Adventures in Grape Picking

Now that we've had frost, we've been bringing in our Concord grapes for making juice and jam.  On Saturday I picked four and a half bushels but didn't quite finish, so I was out there again on Monday morning trying to finish up before going to my new tutoring job for a homeschooling family.  It was a wet, windy, overcast morning and the grass was soaked - so much so that I had my basket up on a stepstool to keep it dry.  I was underneath the grape trellis, nearly finished with the grapes that were within reach from the ground, when something small and brown walked past behind me.

"Wait a second," I thought.  "That looks like the brand new baby calf that was just born Sunday morning (that I hadn't even seen yet) who is supposed to be locked up in the barn!!!"

And...Mom and Peter were in the house, and that baby was making a rambling beeline out into the pasture where the big cows were already starting to take an interest in the situation.  She could walk right under the electric fence without getting stung, so there was nothing to stop her.  I started out after her.

Now, since it was so wet, I was wearing rubber foam flip-flops.  Flip-flops are not recommended footgear for high speed cow chasing.  By the time I got down the hill into the flat pasture without gaining much on Miss Houdini, I had realized this.  I left the flip-flops in the grass and started jogging after the calf in my bare feet, skirting the cow pies and the occasional thistle.

By this time the cows were extremely enthusiastic about their visitor.  Her mother had come trotting up, bellowing and sniffing, and several of the heifers and other cows were milling around checking out the newcomer, who was a little overwhelmed by all the attention.  She was staying fairly close to her mother, but skittering around this way and that way, and I was doing my best to head them off from going toward the neighbors' yards.  Here we ran into a complication.

The east pasture is a roughly 10 acre rectangle with the short sides at the road and at the back of the property.  In the middle, about at a level with the barn, which is farther west, there is an electric fence dividing the pasture into two sections.  Sometimes we close off one or other of them to let the grass grow back without interference.  Anyway, circling away from my herding efforts, the calf ducked through into the northern half of the pasture, drawing the attention of the cows on that side.  I swung myself over the fence (it's low enough that a grown human can step over it by doing ballet-like leg extensions) and tried to herd her toward the barn.  She promptly tried to cross back over into the south pasture.  Here she got stuck briefly in a double-strand section of the fence, where she stood for a few seconds getting zapped and looking confused.  I was not going to grab her and get zapped myself.  She eventually figured out that the fence was the problem and moved away from it.  For the next few minutes we played zigzag fence slolum, with her going back and forth from one pasture to the other under the fence, and me going back and forth over it.

Finally, back on the north side and heading vaguely barnwards, she started slowing down, somewhat worn out (she was less than 2 full days old, after all).  I snuck up behind her and managed to grab a hind leg without tackling her.  Then I worked my way up and got the rest of her.  Her mother came around the divider and hustled up to us, making sure I wasn't hurting her baby, which I wasn't.

Then, the logistics problem:  I was not going to carry that heavy, squirming calf all the way back to the barn through the sea of muck in my bare feet.  I started to holler.


I sing alto and tenor in our church choir and I can definitely belt.  The calf was freaking out a bit at first when I started making sounds as loud as her mother does when she's upset; her little heart was going pitter-patter-pitter-patter.  I could hear my yelling echoing.  Surely they will hear that, I thought, even though the grapevine, the redbud tree/bush, and the shed are blocking the line of sight from the house to where I am doubled over this calf.

After about 5 minutes of incessant yelling at top volume, there was still no response from the house.  Great.  That meant I needed to get closer.  I started shuffling along, collaring the calf's neck with one arm and pulling her little backside along with the other (she had no halter training to speak of yet, either) and her mother came huffing along beside me mooing and fussing.

Our path was inconveniently circuitous.  From the north pasture, we had to head west for a ways until we could come around the pasture divider where the fence charger is set up.  The ground there has been worn to mush by the cows' hooves and manure.  We had to go through about 10 to 20 feet of that - remember I was still barefoot.  It was a bit slippery, but we didn't fall, thankfully.  Then we could head south again on the grass, past the grapevine and the redbud tree and toward the side of the house where I could see what I thought was an open window.  Finally arriving in what I hoped was a strategic location where I would both be heard and then seen when someone finally thought to look out the window, I started yelling again (Rosemary, the mom, decided to park herself between me and the house at this point, effectively hiding us from view).


At last there seemed to be some results.  Mom finally opened the sliding door and looked out, and I was able to explain that I had a calf on my hands and required assistance.  Peter appeared in boots and made the trip to the barn to get a halter, which meant I could finally let Miss Houdini out of my tight hug, which was getting rather tired.

I then retrieved my flip-flops from out in the pasture, and Peter and I made a longer trek through the edges of the muck to return the calf to the barn, where we discovered that someone had left a gate open.


By then there wasn't time for me to finish picking the grapes before I had to leave, so I headed inside to clean up, after making a stop at the hose to wash off the worst of it.

This morning when I got up I ached in all sorts of strange places.  For a while I couldn't figure out what on earth I had done...then I remembered.

I had done the calf workout.


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