Thursday, January 4, 2018

Marital Communication -or- That's a Lot of Bull

This is a story written in 2009. Although it's a little bit long, we thought you might enjoy it.

After Norman the bull was back in the pen we jokingly called him, "One thousand pounds of muscle and eight ounces of brain." That day certainly hadn't gone the way I anticipated, but it made me thankful for our friends!

This week, Mark and I are doing the milking chore for Jake and Dawn while they take a well-deserved vacation. It was our first morning of feeding and milking, and all went well. At home, and Mark gone to work, friends visiting from the coast stop over.

In sharing our family news I tell them of Jake's new livestock- Amber, the cow, and Norman, the bull. I am explaining that Norman is a nice bull, huge and strong. I have a healthy respect for him, and I'm glad that it hasn't occurred to Norman that he could break the 2 x 4's on the sides of his pen like kindling if he wanted to. I recount how he lays his head down on the ground, burying his eight inch horn in the dirt and then he pushes - popping the big tree roots like I would snap a thread. I am interrupted by my two-way radio, "240 to 221", and I recognize my nephew Gordy's voice.

I hop up to answer the radio, "This is 221", I say as I click the mic.

"Uh, hi, Aunt Monica. Are Jake or Dawn up there at your place?"

I have a little sense of apprehension. "No, they aren't. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Well, there are a couple of cows in my yard."

I want to exclaim, "You mean the bull is out!" but instead I calmly say, "Mark is up at Barnharts, but I will head right over. 221 clear."

"Thanks! 240 clear."

Many things run through my mind as I turn to look at Eric and John. They look serious, mirroring my own face. "Can we help you? Do you want us to come with you?"

As I pull on my coat, we hurriedly make our way to the door. "I would love your help. I hope Rene can run up the road and let Mark know."

"Well, maybe we should drive over in a different vehicle in case we need to come at him from different directions."

The decision is made that we will meet at Jake and Dawn's. As I drive out the driveway, I can see Eric and John running over to their vehicle at the ranch.

Turning off the road into Jake and Dawn's long driveway, I begin scanning the area for Norman. No sign of him in the pasture, no sign of him in Jim and Rene's yard. As I turn into Jake and Dawn's driveway, I see Amber, and not too far from her is Norman. When he sees me he drops his head low, and though my windows are closed, I hear his bellow. He keeps his head down and trots toward me. He stops and paws the ground, head low. He pushes the dirt backward with his front foot and throws it up onto his back, swinging his head from side to side, snorting. I turn off the engine. He is a big animal, and he lowers his head out of sight near my front tire , and then my vehicle rocks. I worry a little that he might put his horn through my tire. I wonder what he thinks I am, and hope he doesn't interpret my actions as aggression. Watching him with awe, and feeling a tad bit unsafe, I wish I knew what to do. Amber is happily grazing in the grass along the trail to the pasture.

Norman is looking at me through the passenger door window; he tries to put his nose in the three inch opening at the top of the window. His wet snout leaves a wide smear. I talk soothingly to him, but he is obviously agitated. He bellows and paws the ground some more.

John and Eric arrive and park about twenty-five feet behind where I am stopped. Eric gets out the passenger side of the truck. I see Norman become still and turn his head to look at Eric. Then Norman takes a few steps in that direction. I open my door and shout at them that Mark is up the road and that Norman seems to be very agitated. Eric quickly gets back in the truck, and they drive away to get Mark.

Amber begins to amble back toward the pen, and Norman apparently desiring to be closer to her trots in her direction. I watch Norman go up the steps by the back door of Jake and Dawn's house and toss Dawn's tennis shoe from the stoop; the clothes on the line show evidence that his wet nose had investigated them. The motorcycle is on its side, and the bottom wire of the garden fence is broken. Amber enjoys being out and eating freely - as she had been allowed to do before Norman came to live with her. The two bovine are a perfect study in contrasts - Amber, the contented, slow-moving milk cow; Norman, the agitated, energized bull.

