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Too Far Down the Road

Two nights ago I pulled home the day’s last load of hay. It was a little after seven, still in the mid-80’s down from a high of 95, the honeyed light of the evening sun washing over everything, me fatigue drunk and thirsty, wanting the pond, a beer, sleep. I crested a steep hill, gas to brake, easy, easy, 8,000 pounds of trailer and hay behind me. And then I could see – first only in profile, a shadowed outline – a man crossing the road at the hill’s bottom, leading what looked like a dog with a length of rope. Except as I got closer I could see it wasn’t a dog, it was a calf, and the man was shirtless and shoeless and wearing an outlandishly wide-brimmed cowboy hat, half pulling the reluctant animal behind him. There was a trailer house at roadside, and a bit of beaten-down pasture, but they were moving away from that, perhaps toward more plentiful feed. The man looked up as a passed, met my eyes, nodded the curt nod of men who do not wave (or men whose hand are otherwise occupied coaxing calves across country roads), and they were soon behind me.

I looked in my rearview mirror, but the bales piled high in the truck bed blocked my view, and soon I was too far down the road to see more, anyway.

Funny thing: This post was written about another calf experience, almost exactly a year prior, in almost exactly the same place.