So last Saturday evening, the Favorite Husband and I were lounging around on the couch, watching an old movie (Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc; I maintain The Passion of Joan of Arc made some thirty years earlier is much better), when my attention was drawn to the good-sized picture window to the right of the television. It was still light out, a little before actual twilight, and, near as I could tell, someone was driving a BUS across our yard, about ten feet from the window. It took a while for context and words to coalesce properly in my brain. While this HUGE THING is driving by I engaged in a rather fruitlessly stupid finger pointing and uttering things like "Ub... buh... ehh..." until the proper word found itself a good ten or fifteen seconds later. "Moose."
(So we now know Mojo is UTTERLY USELESS in a crisis situation. I wish to believe that I would be brave and noble and helpful and look at least somewhat less like a gibbering idiot, but these are the sorry, sorry facts.)
We live in Moose Country. I see their poo and tracks out in the woods all the time. But in the two decades we have lived here (not to mention MORE decades hiking and camping around here) I can still count moose sightings on one hand. It's not like the Northeast Kingdom in upper state Vermont, New Hampshire and/or Maine, where after a day or two of excitement you tend to get blasé about mooses. Down here they are considerably shyer. Which I rather like; moose are statistically one of the more dangerous wild animals you can encounter. I can't tell you how much of these statistics are due to the Jurassic Park idiocy of "Don't worry, kids; they're herbivores! Go ahead and PET THEM!" (tell that to the people of Pamplona about their bulls and let me know how THAT conversation goes) but the numbers unequivocally state the outdoorsy sort of human is more likely to be killed by large herbivores than by ALL the meanest bears or wolves or other predators combined. Moose attacks are rare--and, like I say, I suspect a lot of them are due to idiots APPROACHING THEM--but they are a REAL THING.
Anyway, we were safe in the house and the moose was outside, just using our lawn as a highway to get back to the woods, so aside from pricking his ears toward us while we were watching him in the kitchen he paid us no nevermind. I ran for my phone and managed to get this one blurry shot through the screen (a generational thing; I'm sure a KID would have their phone at the ready), which I reproduce thusly to add credence to my story. It's such a TERRIBLE picture I would CLEARLY never post it if I were spinning a tale; I'd find a much nicer shot online and post THAT ONE.
I mention the moose visit for one reason: because my initial reaction was sort of like a less helpful version of being Lassie. Lacking any apparent ability to form words, I have to go through this whole pantomime of gibberish and pointing while those around me say, "What is it, girl? Has Timmy fallen down another well?" Which plays into the story I am ABOUT to tell, which has no proof and hence you are even less likely to believe.
So the Favorite Husband and I, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, decided to go for a brief hike to try to get in slightly better shape for an upcoming trip to Maine. We drove to the northernmost point of the Colebrook Reservoir in nearby Connecticut, where we used to walk AGES ago before we got bored with it and moved on to other places. Which is what we do. We'll go somewhere and puzzle out all the trails and terrain and bushwhack for a while, and then get bored and find somewhere else to explore. Yesterday we were casting about for somewhere to walk (I am still coming off a month-long illness, so the criteria is less strenuous than it's been in the past) and we agreed on Colebrook.
The reservoir itself, bound entirely on the western shore by Route 8, is rather boring unless you own a boat. But on the northern tip there is a deadend road for fishing people to park, which is actually labeled from the main road as a school bus turnaround. It's the only way to get to the other shore of the lake. When you pull off, there is a gate almost immediately on your left that leads to various hiking and quadrunner trails, while the road itself crosses a bridge (over the Farmington River, which feeds the reservoir) and continues for another half mile or so down the eastern shore for the delectation of the fishing crowd.
We usually park right at the gate but someone had beaten us to it, so we drove through and parked in the turnaround on the other side of the bridge and hiked in. The main trail leaves the river immediately, then turns and parallels the eastern shore about a quarter mile away. It also goes up the slope of the mountain/hill on that side, then down the other side. We decided to take this upper trail for as long as we wished, and then when we were sufficiently bored we would bushwhack down to the lake and follow the various deer trails and abandoned human trails back to the bridge.
