Ann E. Dorbin - Calvin Season - March 2006:
Ann E. Dorbin
Springtime was calving season on the farm where Beverly’s family lived. It was then that the mother cows left the herd to deliver their babies alone in the woods and pastures on the farm. On the wall of a small room in the milking parlor hung a round, faded birthing chart that looked like a big wooden pizza. The wheel showed the stage of each mother cow’s gestation and when the calves were due to be born. But Beverly’s father taught her to watch the cows themselves as closely as the chart.
As a boy growing up on this same farm, Papa had started the business of searching for newborn calves. “I suppose,” Beverly had heard him say many times, “it’s part curiosity, and part concern that makes me trudge out searching the countryside. And, naturally,” he liked to add, “part of me thinks mama may need my help.”
And then he would laugh, because he knew that when it came to birthing calves, a mama cow was a lot smarter than he was any day.
The first time she accompanied her father in search of a solitary mother, Beverly toddled along behind him over the hills of the farm. When she fell too far behind, he carried her on his shoulders. “Quiet now, Bevvy,” he whispered when he discovered the birthing place. “Don’t scare the little cow.” Beverly sat on her father’s knee, her little flushed cheek resting against her father’s bearded face. Although she remained silent, her eyes were bright with excitement and she wiggled with impatience, wanting to run over and play with the baby.
Year after year, Beverly was at her father’s side, wandering the farmland during calving season. One spring there was a late snowfall and Papa pulled her on her Christmas sled in search of a baby cow that would not wait for fairer weather to be born. The next year a mother named Genesis gave birth to twins in a patch of field daffodils beside the meadow brook, and Beverly had been allowed to stay home from school for the day. (Although the twins were identified as numbers 87 and 88 on the birthday chart, she always called them Jacob and Esau). Another time, Beverly located a struggling mother inside an old silo near the milkman’s cottage. Her father stayed with the ailing mama while Beverly sprinted across the pastures to summon the veterinarian.
Beverly’s father taught her to watch the cows for one who would get a certain inward look on her big, sweet face and begin to withdraw from the herd. Then when a mother did not show up at the barn at feeding time, Beverly would join her father in searching all the places they had learned the mothers picked for birthing.
Beverly and her father would start out together and then split up to check different locations across the farm. Whoever ended their search first would signal with the call of the bobwhite, “Bob-white! Bob-white!” until they were reunited near the new mother.
Usually they found the mama cow already crooning and licking her glistening, white-faced newborn creature. The mama scrubs and scrubs the wet calf with her rough tongue. The calf stands and falls . . . stands and falls, again and again, until it can manage to wobble down to the end of mama that dispenses the milk. Then, a little later, side by side, the mama and her little one begin their first journey together, toward home. They stop as they near the rest of the herd, and mama steps back and presents her child to its new family. One by one, the cows come to greet the newborn with a gentle sniff as the mother returns to the herd.
Beverly would always tie a large ribbon (pink for a female, blue for a male) on the mailbox at the end of the farm lane to let the world know a new life had arrived. “Aw, Beverly, what’s the big deal?” her father teased, “it only amounts to a couple thousand future gallons of milk!” But he never missed the chance to help her tie the ribbons.
One cold, rainy Saturday morning in late spring, Beverly found that big old Oma had not shown up at the barn to feed.
Her father had gone into town for supplies, so Beverly slipped into her boots, fastened up the hood of her raincoat, and set off alone. She walked from the barnyard toward the apple orchard beyond the vegetable garden. From there she headed to the stream-fed pond. The rain poked the water with the rhythm of a two-fingered typist. Beverly followed the stream toward the north pasture to search the gullies and the scattered clumps of trees. Finding nothing, she trudged along the edge of the farm’s crop land, where the heads of the winter wheat drooped under the weight of the rain. By the time she reached the old stone wall along the timberland, Beverly was muddy, soaked, and shivering.
Oma, she thought to herself, Couldn’t your baby have waited for a drier day?
Finally, deep in the woods beyond the wall, there stood Oma, licking a baby calf under the dripping branches of the tall trees. Beverly stopped a short distance away. She stood as she always did, still and silent, watching.
Oma seemed to be paying more attention to Beverly than usual. Perhaps it was because she had cleaned other newborn calves while Beverly watched, or because she was glad for company this lonely, rainy morning. Finally, Oma looked straight at Beverly for a moment. Then she sang a low sweet sound, stepped back, and, amazingly, presented the calf to the child.
Beverly cautiously walked to where the two cows stood, one very large, one very small. Feeling just as excited as the first time she had witnessed a newborn calf at her father’s knee, Beverly gently hugged and petted the new little life. Then she followed closely behind Oma and her baby as they crossed the dripping wet landscape to rejoin the herd.
On the way, Beverly heard her father calling “Bob-white! Bob-white!” as he came into view trekking through the rainy countryside. When he saw the three of them coming out the woods, he knew in an instant what had happened. Never before had a mother cow shared this new-life ritual with the human observers. When Oma and the calf had passed on toward the herd Papa smiled from within his wet beard.
“You’re a cow!” he proclaimed. His eyes shone as the rain spilled over the brim of his hat.
Beverly did not need to speak. She just smiled at her father’s excitement.
As they walked back home together, Beverly tried to remember how she had felt back in the rainy woods. Had she really forgotten that she was a girl, and not a cow?
The rain began to lift as the herd welcomed Oma and her wobbly baby. Beverly brought out the big pink ribbon and her father tied the bow. The sun peeked from behind the clouds as they returned to the warmth of the farmhouse. Papa usually scoffed at Beverly’s naming of the livestock, but this time he only nodded. Although the birthing chart called the calf number 96, Beverly named her Rainbow.