I can hear Mark's truck before I see him. Amber and Norman slowly cut through the woods and head out into the open pasture. Eric, John and Mark drive in at the same time. I open the door and get out to tell them where Amber and Norman are. Mark heads to the pen to see what damage has been done, and he finds that two of the 2 x 4's are broken.

I am a little shaky and recognize the feeling of stress in my stomach. We all begin moving to remedy the situation. The guys get tools, nails and lumber, while I keep an eye on Norman. I shout out reports of Norman's whereabouts, and can see the guys are also aware of their escape routes. They work quickly, swiveling their heads for a quick check on Norman. Gordy comes over and tells of watching Norman push the clothes pin bag back and forth on the line at their house, seeming to play with it. There is something sort of sweet and childlike in Norman's exploring, but his size and hormones warn us to be careful. Having watched bulls Norman's size at rodeos, our imaginations spur us on to vigilance and caution.

Now that the 2 x 8's are in place where the broken 2 x4's once were, Mark decides on a plan to get Norman back in the pen. He gets Amber's tie-out rope, and I drive him, in the back of the truck, into the pasture. We pull up next to Amber, with the truck in the 30 foot space between her and Norman. Mark hops out and quickly ties the rope to her halter, and then hops back in. I begin to drive to the pen - a distance of about 100 yards. The pasture is very bumpy, and the truck has many rattles and squeaks from years on the upper Stehekin road. The driver-side window only rolls down 4 inches, so I can't hear Mark's directions to me very well. 

Suddenly aware that Amber is moving, Norman begins to trot toward us. I feel another shot of adrenaline course through my veins. I hear Mark holler, "Go!", so I speed up, imagining that Norman must be threatening. A bit louder, Mark yells, "Go!" and I increase our speed. I don't know what Norman could do to Mark in the back of the truck, but I am thankful for the lumber rack that fortifies Mark's fortress. The faster we go, the louder our truck's noises become. Once again I hear Mark, louder yet than last time. I turn my head to see if Norman is doing something terrible, and instead see poor Amber running full out. Then it registers that what Mark is yelling has not been "Go!", but "Slow!" I immediately take my foot off the gas and glance back to see Amber resume a respectable trot.

I pull up to the open side of the pen, and park in a way to limit access. Mark throws the end of the rope across the pen to John and Eric who reel Amber in and tie her up tight on the far side. Norman is very curious about what is going on. He comes to the back of the truck and stretches his thick neck up, his glistening nose sniffing Mark. Norman begins to bellow and paw the ground. He moves around the truck, from side to side, reaching his head toward Mark. I sit in the cab of the truck and watch. Now that the engine is off, I can hear Mark clearly. "I have had just about enough of you, Buddy. Your time is limited. I am not going to put up with much more." Norman shows no sign of going into the pen.

Norman catches a whiff of the little bucket of grain that Mark had to entice Amber. Holding the bucket out, Mark allows Norman to eat the grain. As Norman's snout is about the same diameter as the bucket the task takes a little while. In the meantime, Mark hops out on the far side of the truck and grabs a long branch - about five feet long and an inch around. He quickly whittles a sharp point on one end. I watch and wonder, "What is he thinking? I sure hope he doesn't poke Norman with that stick!" I suppose that it is the proverbial "ox goad", but to me it looks like one more thing to irritate an already aggravated animal. Norman is on the side of the truck toward the pen. He seems to be looking for Amber. He trots a bit closer to the opening, and as I hold my breath he walks in and begins to eat some of the hay Mark has thrown into the pen. Mark quickly slides the boards across to close the gate, and I breath a sigh of relief.

After a short time back in the pen, Norman calms down. We come up with an explanation of what we imagine transpired before our arrival. Amber slid back two of the gate boards and squeezed out. Norman saw that Amber wasn't where he could keep his eye on her. Wanting to be sure his girl was safe, Norman took his responsibility seriously, and busted the fence to get to her.

Two Weeks Later:

Amber is pregnant. Norman is hanging out in the walk-in cooler. Now that Norman is forever freed from his pen, it is easier to remember with amusement the adventures of that challenging afternoon.
Who would have thought a one-syllable word could be so misunderstood between spouses? Glad our friends were there. Have you ever had that kind of miscommunication?