Last fall a friend rented a field on my elderly in-laws' farm. I would spy Mike's red pickup parked in the tall grass while he drove posts in the ground and strung electrical wires. Sometimes I noticed passing cars slowing down to watch Mike's progress.
One day a large galvanized stock tank sat like a boulder in one corner of the field, and Mike moved in his brood cows, a mixture of Hereford and Black Angus. My husband, John, and I enjoyed strolling up the half-mile lane separating our farm from the field Mike was using. We would stand on the rise and gaze at the content cattle. Soon we learned that other locals also took pleasure in observing the daily activity occurring in the pasture.
On a recent Sunday morning, moments before we left for church, a green pickup zoomed up our driveway. A man in brown coveralls strode toward the house. I recognized him as Gary, a fruit farmer who lives a couple of miles south of us.
"Are those your cows in the pasture by the road?" he asked. "I was coming home from the diner and saw that a calf's out. Don't want him to wander into the road."
"They belong to a friend, but thanks for telling us," I replied. "We'll call him and go see what we can do."
Gary drove off. John called Mike, who did not answer his cellphone. Slipping on our rubber boots, we raced over to Jonn's parents' farm. A mother cow roamed the fence line, and her baby trotted beside the wire. The calf turned a corner and headed along the leg of the field that went toward the state road.
"We better head them off," John said. "I'll take the fence by the road, and you work your way toward the calf."
John marched through the snow. His red and blue stocking cap flitted like a songbird against the muted-brown tufts of grass poking through the white landscape.
I glimpsed Gary's green pickup easing down the road, watching to see if we needed his help.
When John and the wayward calf met, the youngster reversed its stroll, skipped away from the road, and headed toward me. I narrowed the gap between us, inching along the fence. The black calf froze, but sensed no threat from the slow-moving humans. John scooped him up and carried him toward where I stood.
"Turn off the fence," he requested, "and I'll slip him under the wires."
I flipped the switch. John sneaked the calf between the wires, and the little one scampered to its mother. John and I drove off to church and assumed we had finished our roles as foster caretakers.
But this week when the phone rang, it was our mail carrier, Linda.
"I'm not calling about your mail, but do you own those cows by the road?" she asked. "I look at them every day, and there's a newborn huddled in the snow. Its mama isn't nearby. I'm worried. Supposed to be real cold tonight. Somebody needs to put the calf in a barn. The other mail carrier, Lee, he's worried, too."
"John and Mike are at the barn. They'll take care of the baby," I assured her.
"Good," Linda said. "I thought about sticking it in my Jeep and bedding it down in my in-laws' barn tonight. See ya!"
When John arrived home, he guaranteed me that the little calf was snuggled with its mother. "It appears everyone's keeping watch over the flock both day and night," he commented.
His quip reminded me of a saying on a napkin thumbtacked to a bulletin board in the elementary classroom where I volunteer. "The blessing of small-town life is that if you can't remember what you were doing, just ask your neighbor."
The message drew chuckles from the volunteers. But when a calf's out, we appreciate that our neighbors notice, and that, thanks to all of us, even the least of the herd is safe.