An episode of 'Love in the times of 'cow' lera'

It is appropriate that February, the month associated with passionate love, the red hearts, candy and flowers kind, should be the shortest one of the year. France's President's new girlfriend is quoted as saying, "Passion only lasts for a few weeks. Love takes a long time."

Those French, saving our butts during the American Revolutionary War then trying to talk us out of invading Iraq. What are they thinking about? Love?

Love on a ranch gets a real test. The quickened heartbeat and breathlessness of passion never goes away.

The scouring calf you doctor as the 1,500-pound angry momma is bawling in your ear seconds from trampling you, keeps your heart rate up. The pain in your chest as you gasp for breath after running for all your worth in heavy muddy boots to grab and drag a tipped calf out of a ditch as it struggles to keep its nose just above the cold water running over its body feels exactly like heartache.

The shyness of new love is the most delicate to watch while you sit on the haystack. The new mother circles and circles her steaming fresh calf on the ground. Licking it to life.

Feeding at night all the cows come up to eat, but one. You can't keep a cow from coming to the manger at feeding time. Usually they are there waiting on you so when one, just off in the sagebrush, doesn't come up you need to investigate.

Being February and the thick of calving season the reason is pretty obvious but you need to be sure. Instead of marching out to face destiny in an open field with only sage for cover, one climbs the handy nine-tiered haystack. Sure enough there is a black mass lying on the snow.

The cow still has a sheet of cotyledons draping from her tail. She is circling and licking. She will miss supper tonight to stay with her calf. Sometimes while in love you just can't eat. Your stomach is tied up in knots or trailing out your backside.

This cow doesn't give much worry.

She has done this before and you have faith. But you watch. The baby wiggles its head just enough for the ears to move. Alive, good. You watch for a bit longer. Dark is coming but your eyes adjust as the calf struggles to stand. This part is so painful to watch. Not because it hurts the calf. They can stand in 15 to 20 minutes, but because 15 minutes is a long time to watch something as weak as a rope try to collect how many one, two, three and then finally four hooves and push to standing, shaking in the dark. I can't stay any longer. The cold is closing in down my back. Will check later this evening to make sure it has sucked.

Love will make you leave a warm house on a stormy night to check, just in case. And it will comfort you as you make your rounds and head back to the lights in the windows when things are fine.

February, the shortest month of the year, is the longest when you are calving and full of love.

Wonder what the French would make of all this? Probably serve champagne.

n Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.


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