EPISODE ONE: COMING HOME
It had been awful the night before. Terribly windy. That morning we could still smell the smoke from the fire. The sky was cloudy black. We were nearing our old farm—Nick & Ellen’s Mission Creek Dairy, where we grew up. We were afraid, tired of walking and hoping Nick would come for us soon.
Betty said, “Hey Selma, will you tell them what happened to us or not?
“I will, Betty. Darn, give me a minute to catch my breath.” Betty was my
sister. The second born, she made it a part of her life to correct me about everything. And I mean everything.
Here’s what happened. Nick had sold me, my sisters, and the rest of our herd to his brother Alden. We’d always liked our home with Nick and Ellen, but Nick wanted a smaller herd; plus, he didn’t want to work so hard after he broke his leg. Don’t forget we are dairy cows—Holsteins—we must be milked at least twice daily, without fail. (Nick’s kind of a cowboy, anyway.)
At first, it was sad when he gave us to Alden, but we understood, and after a time, we were happy living with Alden, Beatrice and Jonas at Joyful Life Dairy on Anderson Creek. Most of us were happy—maybe all of us except for Betty—who’s never happy. Amazingly, there was one thing we all agreed upon: we all missed Izzy. We’d seen Izzy grow up, and we loved her. She’d visit us at Joyful Life Dairy—but not often enough for our liking.
So, this morning we were returning to where it all began. Fortunately, Izzy was leading us. There’d been a frightening fire the night before, and it had burned Joyful Dairy’s barn and corrals to the ground. We can’t live outside all Winter; we’re dairy cows. When Winter comes, it becomes frigid here in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana.
We were almost back at Nick and Ellen’s, where we would live for a time. The girls were tired out; we’d walked all night. The other herd Alden and Beatrice owned, the Brown Swiss, had been sent to Robertson’s Dairy until the new barn and corral could be built. People in the Bitterroot Valley watch out for one another.
Now, Izzy is a true Bernese Mountain Dog—a natural herder. Which in her mind means the following: She is responsible for our welfare. Protecting us. To achieve that, she must keep us together in a group. And she did just that and knew exactly where we had to go to get home.
Izzy saw him first and ran at full speed to meet him.
“There he is, it’s Nick, announced Gertrude.
“Sure enough,” mooed Louise, who, as usual, used her great girth to bump us aside as she trotted quickly between us, trying to get to the front to greet Nick. Milly was right behind her.
At first, Nick didn’t think that Izzy could be a good farm dog. After a time, Nick and Izzy became best of friends, but it had taken a good bit of courage and determination on Izzy’s part because it didn’t start out that way. She’d gained his trust and confidence over time, so Alden had sent Izzy on alone with the herd because he, Jonas and Beatrice were still putting out the smoking wood from the barn. We knew Jonas and Nick would be along when they could.
When Izzy spotted Nick, she went racing to him.
Nick jumped off his big golden horse, waiting for Izzy, and Izzy practically knocked him over. Then she proceeded to run through his legs. “Good job, Izzy! You’ve almost gotten them home,” Nick said, petting her.
Jonas rode up from our rear on his roan quarter-horse. “Hello, Uncle Nick,” Jonas said. “I thought I’d better make sure the herd got back since Izzy had no help.”
“Is the house okay?” Nick asked him, placing his foot in the stirrup and mounting Sugar.
“Yes, sir. No problem with that. Dad thinks lightning struck the barn during the storm last night. No other reason we could see. He’s taking the Swiss Herd to Robertsons with Digger and a couple of our dairymen.”
Nick rubbed his forehead. “Things happen, I guess; it could have been worse. Let’s get these girls home. Ellen’s preparing the barn. Let’s go, girls!” he called out.
Izzy burst off, circling us, bringing us in closer and barking for us to move along. We knew Izzy cared about us and picked up our pace following Nick.
As we approached the barn from the big pasture, I realized that something was amiss. So did the rest of my sisters. Molly stopped first. “Will you look at that,” she said. “Who are they?”
She was referring to the herd of hefty, brown Angus Cows in our pasture. (Well, our old pasture.) Our herd was now 60 cows, and I counted 28 Angus Cows looking our way—
“How are we supposed to all fit?” Betsy complained; tell me that.”
Gertrude said, “Wow. There are some nice looking—”
“Gertrude, they are not like us,” I said.
“They have four legs, a head and hair,” she snorted back.
“That’s not what I mean,” I said. “They are beef cattle; we are dairy cattle.”
My three sisters turned to me with a collection of unusual faces. Milly squeezed in as we five sisters stood there wondering how this would all work out.
