Features & Stories

Story and cow photos by Trudy Frisk
People photo by Margaret Horne

So many trees to choose from.
We could learn a lot from cows if we’d only pay attention.  We might start with bovine lessons on how to enjoy summer.

Winter’s a grim fact of Canadian life. (Vancouverites excepted.)  That’s likely why, at the hint of sun, we make every effort to relish summer.  One week there are no boats or motor homes on the highways.  Then, from whatever hidden mountain cave they over-winter, they’re on the road. Anyone who thinks Canada doesn’t have a large navy should count the recreational water craft.  Canoes, kayaks, car-top fishing boats, fast motor boats, powerful ‘look at me with envy’ mini-yachts, speed down the highway, occupy mall parking lots, and shove plebian drivers aside at gas stations.  Some are even seen and heard on lakes and rivers.  The season is short, so Canadians give it their all.

If there’s a vacant space between boats on the pavement, it’s filled with campers and motor homes.  Not modest motor homes, either.  No, these are larger than some lane-way houses, full of every convenience, including a false fireplace so realistic that campground owners and conservation officers have been know to worry that it might kindle a real fire.

Heading for the shade.
Sure there are vacationers who rent motels and cabins or who actually tent.  They, too, are out on the roads, eyes simultaneously squinting at the GPS, and at that fool in the slow lane who suddenly speeds up.  Fingers clenched on the steering wheel, foot pressing the accelerator to the floor, determined to get to “Camp Never You Mind” before any competitors. The running of the bulls at Pamplona is a mild children’s game compared to the grim frenzy of determined Canadian holidayers.

They may get so focused on the small stuff, they ignore the larger picture. One August evening at a rest stop in B.C.’s North Thompson River area, we gently re-directed a European couple who, although they admired the mountains, assumed they should be seeing the flat Fraser Valley and the lights of Vancouver. They would have except they turned right instead of left at Kamloops. Similar mistakes probably explain frantic U- turns on a four lane divided highway: the driver’s realized that he/she’s not on Highway 16, headed for Jasper, the mountain park.  Nope, the happy family is making good time on Highway 43, north to Fort St. John.

Often when tourists do arrive in the city they aimed for, they endear themselves to locals by determinedly driving the wrong way on one way streets, nearly crushing the toes of office workers who thought it was safe to cross the intersection. This behaviour leads to speeches of welcome not endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce.

Let’s say the tourists do find a campground.  All is well?  Not likely.  Chances are the campground lost their registration request; they’re sandwiched between a gathering of
Hell’s Angels, and a large family reunion with no children older than eleven.  Both sides have brought their favourite toys and noise makers. Doesn’t it sound like fun?

For contrast, consider cows.  Cows, even if they could drive, likely wouldn’t.  Fighting for space isn’t fun to them.  There’s strict order in the herd.  Senior cow leads the group.  She’s familiar with the trail and can warn junior cows of danger.  She knows all about water holes, tricky cliffs, and possible predators.  If cows were boaters, they’d all wear life jackets.

Cows may understand that summer doesn’t last forever.  That’s no reason to thrash around getting warm and causing stress trying to enjoy it. Spring’s behind them, they have new calves, now there’s fairly consistent weather; it’s time to relax and relish it, chew a little grass, admire their surroundings, give advice to first time bovine mothers. Cows, incidentally, set up calf nurseries, probably on the premise that any mother is more content if she can leave her calf in capable care and spend quality time grazing with other cows.  Calves have others to play with; human parents will understand.

Cows don’t spend a lot of time in the mid-day heat.  They’re out early in the morning, when there’s still dew on the range, finding the best grass.  When the sun’s high in the sky and tourists are circling looking for gas stations and restaurants, cows look for a cow tree.  These big trees are a feature of the range.  Here, in the shade, cattle snooze, lick their calves, talk over the morning’s events.  You won’t find them stumbling about panting and over heating.  As the shadows lengthen, cows yawn, stretch, climb to their feet, and wander out to savour food left from the morning. 

Bulls, of course, are out on the range too. Both bulls and cows have a zero tolerance attitude towards predators.  Bellowing, charging, tossing them on horns or aiming a hearty kick at a bear or coyote convince the attacker to go look for a grouse.  You can’t take such action in a campground. 

Some lucky cattle spend the hotter part of the year out of the valley, up on summer ranges.  It’s usually cooler there, and there are more big trees to shelter them from the weather’s ill effects.  But, no matter what the breed, no matter where the range, cows believe in taking it easy.  Summer’s the time to be revived, admire the view, cozy up to friends.  When winter comes memories of a warm, lazy, restful summer may get them through the cold storms.  People should try it.

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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