Dale Kilburg and his cows

HOME: Part III. Local writer Dale Kilburg continues his story.

As part of our UpBeat series of stories for people enjoy while they are homebound, here’s Part III of a piece by local writer Dale Kilburg, a retired postal carrier who continues to work the "family farm.” He has a passion for reading and enjoys writing about the past, so it is no surprise that he has a masters degree in archeology. We will present his work to you in several parts, posting new installments daily. Enjoy!

HOME: Part III (continued from Wednesday, March 25 post)

He was overjoyed.  A leaden, strangling, succubus-like weight lifted from him, floated away.  The two old creatures faced opposite each other.  Like Boone in the Kentucky wilderness, they had never really been lost.   For three long days they had been bewildered, baffled, but never lost—at times despairing, maybe, but never in despair, not quite, not yet, like a laboring steam engine rolling slowly toward a stop, but not quite, not yet, able to summon torque from some hidden inner storehouse, to slowly chug again toward motion from that inner reserve of a strength not blind, not mindless, but unsuspected nevertheless.  For his part the man assured himself—he simply knew—he could now slice quickly through this tangled Gordian knot rather than futilely keep trying to untangle it.

With a renewed burst of energy he hurried toward the highway bridge, across the desponding slough of mud, but now he saw it as simply mud, nothing more.  Finally, he clambered up the steep bank approaching the highway bridge, like a half-drowned river rat himself, with his mud-clogged shoes and filthily dirty and torn clothes, all hanging down around him from the weight of the water, a caricature of himself, moving now quickly across the bridge, hunching against the rail to avoid the whizzing cars and trucks.

Down the steep bank on the far side of the bridge he went, short-stepping quickly, his weight backward, almost sledding on his heels, making a breathless crouching descent; he passed swiftly along the brief border of a hayfield, then crossed through weeds and into trees after stepping over the shambles of an old fence. 

Then he stopped, not so much to catch his breath, but before him rushed the nearly bank-full waters of union creek, a small branch stream that joined the larger creek nearby.  Normally he could simply step across the small, narrow channel but now the water ran waist-deep in its swift eagerness to meet and join the main flow of the larger creek.   He paused, then entered the stream gingerly, inching along to avoid being swept away.  Finally across, he disappeared again into a jumble of trees and an entangling net of weeds and vines.  But now he began to cross pathways of downed weeds, and then, a maze of them, and he had to pause. 

Excitedly he realized the old cow had beaten out these intertwining trails in the undergrowth as she paced relentlessly back and forth in an attempt to find her way.  He could spy out one or two places where she had bedded down for the night, under the trees in the cloying insect-ridden darkness on the sodden earth.  He chose to follow one of the trails, and—finally--, there, under a box elder tree close to the creek bank, stood his old whiteface cow.

There she stood facing him once again, with the knots of weed burrs still clogging her curly white forelock and tangling the straggling long tresses of hair at the end of her tail.  He paused briefly to catch his breath, and then, moving impatiently, quickly, he circled around to drive her along the bank toward home.  But the animal was nervous, uncertain to leave her night-bed.  The man hesitated now, realizing he was in too much of a hurry.

Patiently he waited, as pity for the normally gentle, docile creature welling up to wash over his unreasoning sense of urgency.  He recollected her standing patiently for her last newborn calf as it clumsily searched for milk as he himself knelt down next to the baby to gently guide one of the mother’s bulging teats into the little one’s hungry mouth.  He could still see himself kneeling there, close to the mother’s hind leg, and he could still feel the bright spring sunlight falling on them all through the barn door.  Certain that the mother would not kick him he felt himself once again engulfed by that circle of warmth, of purpose, that joined, united all three of them in a larger ageless drama as it timelessly, but in time, played itself out.

But the cow fretted nervously now, not certain what to do; she had been suddenly snatched away from that sure comfortable home where she herself had spent her own calfhood to this solitary bovine bedlam with its clouds of blood-thirsty mosquitoes, dank earth tainted with stink, here condemned to subsist upon weeds and low tree branches.  The man realized she needed time to help work out their rescue together, a rescue thus out of his hands for now.