Friday, April 17, 2015

Surfing the Flood

     The cows have a new sport.  We've had several inches of rain and in addition to greening the fields, it has filled the rivers.  I went out to check on the riverbank and water-gaps because farmers always worry about something.  If it's sunny, it might get too dry  If it's warm, the trees might bud out too soon.  If it's cold, the cows will still need to be fed.  If it's raining, the rivers might flood.
     Having suffered through various floods, including the massive floods of '85 and '93, we are a bit rain-shy. Especially when we can hear the waters rushing down the valley through our closed bedroom window. Which was the case last night.  Hence my trip out to inspect riverbanks and water-gaps.  The river bank in front of the house is slowly giving way to rain and gravity.  Although there are still 30 yards of dirt and rock between us and the collapsing cliff, I've read Chesapeake by James Michener.  Remember in the last chapter how the house drops down into a river that was 100 yards from it at the beginning of the book?  Every heavy rain makes me worry.
     So, this morning I went out to inspect the damage.  The bank had held up fine, but from my lofty position I had an uninterrupted view of the river as it raged through our bottom, splitting it neatly in half.  On one side were bunches of mama cows. Their babies were on the other side. All of them were bawling and staring across the flood.  Then, one old Charolais mama decided to cross over.  She took a few tentative steps, committed to the journey, and waded out into the torrent.  At mid-river, the water was so deep that it piled up against her sides and curled over her back, shifting her downstream as she crossed.  She made shore with a final lunge, which was the signal for all of the other cows to follow.
     A cow weighs over a thousand pounds, so I wasn't too concerned about their decision.  I could see that the footing was good and, although the pressure was jostling the girls as they crossed, it didn't appear to be too dangerous. As each cow completed the crossing, she was met by a hungry baby.  I breathed a sigh of relief as the the last cow crossed.
     Then one of the Angus mamas walked away from her hungry calf, waded to the edge of the river and stood looking downstream.  Her baby walked up behind her, sticking his head between her legs, and trying to finish breakfast.  He followed her into the river as she crossed back to the other side.
    I held my breath as the 100 pound baby was picked up by the current and began bobbing downstream.  Mama reached the bank and never looked back.  Apparently the calf had attended the same water safety courses that I took in my teens.  It turned downstream and ,with vigorous pumping, swam with the current until it washed up safely on the other shore, thirty feet below where it had started.
     The rest of the cows and calves were so impressed that they followed.  Every mama and baby completed the treacherous swim.
      Some babies were washed further downstream than others.  I actually wondered how I might save one if it was unable to reach the other side. Would I run for a rope and lasso it?  Could I go down to the water-gap and pull it out there?  All possibilities were too dangerous.  I knew I would just have to let the baby float on by. Thank goodness they all made it to shore.
     Relieved, I turned to head back to the house.  That's when I heard it.  A mama mooing.  I turned to look and there was  that same old Charolais dipping her feet in the water again.  She dove in and baby followed.  I walked back to the house, unable to watch any longer.
     Later in the afternoon, when I counted cows and calves, all were safely grazing having survived a morning of  surfing the flood.  I wonder which one took home the trophy.

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