Most of it was fairly uneventful. Somewhere on the side of the mountain we scared up a turkey hen who was crouching on the side of the trail. Instead of running away she paraded in front of us cursing our very existence, so you know something is up. Once we could drag our attention away from her we were suddenly aware of a half dozen or so wee day-old turklings scurrying through the leaves almost at our feet. They ran off the trail and crouched down in the leaves and became invisible again, and she eventually yielded the path to us. I did not take pictures because she was VERY ANGRY and twenty-odd pounds of angry bird is something to respect when you do not have so much as a stick to defend yourself. The Favorite Husband had his walking stick, so I assumed if need be he would intervene to protect me, but self preservation dictated I wasn't going to ignore her and fumble with my phone during our confrontation.
Anyway, we hike along until we'd had enough, and then we bushwhacked down the side of the hill toward the water. As is often the case around these parts, the incline is broken here and there with the occasional flat plateau. In some spots these plateaus can be quite wide, like shelves following the contour of the mountain, but when it gets rocky they narrow to thin little footpaths along a fairly steep incline the deer use and reuse to follow the shore.
So we are following this one shelf, maybe fifty feet up from the water's edge, and it narrows to less than a foot wide as they do, but the Favorite Husband points out some recent holes poked in the leaves and says something like "Here's a deer path; you can see the tracks". We walk not ten feet when we both notice some very odd, borderline liquid scat on top of the leaves, totally unlike the hard pellets deer and moose make, or the doggish logs of a predator. Ever the observant one, I say something helpful like "Evidently a deer with DIGESTIVE ISSUES" but I don't really give it another thought, since we have both seen stranger things than that in the woods.
The deer path eventually widened out again to another shelf, and this one had evidence of being a very old dumping ground, with an old fan and large car parts half-hiding in the leaves. Indeed, some of these shelves are old roads, and clearly this was the case, since no one fifty or sixty years ago was going to hand-carry an old metal fan a mile into the woods to dump. There were a couple of old, fallen white pine trees, long dead, and up ahead you could see the shelf/road continue slightly down the hill. And....
So here is where my failure to communicate properly when under the stress of surprise once more comes into play. I see this creature come into view, maybe fifty feet away, following the road heading toward us. I understand immediately what it is. The Favorite Husband apparently does not see at first. So I helpfully start pointing and making gibbering noises and repeating his name over and over--I was concerned he would keep walking and get hurt--shaking my pointy hand and going through all the possible syllables in the English language until finally the right one comes out. "Cow."
And then, because Mojo is Mojo, for good measure I finally added what I intended to say in the first: "Hereford." And then, to quote the ubiquitous signs that all have pictures of them, I added, "Polled Hereford. The big bold breed." "Polled" made me a hair happier, since it means they don't have horns. Consequently, they have one less weapon with which to kill you, should they choose to go the killing route.
I always happen to remember polled Herefords specifically from childhood, because in the comic strip PEANUTS Linus for a while went to a career fair and decided he wanted to become a polled Hereford rancher when he grew up. Which was delightfully specific. Snoopy with his mouthful of hay has always stuck with me for some obscure, twisted reason.
Because this wasn't just a "cow", and I wanted to make this PERFECTLY CLEAR to the Favorite Husband. This was a Hereford, a large, stocky animal raised for meat. I felt the need to make this distinction because beef animals are RARELY tame. They are not brought in and milked twice a day, as a doe-eyed Jersey would. While around here they are somewhat more used to people than, say, out west, where they are left to range for miles, the concept is still the same. They are pretty much left alone until it's time to round them up for slaughter. In short, aside from the occasional 4-H project, THEY ARE NOT USUALLY PETS.
Here is where you will once again find a generational difference in reaction to seeing this very large animal loose in the woods. Young people today seem to be all "oooh, I want to get a selfie with the cow". Whereas Mojo, with a lifetime of dealing with horses as a teen and the occasional moose or bear as an adult, was thinking to herself "Okay, no ring on the nose, but that is still a VERY LARGE animal who can move VERY FAST on his very SHARP, very HARD AND VERY HEAVY HOOVES and there is no fence or rope or anything between us". So, yeah, there are no pictures of this encounter. I leave it to you to imagine this very large, curly-haired white forehead and the brown roan body coming up out of nowhere to look at us. Not fifty feet away.
So all three of us stand stock still and just look at one another for a solid minute. We two humans eventually said "Hey, there," in a causally but cautiously friendly tone. The Hereford doesn't seem angry, merely curious, but we all know with any strange animal that can change in a minute. He brings his ears out wide, like Mickey Mouse, and just sort of wonders what we are doing on his trail. It was HIS poo I was wondering about earlier, of course. I didn't make the connection because, really, what are the chances? In all my years up to no good in the woods, I have never seen a WILD COW before.
