the melting snow, I could smell the cows waiting for us on the top of the hill, and my clear voice melded with Danny’s trilling one in the old poem as the old moon rose above us.
“Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon,
The little dog laughed to see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.”
His serious voice told me that for him, in his two year old mind, it wasn’t just a nursery rhyme. It was poetry. Not only was it poetry, it was beautiful and magical poetry. In Danny’s world there was no reason why his cows couldn’t jump over the moon. We reached the top of the hill. I stopped to take a breath. Danny’s hand shot out to point ahead of us at the herd.
“A dish ran away with a ‘poon, Fweeba! Oh no! Fweeba, look, the cows! Okay, cows! Look cows—a moon! Let’s go! Jump!”