Swiss Animal Stories
The Calf
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One cold, drizzly morning, Mandy and I went walking.  We never expected to encounter... a calf!
 The Calf
                                                                       Linda Lockett Eisele 2000

        Mandy and I turn onto the yellow dirt road which passes the cow pasture. A calf stands outside of the electrified fence, her long coat caked with mud.  The umbilical cord dangles from her belly.  Far away, on the side of a hill, a fat cow lies on her side, unmoving, as though she has died and bloated.

     "That's the mother," Mandy says.

     "Is she dead?" 

     "I saw her move."

     "What shall we do?  Where's the farmer?"

     I move toward the calf, hoping to find some way to corral her into the pasture.  As I approach, the calf turns and walks away.  The faster I walk, the faster she walks.  I touch her back.  She shivers and walks even faster.  I grab at her hindquarters.  She picks up speed.  I grab again, but cannot hold her, so I grab her tail.  She pulls with amazing strength.  I hold on tight.  She tugs me down the road.  I cannot stop her, so I slow down gradually, and she slows, too. 

     We come to a stop in the middle of the road, her outstretched tail gripped firmly in both my hands.  Letting one hand go, I scratch her hind-quarters.  She shudders and begins to walk again.  The next time we stop, I wait, giving her time to calm down.  Walking my hands, fist over fist up her tail, I reach her body and manage to wrap my arms around it.  Inching foreward, I reach her throat and hug it.  She is sopping wet from the rain and she trembles -- from cold, from fear, or both.  I cover her back and neck with my chest, pressing the fronts of my thighs against her body to give her warmth and comfort. 

     Stroking her neck, I lean close and murmer softly in her ear, "It's o.k. You're o.k. Everything is going to be alright. This is not what your instincts led you to expect, is it?  Some human.  But that's o.k.  It's o.k."  The trembling softens gradually until her body grows calm.     

     "Could you go and find the farmer?" I call to Mandy.

     "The farmer is coming." 

     "Where?"

     "There.  Across the hill."  I see the small figure in a long black raincoat and wide-brimmed gray hat carrying an orange tarp.

     "He's bringing something to cover the mother," Mandy calls.

     "Can you tell him the calf is over here?"  My back aches.  I stroke the calf, glancing over my shoulder.  In the distance, the farmer flaps the tarp.  It settles, covering the mother up to her shoulders.  Stooping, he arranges the corners.

     "It's o.k. You're o.k." I speak, softly.  The calf's hoofs are slightly smaller than my clenched fist, yellow-cream in color with two hard-looking protrusions at the back.  I see her large brown eye, her nostrils -- bright, reddish-pink, and tender.  The farmer approaches.  Not knowing how he can solve this problem, I imagine him lifting the calf into the air and over the fence.  When he reaches us, I recognize him -- the young man with curly blonde hair who owns the large-roofed barn where my children and I searched for kittens we never found among neatly-stacked bundles of hay far below wooden eaves which floated like sails of a sailing ship high above, sunlight streaming through chinks flooding that quiet space with a profusion of thin pillars of light. 

     "We need to get her back inside," he says in Bern Deutsch, as he steps over the fence.

     "Can I help?" I ask.

     "No," he answers.  "The fence has no electricity."  Putting one arm around the calf, he lifts the lower ribbon and guides her through.  She steps beneath.  It is all so simple!  I stand up  and stretch.

     "Is something wrong with the mother?" Mandy asks.

     "Calcium deficiency.  It happens. The doctor is supposed to be here, but he doesn't come. It could become precarious."  He walks away, one gentle hand resting on the calf's back as she trots by his side.  A collection of cows surrounds the mother.  When the farmer and the calf reach them, the calf does not go very near.  Another cow steps close to the calf and remains by her side.  The farmer bends down and pulls the tarp higher up on the mother's shoulder.

     A red van speeds over the dirt road, pulls over and parks behind the farmer's car.  The veterinarian, wearing a long dark apron, jumps out of the van.  Carrying a large bottle filled with clear-yellow liquid, he steps over the fence and hurries to meet the farmer who hurries across the field to him.

     "See how the cows follow the farmer?" Mandy says.

     "And some stay with the mother," I reply.

     When they reach the cow, the doctor lifts the bottle, looks at it, and kneels by her head.

     "I think he's going to give her a shot. Do you want to stay and watch?" I ask, squeemishly.

     "Do you?" 

     "It could go on for some time."

     As we walk on, I feel exhilaration from the close contact with the newborn calf.

     Mandy says, "My sister should have seen this.  She loves animals. She was always the one, when the children were little, to save small animals, frogs and things, which she brought into the house.

     "You were very brave.  Did you learn this?  To hold the calf by the tail?  I wouldn't have thought to do that."

     "No."

     "Is it the right thing to do?" Mandy asks.

     "I don't know.  I just did it.  Oh, yes, I remember -- I used to grab our dog by the tail when he tried to eat the mailman." I could almost feel Ramus' tail between my hands, his body, one hundred pounds of muscle covered in golden fur nearly as large and strong as the newborn calf pulling me forward.

     Back in our neighborhood, Erika stands by the side of the road with her dog, Cheyenne.  I let Cheyenne sniff my open palm.  She nestles her soft muzzle as though she will rest there forever.  I see the dirt streaks.  "It's my  hand. I just got to hold a newborn calf!" I explain.

     "That must smell wonderful to her," Erika says.

     At home, I remove my raincoat and hang it on the coat peg.  I touch the black mud stains at the edge of my white sweater sleeve, and grin. 

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