The cow that almost came to stay with us

'One of Orv's cows is in our field," my husband, Jon, remarked placidly. I raced to a window. A quarter mile away, on a western slope, a large bovine grazed.

"What should we do?" I asked panic-stricken. Jon chuckled at my alarm.

"I'll call Orv," he said.

Eavesdropping as Jon and Orv joked about a cow that can cross a barbed wire fence, I found the conversation far too jovial. "Well?" I demanded.

"Orv will be over pretty soon to round up the cow."

"Pretty soon?" I shrieked.

That wasn't soon enough.

My history with bovines isn't pleasant. When I was 11, my parents decided they wanted to get "back to nature." Considering we lived in inner-city St. Paul, Minn., this was a major decision.

We practiced first by spending one summer on Uncle Harry's land in Minnesota, living in a tent. Our tent was some distance from Harry's house on the opposite side of the gated cow pasture. Our first night, we were crossing the pasture. Everyone chatted pleasantly as we meandered around the cows. Suddenly, a small steer charged me. I froze in terror. Harry calmly stepped in front of me, waved his arms, and yelled. Seconds before trampling us, Robert (the steer) veered off to one side.

"That's what ya do if yer charged," Harry said matter-of-factly.

My cow phobia was born.

That summer, my siblings and I took turns fetching fresh milk from Uncle Harry's house for breakfast. This required crossing the pasture. On my first turn, I trod the dirt path to the gate. But staring at me from the other side was Robert, brown eyes ablaze. I stared back, refusing to show my citified fears. His glare was unwavering. I raced back to the tent.

"I can't do it!" I gasped. My parents wouldn't listen. How would I ever adapt to country life if I was afraid of a steer? I was forced back down the path.

Robert hadn't budged. "Scat!" I yelled. He chewed his cud like the Terminator. I waved my arms back and forth and yelled. But I couldn't force myself to open the gate.

Just then my cousin Carl came outside. Laughing at my predicament, he fetched the milk, entered the pen, swatted Robert on the rear, and handed me the gallon jug. It looked so easy. After that, on my milk mornings, Carl just happened to be near the cow gate around breakfast time with a gallon of milk.

This fear of cows dogs me still. My parents did move to a farmette and we had two cows. I never went near them. I've successfully avoided cows ever since, unless they're in my hamburger bun.

But now the cows were back.

I spent that day periodically stepping out on the deck to look for Orv's cow. Sometimes it was on the hillside, sometimes not. Orv came over to fetch her, but couldn't find her.

A day passed, then three. I itched to wander my hills and valleys, beautiful in their spring-green dress. But each time Orv came hunting, the cow played hide and seek.

Meanwhile, a predator was stealing the chickens we keep near my vegetable garden. So Zach set traps around the chicken pens. One morning he went out to check his traps.

"Well, no chickens died last night," said Zach. "But all my traps are sprung, and there's a cow pie right nearby."

Nothing crushes my vegetables and gets away with it. I marched outside. There was the cow pie and there were cow tracks, neatly imprinted on the path next to the strawberry bed. Not a single strawberry was trampled. And no chickens had been killed that night. Had the cow frightened away the predator? Was she a watch-cow? A fellow gardening aficionado? My view of the cow shifted.

Orv finally did fetch his cow, and now I'm back to walking my hills and valleys. But I feel a twinge of regret. I miss seeing her graze from my window, and our chickens are disappearing. "Maybe we should buy her," I suggested to the disbelief of my family. "It feels as if she belongs here."

On my morning run the next day, I passed Orv's property. Along the fence lining the road, his brown Swiss grazed, newborn calves nudging their mothers' bellies. The cows stared as I jogged by.

"Hey, girls," I cooed. One cow approached the fence, her almond shaped eyes stared at me unblinking. "Are you my former houseguest, pretty lady?" I asked, proud of my new found bravery.

"Moo!" She bawled.

I sprinted down the road like lightning. Maybe I need a little more time before inviting this guest to stay permanently.

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