The Favorite Husband has his walking stick, but again, I am weaponless, and while this deficiency was slightly unnerving when faced with an angry turkey, it strikes me that perhaps this is very specifically not the best way to greet a very large bovine who has not been properly introduced. So I back casually up to the tangle of white pine logs, wander behind a substantial trunk, and start hauling at the branches thus presented to me. White pines are extremely brittle in the best of times, and these trunks were fairly rotten, but the branches were still solid and I ripped a stout one off like I was the Incredible Hulk and gave our bovine friend a more significant look. I figured any Hereford interactions with humans probably involved sticks--not to BEAT THEM, but just to prod and guide them toward the barn or whatnot on occasion. This is my theory, at any rate. Any old-timey painting of a young lad bringing the cows into the barn have him with a straw hat and a STICK. Plus, as useless as it may be, I am determined to not leave this world without at least pretending to fight, should it come to that.
Once I was armed the Favorite Husband--who said later he already had a tree picked out should he be charged, since apparently throwing himself bodily in front of charging livestock to save his beloved wife did not occur to him, which in retrospect made me revisit the whole turkey thing in a new light--took a very large and obvious step toward our visitor to see how he would react.
The spell was broken. The Hereford gave a little moo of fright, leaped off the trail, and ran around us, giving us a substantially wide berth. He wasn't going to cause us any trouble. He moved into the underbrush behind us, where we could then see his Mickey Mouse ears silhouetted against the lake as he stopped and shyly continued to watch us from the safety of the trees.
So we laughed a bit at the "wild cow" and pondered his food choices in the woods, and I kept my stick for a ways until we were sure he ultimately meant us no harm. He might have followed us a bit, for he was extremely curious, but if he did it was far enough back we could not see him. We paused again at some point and laughed about how no one would EVER believe this story, and continued walking back toward the car.
Okay, so that's enough in the I-can't-believe-it department, but there is an even more unbelievable coda. At the very end the Favorite Husband held back to go pee in the woods, and I kept walking, so I reached the road ahead of him. By the bridge there are some metal-cabled concrete guard rail thingies to keep people from driving into the river, and I sat daintily on one such pylon waiting for the Favorite Husband to show up. Up ahead just off the main road there were these two cars stopped in the middle of the road--one heading one way and one going the other--and the drivers were talking. One was a shiny black BMW convertible and the other was some fancy cherry-red sports car, so I imagined they were two gearheads talking cars. Just as the Favorite Husband caught up with me two more cars came pouring into the side road, so the fancy car guys had to move along to not block traffic. The Favorite Husband suggested we head for the car, but I suggested we wait for all the traffic to cross the bridge before walking across it ourselves.
And wouldn't you know it? This BMW convertible guy pulls over to the side of the road where I am sitting. I assume he's a tourist asking for directions, but he greets us with, "I don't suppose you guys have seen a couple of COWS anywhere around, have you?"
I mean, we literally walk out of the woods at that moment. Two minutes earlier or later, we would have missed him. The Favorite Husband starts laughing and tells him all about our encounter. While (Mojo being Mojo; oh what a charming lass), I felt the need to correct them both: "Well, yes, sort of, but it was a male Hereford." Which, I maintain, is technically not a "cow" though "cow" is a useful enough shorthand. This is why Mojo is not invited to more parties. But I digress.
It turns out there are TWO rogue beasts out there, loose for four days now. One was VERY wild and would avoid humans--for all we know he might have been watching us interact with his friend the entire time--but the other was slightly more friendly with people and might approach them. They had escaped some seven miles away, in the bordering town of Tolland, and he had been tracking sightings slowly south all this time. The duo was sighted earlier that day hanging out near the bridge, and he was checking it out. He was annoyed at all the trouble they were giving him--a loose bovine is no joke; there's all manner of destruction and injury you could be liable for--but there is a certain American appeal for the underdog, wherein we soon got him laughing appreciatively at the animals who were not going to accept their preordained trip to the slaughterhouse. But the legal liabilities still loom: if they cannot be caught, they will eventually have to be shot on sight, since he can't really have very large animals he is responsible for wandering around in someone's backyard, perhaps trampling useless children along the way.
But as far as I know they are still out there as I write this, wild and free. And the Favorite Husband and I have a story no one will believe.