From the time Jed was four months old, we have shared a ritual on the Outlaws’ farm in Oamaru. Around mid-afternoon, we stare down the goats in the first paddock, cross into the second paddock, walk through the third paddock, then on to the creek in the fourth paddock.
Two days ago, I noticed the livestock were loose in the third paddock.
“We won’t disturb the cows, will we?” I asked Husband.
In fact, I got the subjects confused. The question I should have posed was, “The cows won’t disturb us, will they?” One way or another, Husband would probably still have responded, “Nah, no worries.” In either case he would have been wrong, but in the second he would have willfully endangered our lives. So it’s just as well I didn’t pose the second question, because casting the lives of his wife and beloved dog into mortal peril?
That’s not nice.
Whenever I think about cows – which is not that often – my overall impressions are negative. They smell, they project effluence, they have freaky jaws. Otherwise, I have never harboured actively violent antipathy towards the bovine community. And I have never feared cows – until now.
Jed and I strolled down the first paddock, into the second, and passed into the third. At first I didn’t notice, because I had a squirming puppy by the collar. Jed has never been under any disillusion that cows are vicious, savage creatures. Personally, I’ve always thought they were just willfully stupid. I suppose the end result is much the same. But halfway across the field, I was alerted by a stealthy rustle of grass.
When I looked around, half the herd – or about 125 tonnes of beefsteak – had formed a semi-circle of doom behind us. Their cold, dead eyes stared glassily at me, chilling the cockles of my heart.
My mother is originally from farming stock, so I can speak a little pidgin Cow. “Gerraway back!” I bawled. Unfortunately, it appears Kiwi cows do not understand farming Irish. They retreated a pace, only to return two. One was trying to organize a mass flanking maneuver to cut off our escape entirely.
Well, I didn’t want to show fear, in case it started a stampede. However, I stepped up the pace a bit. One cow was rushing my puppy; Jed had a front paw through his collar, and his torso wasn’t far behind; he was desperate to get out of there, and I could fully sympathise. I felt the fermenting, fetid breath of 450 cows hot on the back of my neck.
I’m telling you, the last 200m felt like MILES. Any second I expected to get karate-chopped by a hoof in the head. I can’t tell you how many times I broke out in a cold sweat.
I returned to the farm via the road.