That night Nick and Ellen were enjoying a cozy fire in the living room after dinner when Izzy bopped open the front door and jumped up on the couch beside Ellen. As always, she got as close to Ellen as possible and, sitting there, was head to head the same height.
Nick threw another log on the fire and laughed. “Izzy, you need to be more careful; Ellen is going to have a baby soon.”
Ellen put her arm around Izzy and squeezed, which always delighted Izzy, who nuzzled her nose into Ellen’s chin, which made Ellen laugh.
“I left the Angus outside in the corral for tonight,” Nick said. “It won’t get that cold, and they can handle it. But we’ll have to extend the barn, I’m afraid, and quickly. It’s going to get cold real soon.”
“Is Alden going to lend you his hands for milking?”
Nick tossed another small log on the fire; it was damp and crackled.
“You bet. Deliveries for Joyful Life Dairy will be picked up here for the time being. They’re bringing the milking machines over tonight, so I left the lights on.”
Nick sat down on the other side of Ellen, picked up his book and put his arm over her shoulder. She grimaced for a moment. “Are you okay,” he asked.
“Just a pain. I… It’s too soon—”
Nick placed his hand on her belly, which looked like half of a small basketball.
“You feel that?” she said.
“Oh! She cried out. Ah—” Her head went back on the couch pillow. “He’s not due for another month—”
“I’m taking you to the hospital. Right now. Is your small bag already packed?”
“Yes, it’s by the bed—the brown one.”
That evening we were in the barn, already lying down to sleep for the evening. That’s when seven enormous Angus Beef bulls came storming into the barn. They immediately started by butting us toward the door on the other side of the barn. Mooing furiously and scaring us all, it was clear that they had decided that this was their barn and we were to get out.
“This is our home, and you don’t belong here,” said the one who, I guess, was their leader.” Now get out before there is real trouble.”
I’m sorry to say we girls are not fighters. After a few aggressive butts to the rear and some knocking about, our herd was forced outside, where it was getting quite cold. The rest of the herd of 28 Angus walked triumphantly back into the barn, which had rightfully been theirs until we unexpectedly showed up.
Of course, then there was my sister Louise. The biggest and most fearless of us all. She turned around and charged right back in. We heard a great deal of grunting and mooing, but shortly after, I peeked in, and she was lying in her usual spot that no other cow dared take from her. I guess they decided that she was not worth the fight. I have to say, she can be mean when she wants and has a vicious bite.
Soon after, I heard Nick tell Izzy to stay in the barn and supervise the herd. Then I watched Ellen and Nick jump in the truck and squeal out. We were all concerned, even Zasper the Grackle, who, I will remind you, does not like to fly at night, but decided to take on the mission.
From Alden and Beatrice’s, the dairy hands arrived early the next morning and set up our milking machines. Finally, we were properly milked. Wow, that was a relief.
Late that morning, Zasper returned from his flight with the news. Even the Angus cows came over to hear what had happened. Sitting atop the fencepost, he sang, “Nick has taken Ellen to the hospital, but that’s all I know for sure,” he said. “I spotted his truck in the parking lot. I’ll keep you posted, but first, I need a nap. It was a long night.” With that, he flew off. The two herds went back to grazing separately.
My sisters and I waited anxiously the entire day, one sister always standing at the fence in case they came home. We’d had much difficulty with the fire and our journey the day before. And now Nick and Ellen were gone, and there was trouble in the air?
At about 4:00 P.M., Nick’s pickup rolled down the long dirt drive, dust spewing everywhere. Nick got out and opened the gate. Gertrude and I stood there squinting in the sunlight. We could make out someone in the passenger seat, but we weren’t sure who.
Sure enough, the truck pulled up near the back porch, and Ellen climbed out. As many of the cows clamored forward to see, we all mooed up a storm. Then Nick pulled out something from the back seat. It was a baby carrier. Hurray! Ellen had a baby, and there was a new family member. We clamored up to the fence, squeezing in. Many heads stretched over the top rail amongst a lot of grunting and mooing.
Izzy was at Ellen’s feet in seconds, running between her legs and happy to see her. Nick handed the carrier to Ellen as Izzy jumped up, standing on her hind legs, and Nick gave her a resounding hug. Ellen waved at us as Nick, Ellen, Izzy, and a new baby went into the house.
The next morning Nick was helping us get milked as Jonas pulled up in his truck. Izzy and Nick went to see him. I walked out of the barn, having already given my share of milk, and listened.
“What’s up, Jonas?” Nick said. “You alright?”
