It was a sweet, summer night, early in August. The air was perfect as the sun was beginning to get low in the sky.
The call came in during evening office hours.
The farmer had a down heifer, up in Northfield, and needed the doc to come up and take a look.
Donna was the vet on call that night; I was 18. Matt, the vet student, was assisting, so he came that night too. The three of us always enjoyed each other’s company when working together.
It was a perfectly beautiful summer evening to go take care of a down cow. The three of us piled into the old, silver, Toyota vet truck and set out. The floors hadn’t even been mopped yet, or exam rooms restocked. That would have to come afterward; I wasn’t going to miss this.
The farmer was finishing up milking but told us that she was down in the heifer pasture. We could drive the vet truck down through the old apple orchard, stop at the fence line and access her from there — but we would have to walk, he warned.
And walk, we did.
I remember the chirping of the crickets, the light breeze of the evening, and the goldenrod that had started to bloom next to the old stone wall.
And there, flanking the stone wall, was an old barbed-wire fence.
I wonder how many years that had been there?
Carefully, exam supplies in hand, we pulled up on the barbed-wire fence and ducked through, careful not to let it hook our clothes. They were tricky, and it was almost a science to get through an old fence like that unscathed.
Before electric fences had become popular, there had been no need to ask the old farmer where the electricity source was to turn it off. I miss that.
We bumbled down through the tall canary grass mix, finding a cow pie every now and again, and batting at a mosquito or two as we searched to find the down heifer.
At last, there she was, on her side, in the far corner.
When we three approached, she sat up — a good sign. But as we got closer, we couldn’t help but “feel” the extra energy. And it was there, when we reached her, that we looked down, and saw the sliced open leg … and the maggots that had started to peek out from under the flap of skin … oh dear.
It wasn’t going to be a quick call. A thorough cleaning, with water and Nolvasan solution, stitching and bluecoat was in order, if she even had a prayer.
We needed hot water. It was a good thing Matt and I had come.
As Donna vetted, we hauled buckets of water … up and down through the pasture, from the old milk house … and through the barbed-wire fence.
To this day, when I see a barbed-wire fence, I think of that summer evening.
Challenging? Yes. But brimming with energy, and adventure, in the hopes that life was going to be saved. The sparrows witnessed every duck through the old barbed-wire fence, cackling as Matt lifted it up, and I went through, again and again, with a warm pail of water or other random supplies needed from the truck.
By the time the last stitch went in, it was well after dark, and we were using headlamps to see. None of us felt very optimistic about our patient, as we left her with a pail of water by her head and a mostly blue back end to keep the bugs off through the night.
As I think back to that night, I realize that finding old barbed-wire fences is getting harder. But when I do, it takes me back.
Back to the apple trees that randomly sat in the middle of the pasture, and the pungent smell of a cow’s breath when she greeted me with her wet nose.
It feels like lazy summer days, walking a fence line, looking for breaks. I smell pasture and see dandelions, blue sky, and sunshine.
Memories are a wonderful thing. And oh, how I love to go back … to that barbed-wire fence.