A Cow Arrives At Christmas

I grew up on a farm. The house and barns were built from wood logged from our own property and sawed into boards at the sawmill Grandpa had built and run himself. Grandpa was a Finnish immigrant who believed he could do anything he wanted and make anything he needed with his determination and strength. My dad followed in Grandpa's footsteps: Dad was an ingenious man who took care of everything in the course of a day's work on the farm.

Our 200 acres of land contained pastures where cattle grazed, and also dense woods. Although Grandpa had shut down the sawmill at the top of the hill when I was small, the woods were still riddled with the overgrown remains of the logging trails.

We always chose a white pine for our Christmas tree. My cousins had spruces, which had thick branches and the classic Christmas-tree shape, but we had pines - friendly trees, with their long soft needles and clean scent. My dad, brother, and I would go together to get the tree, walking in the woods, sometimes trudging through the deep snow. We wanted a tree that was not only the right size but also was one that the forest would not miss.

Mom didn't come on these expeditions. While we were gone, she would hunt out the boxes of Christmas tree ornaments, and there would be hot chocolate waiting for us when we returned.

The year I was 11, Dad was too busy to go after the tree with me, and my brother hadn't come home from college yet. I was judged old enough to pick out a tree and get it by myself. I took my brother's old Boy Scout hatchet, and I went off into the woods alone. A hard icy wind was blowing, and the thickening gray sky promised snow by afternoon.

I was going to hike up through the woods, find the tree, and then come down the hill through the pasture. There were pine thickets in this part of the woods, and I was sure I'd be able to find a good tree here, not far from home.

It was harder than I had thought. Most of the trees were too big, and many were sparse and oddly shaped. Others were crooked from wind or flat-sided from growing too close to other trees.

I finally chose one and tried to chop it down. This, too, was harder than I'd thought. The hatchet blade was dull, the sap was frozen solid in the tree trunk, and my fingers were clumsy in my gloves. I almost gave up, but the family determination wouldn't let me. After chopping and chopping, I finally got it down.

Getting the tree home was the next step. I half-dragged, half-carried the tree through the woods to one of the logging trails and then to the fence that led into the pasture. I heaved it over the barbed wire and then crawled through myself. Once I got the tree out in the open, the real struggle began.

The wind had risen, and it was snowing fairly hard. Not soft fat snowflakes, but small icy shards that felt like knives flung by the wind. The wind had scoured the ground clear of snow, so I couldn't drag the tree without breaking branches. I had to carry it.

I'd gotten as far as the big pond when a black-and-white cow came out from behind a tangled thicket of debris thrown against a fallen tree. She walked up to me and said, ``MOO.''

This was odd. I'd been through pastures at the same time as the cows before. I always ignored them, and they ignored me. What was this one doing out here, anyway? None of the other cows were around; they were all shut up in one of the barns below, safe from the wind and cold and approaching snowstorm.

The cow lifted her big head at me and said ``MOO!'' again, impatiently.

``What do you want?'' I asked aloud. The wind took my words away.

The cow turned, walked a few steps, looked back at me over her shoulder, and said ``MOO!'' again, this time in a peremptory tone.

I couldn't ignore it. I laid the tree on the ground and followed the cow to the other side of the brush pile. There, trembling, was a newborn calf, not yet able to walk. The mother licked it, and the calf snuggled up to her for warmth. The cow looked at me again.

I left the tree where it was and ran down the hill. I found my dad in one of the barns, and he came up the hill with me. He picked up the calf and carried it, followed by the mother. He got them safely settled in the cow barn. I brought home the tree and was rewarded with a cup of hot chocolate. That night, Dad set up the tree in the stand and we decorated it. A few days later, it was Christmas. `Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, usually on Tuesdays.

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