“Yes, we’re fine, Uncle. Mom and Dad told me to give you their love.” He raised his hands. “Uncle Nick, you know my friend Willy? Well, his dog Rosco ran away. He’s a Golden Retriever and only two years old. Willy lives on the farm next to us, and he was helping me clean up from the fire yesterday morning. When he got home, Rosco was gone. He was sure that Rosco had dug under the fence and had gone looking for him. That dog hates to be alone. Now they’re both lost. No one’s seen either since yesterday afternoon. I’m worried, Uncle Nick. He may have tracked that dog deep into the Bitterroot, up Eyes Like a Bird Canyon.”
Nick looked down at Izzy, who, strangely, nodded her head as if she knew what had been said. Nick let out a big breath of air. “Wow,” he said. He turned and looked past me at the two herds grazing in separate fields. I was standing right there wondering what he’d do. After all, he had two herds of cows to watch over now and a new baby.
Then Ellen came out of the house and down the stairs with a bundle in her arms, smiling like a sunshine morning. “Hi, Jonas! Is something wrong? Are your parents all right?”
“Yes, Aunt Ellen.” He walked up and kissed her cheek, looking down at the newborn. “Oh, she’s so cute. What have you named her?”
“Her name is Tyler,” she smiled. “After my father.”
“That’s a nice name—” Aunt Ellen, my friend Willy’s dog ran away, and I’m afraid that they are both lost up one of the canyons.”
“Oh, that’s dreadful.”
Nick stood next to Ellen, his arm over her shoulder, listening.
“Willy and his mom moved here a few months ago from Pittsburgh, and he isn’t a country person. In fact, he doesn’t like going into the forest at all. I’m afraid he went hunting for his dog and became lost. He got that puppy from a Flathead Indian family on the reservation. Maybe Rosco is trying to get through the canyon and over the mountains, thinking he knows where he was born, and he wants to go home. You know how dogs can be. I followed Willy’s tracks to the trailhead and thought I’d better return and get help.”
“I’ll bring Sugar and Izzy over in the trailer,” Nick said. “We’ll take a look.” He smiled at Ellen, who gave him an affirmative nod.
“Don’t worry, Nick,” she said; I’ll watch the cattle. You find the boy.”
Nick looked at Jonas. “Did you call the sheriff?”
“Dad did, but they have their hands full with only two deputies and that big fire. It caused a lot of damage in the valley, I guess. He said he’d organize a search party if we don’t find Willy by tomorrow. But for now, we’re on our own.”
Nick straightened his shoulders, “Winter is coming, and these fall nights are getting cold. I hope he took a warm coat—it could snow up there any time. I’ll meet you at the trailhead.”
“Thank you, Uncle Nick.” Jonas jumped in his truck and took off down the dirt road as Nick went to get Sugar and load the trailer.
Izzy jumped into the truck, and Nick headed for Bird Canyon Trail.
Jonas was waiting on his horse when Nick arrived. Nick unloaded Sugar and saddled her as Izzy sniffed around the perimeter. Nick chuckled. If ever there was a dog that liked to use her nose to know every creature that has ever been on a trail, its Izzy—a natural-born tracker.
Jonas dismounted and stuck one of Rosco’s well-chewed bones before Izzy’s nose. She sniffed and looked up toward the trail as Nick mounted Sugar. She began barking loudly and racing toward the trailhead. “Get going then, Izzy. Let’s go find Willy and Rosco.” She had the scent.
Jonas mounted, and the three headed up the trail into the Bitterroot Mountains.
The fog was lifting from the heavily treed mountain range. But the wind was picking up, and a storm might be rolling in. Not ideal for tracking.
Back at Nick and Ellen’s farm, another storm was brewing. The Holstein girls were not getting along well with the Black Angus.
It all started when Betty began bad-mouthing one of the Angus cows about who had it better, that this was her farm long before you big beef cattle showed up!
Well said one of the Angus girls, “Our breed originated in Aberdeen, Scotland, and we have been the favorite of beef cattle ranchers for centuries.
That’s when I butted in front of Betty and pushed her to the side so she couldn’t say what I was afraid she might say. To my delight, big Louise also blocked the way, and the conversation ended.
“What is your problem?” Betty snapped at me. “You’re always interfering. It’s none of your business.”
“It is my business, Betty. Very much so. That heifer doesn’t even know what a beef cow is— Do you want to scare her?”
She looked at me with her sour face and, chewing her cud, said, “Oh, for gosh sakes, Selma,” and walked off in a huff.
Milly approached me and said, “They don’t rule this farm—we will all have to fit in the barn!”
I looked at her and shook my head. “Agreed. Somehow, we’ll have to work this out with them before an uncomfortable situation becomes more difficult.”
That night we slept in the pasture, all except Louise.
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