The other night we were on our way home from an evening out with friends, when we came across three cows. Being in the country, this of course wasn’t unusual, except that these three cows were on the wrong side of the fence. On the road. In the dark.
Whilst not the Pacific Highway, this road nonetheless is important enough in terms of traffic to have been a major local election issue several years ago (what’s that? You didn’t hear about it down your way? How could that be?!). Adjoining the highway, it can get quite busy, and cars and trucks barrel along down it at quite a speed. It’s also in shocking condition, and its’ potholes and resemblance to a slalom course are often remarked upon by unsuspecting visitors.
But I digress. Back to the cows. So there we were, barrelling along at our own pace in the darkness, when I notice a car approaching slowly, hazard lights on, high beam flashing. I slow down, just in time to see the white patches of the three Hereford cows (or steers, who knows in that light?) glow in the moonlight from amongst the trees on the side of the road.
Aha. I pull over immediately, wondering if the car whose hazards were on owned the cattle, and if so, did they need help getting them back into a gate – because unless you have very tame cattle, it’s almost impossible to herd them on your own. You simply can’t be at the back, front, and sides all at the same time. I’ve tried it (yes, take a moment to picture that, at my expense), and you can’t.
So I say to Dougal, “we’re going to have to help them. We can’t leave the cattle here on the road – there may be a terrible accident”. Dougal, being much more safety conscious than I, was of course already out of the car. I should add it was a freezing night. But as owners of cattle ourselves, this was our worst nightmare. Something had to be done. Imagine if it was our cattle at large on a road at night risking life and limb of unsuspecting drivers? (The voice of experience. But we had black cattle at the time). Suddenly, owning cattle seems like the biggest responsibility one could ever embark upon.
Dougal headed off in the cold darkness back down the road, to see what he could do.
At this point, I saw another car in the rear vision mirror approach from behind. It passed the hazard lights car, passed Dougal, and as it’s headlights grew slowly larger in my mirror, I had a burst of affection for country life.
“Oh look at that!” thought I. “The first car to go past, and it’s going to stop to help too!” I continued optimistically. “What a great story for my blog! Aren’t people in the country fantastic! Aren’t they kind and community minded! Aren’t they helpful!”
The car drove past.
And kept going.
Dougal was suddenly back at the car – “did you see that!!” he exclaimed. “He almost hit them! He had to swerve like a dodgem car around each cow! He missed them by inches!”
Well, that was, needless to say, disappointing.
All this time, we had the two little boys in the back seat. “What’s going on?”; “Where’s Daddy gone”; “I’m tired”; “I want to go to bed”; “Bottle and bed!” (the two year old whined), “Daddy help!” “Cows road!” etc etc. But bless them, they did not cry. Unlike the dodgem car driver, they understood the perilous situation.
By this time the hazard light car had come back. A woman on her own, driving back from a long day at work at 9pm at night. And no, they weren’t her cows. She’d begun door knocking in the dark (quite a feat as farm access isn’t as easy as a suburban door knock) looking for the owners. What a gal.
A quick roadside consultation was held, and she continued her door knocking while Dougal went in search of a paddock gate (any paddock gate would do), and I kept my headlights on the cattle so that other cars could see them.
Another car – this time council owned – passed by, but again, didn’t stop. My optimism deflated like a saggy balloon. So much for that.
Unfortunately, my efforts to keep the cattle in my headlights meant I was closer to them than they liked, so they began to pick up speed. Next thing I know, I’ve left Dougal in my dust as I try to keep up. They were criss-crossing madly all over the road, trying to get away from me – but I couldn’t let them get away. I became, quite simply, a woman possessed. I simply had to get in front to stop them.
Harnessing my inner ‘woman from Snowy River herding cattle from a car’, I waited till they were far enough on one side of the road before I floored it. One eye was on the cattle, the other on the road (quite a physical achievement). Overtaking as far from them as possible, I was able to get ahead enough to stop sideways in the middle of the road, blocking their way in a James Bond like manoevre with the car (thank god it was an open road either end – there was no chance any cars wouldn’t see me… And admittedly I may have overdramatised the scene for this blog).
The cattle stopped.
The children cheered (not overdramatised).
I turned and headed very slowly back towards the cows, who obediently turned around and started slowly trotting back from where they had come. I could see Dougal’s dark shadow heading down the road towards me. So could the cows. As they approached, they took the side lane option which had conveniently come up at that moment, and trotted down this quiet dirt road that probably led to nowhere.
We breathed a sigh of relief.
Just at that moment, in a very surreal moment a lone torchlight headed down the road towards us, with a curious sway to its movements. Gradually, its bearer appeared before us on a bicycle, torch in hand. Our helpful hazard lights woman had knocked on his door. He wasn’t the rogue cattles’ owner, but he thought he knew who was. He was obviously there to help. So stepping aside we gave him, his bike, and his torch passage down the lane, and to the cattle who were now far down it.
I will never forget the sight of the back of his swaying bicycle meandering down that quiet, dark and very cold country road, off in search of three cows that weren’t even his. We watched until he moved past the light of our car’s headlights, and then got in the car and turned the heater up to full.
As we drove off, my balloon of optimistism was all pumped up.
PS – as I finish this, I am chuckling to myself, because this entry so isn’t what I started out to write. I was actually going to write about animals in the country in general – so there you go. Another time!