Friday, September 24, 2010

Country Life

Oh, Toto. We're definitely not in Chicago anymore.The past 24 hours have been filled with not-so-subtle reminders that we live in the country.

Mid-day yesterday, the air filled with the smell of wood smoke. At first, I thought some fool had decided to burn brush despite the dry, breezy conditions. Then I spotted the smoke--and lots of it--coming from the ridge directly across the creek from our property. I grabbed my camera (mostly for its telephoto lens) and headed up onto the Booth (the big hill beyond our barns) to get a closer look. Not only did I get an eyeful of smoke and flames leaping up the trees, but I found lots of ash in our very dry pasture up there. Most frightening was the sound of the fire whooshing through the underbrush every time the breeze kicked up.

I could hear the firemen talking on their radios not far from where I was, so I knew they were at least watching it. A neighbor who called 911 later told me that it was a controlled burn. We'd had one of those a couple of years ago in the same place but not nearly so big. I don't know if it got out of control or if there was just that much more fuel on the ground after our big snowstorm last winter, but this one was too close for comfort.
Although I had no idea where I was going to take the buffs if the fire started coming our way, I figured I could at least make it easier to collect them by closing off their access to the Booth. Fortunately, I had just given them access to some new pasture so they weren't very interested in the Booth, anyway. They certainly didn't seem bothered by the fire. Eschol was maxing and relaxing.

While Audrey had a big old stretch, I went up to the orchard to try to get a better look at the fire.

The fire was out well before sundown and I took comfort in the sound of chainsaws in the area, presumably the firefighters cutting down a few hazardous trees as they looked for hot spots. Later in the evening, the smell of smoke came through the windows strongly. I started to look for a glow in the distance but saw nothing. I suspect it was just the smell of the charred remains enhanced by the evening dew.

Much as I appreciate the fire department clearing out the fuel on the forest floor so there's less to burn if a wildfire breaks out, I sure wish they'd let us know when they're doing it. Nothing focuses one's attention and gets the mind racing like seeing flames heading toward your property. But before I could turn my mind to creating an evacuation plan for the buffs, I had to think about a different problem: how to fend off an invasion.

As I sat at my computer, eating breakfast long about 7 o'clock this morning, I heard an enormous splash in the creek. This was not the bloop of a black walnut hitting the water nor of a kingfisher going in for the kill. Too big for turkey and too graceless for deer, I ran to the window to see what was making the successive splashes. What should I see but our neighbor's herd of about 10 black Angus cattle trooping through our lower pasture and up into the side yard.
I shouldn't have been surprised since they had already kept me up half the night. Some people are kept up by the neighbors' dogs barking. Me, I get kept up by the cows bellowing and the bulls trumpeting. They are amazingly loud and the sound travels right down the creek and into my house.  I'm so glad my buffalo don't make noise like that.

I stepped out in my barefeet and nightgown to see if that scary sight alone would be enough to convince them to turn tail and return home. It was not. They proceeded up the driveway toward the water buffalo. I ran back inside, tried unsuccessfully to reach the cattle's owner, threw on some proper clothing and my boots, then headed after them.

Naturally, I found them right across from the buffs. I let myself into the pasture with the buffs and found myself staring across at a very large bull (looked to be easily 1800 lbs) who had located the low point in our fence. I tried to make some quick calculations about the best escape route should he decide to jump the fence. The buffs were chill as always, though they were curious about their bovine brethren. The herd had quite a few bulls, all of whom were quite a bit bigger than the buffs--heck, so were the cows. I think there was only one calf that was smaller than the buffalo. Despite my buffs having horns, this was not going to be a fair fight. Not one to back down, Eschol started heading for the fence and I tried my best to distract him. Eventually, the big bull grew weary of our standoff and headed back towards the house. The others followed, as did I--at a safe distance.
 They toured the Green (the area down by the creek where we have our garden and apiary) for some time, nibbling at the grass and doing unkind things to my one little sourwood tree. Fortunately, they didn't knock over the beehives. The herd must have left one or two members behind when they crossed the creek, because  one of the cows kept up a steady game of Marco Polo with someone on the other side. Eventually, it was too much for her and she raced across the creek for a reunion. Only one other cow followed her. The rest of the gang looked like they were going to cross down by the beach but our ringleader (let's call him Ferdinand) came back up and decided to investigate the yard.

Bru was delighted as always to make the acquaintance of a big beastie.
 I really have no idea what the bull was thinking at this point, but when another bull showed up with more on the way, I let discretion kick in and I brought Bru into the house. Didn't really need to have the bulls leap over or plow through the chain-link fence to get at him.

Eventually, the remaining herd headed back up the driveway towards the buffalo. I called again and this time got through to the owner to let him know his cattle were on the move. I heard him across the creek honking the horn of his truck, calling to his bull, and banging on the feed pail to no avail. Eventually, he showed up in his truck. We chatted a bit and when I mentioned how riled up they'd sounded last night, he said he'd heard them, too--along with a bunch of coyotes. Our best guess is that the fire flushed out the coyotes from the conservation area and they ended up in with his cattle. That probably is what got them to break out of their pasture. No wonder the bulls were so interested in Bru. He's about the size and shape of a coyote.

I went up and hung out with the buffalo while we watched Mike call to his cattle (they had gone up behind our neighbor Liz's house and into the woods). Eventually, they came down to the truck (the sound of a feed bag rustling is still a draw even after eating tons of novel pasture grass) and we watched as they followed his truck all the way down the driveway. 

Other than a little damage to the sourwood tree, not much harm was done. The cattle even managed to avoid trampling the puffball mushroom that I spotted just past the chain link fence this morning. Calm and quiet have returned. Except for the damn crows. Get away from my apples!


  1. OMG, rivulets of tears are streaming down my face from laughing so hard about the day the bulls came for breakfast. They sound like a friendly bunch, greeting the Buffs, swapping howdy's with Bru, touring the Green and the bee hives. . OMG, too too funny

  2. Crazy! I'm glad no real harm was done.

    I love the concept of your blog. We're all carnivores in this house!

  3. Fire and bulls and nightgowns, oh my. You are definitely not in Chicago anymore, Dorothy!