Baird’s Sparrow

Death by Cows – Most Foul  by K. D. Snyder

North Dakota has this little bird called a Baird’s Sparrow.  It also has, apparently, herds of large and dangerous creatures who wander about its public grasslands. (No, not dinosaurs as our granddaughter might hope.)  On a beautiful summer morning, we packed up all our camera equipment and arrived at the fenced lands where the little sparrow was known to live.  We found a bunch of cows instead. OK, cattle – but they sure looked like cows.

I had been under the impression that cows were rather stupid and lethargic creatures.  Cows may look docile, the internet says, but they kill more than five times the number of people that sharks do.  With the cattle there,
we figured we had better walk along the outside of the barbwire fence and look for the little sparrow from there. This plan didn’t work as there was one big brute, I called him Evil Prime (Rib), that stomped and snorted and
actually lunged at us from the other side of the barbwire.  Before we knew it, the whole herd was following his wild-eyed lead and were trotting along on the opposite side of the fence.  When we began to hurry our steps to
outdistance them, they began a mini stampede beside us, watching our every move.

We were not going to see the sparrow with this going on, so we left to bird elsewhere in the hope that the cattle would be gone the following day.  The next day, the hills of grasslands behind the fence appeared to be empty.  
Warily we entered the public lands and started our hike.  As we came to the first rise, we did see some cattle but they ignored us and, with great relief, we continued birdwatching and photographing the birds that were
there, still searching for our Baird’s Sparrow.

Over the next rise, however, we sighted a large herd of cattle perhaps a quarter of a mile away.  Sure enough, Evil Prime (Rib) was there (we could tell by his evil ways) and he raised his head and shook it menacingly.  Two
of his buddies, Porterhouse and Rumproast suddenly looked up and all three took a few steps in our direction, pawing the ground.

“Holy cow,” I whispered, “Lord, help us.”

The rest of the cattle slowly looked up and stared with great interest.  They were surely suspicious that, at some time in our lives, we had eaten hamburgers and steaks galore.  Evil Prime (Rib) and his buds were grunting,
blowing, and starting towards us.  The whole herd followed their lead and began to move towards us, slowly jostling each other with their huge bodies – slowly picking up speed.

Concern quickly consumed us.  We frantically glanced around, thinking there was no place to hide.  No trees, no bunkers, no Chick-fil-A.  The public lands property, however, was irregularly shaped and our hiking had
taken us towards a new section of posts and barbwire. We could see the fencing about fifty yards away, over a small rise.

“Run!” Hubby commanded in rather urgent tones.  No disagreement there.  As the herd began to thunder down the hill towards us, we started at a darn good clip towards the fence.  It was only fifty yards away.  How fast
could a stupid, lethargic, overweight cow run – right?  The sound of pounding hooves and furious snorting grew behind us.

Backpacks, binoculars, and hats were flailing.  Our heavy cameras and tripods bounced awkwardly on our shoulders, but our 60plus-year-old legs were pumping with adrenalin as we raced pretty much for our lives.  I think we could have beaten some high schoolers in the fifty-yard dash that morning.

“Run FASTER!” Hubby insisted, instructing me to abandon the large camera and tripod setup at the fence when we got to it and to immediately drop and roll under the wire first.

We tore for the fence, hearing the stampede gaining on us.  I really don’t know what Evil Prime (Rib) and his brood would have done to us if they had caught us on the open prairie, but we threw down the tripods, tossed
our other equipment over the barbwire, and dropped and rolled under the lowest wire.  Breathlessly, we grabbed the cameras and heaved them over to our side of the fence. Then, with our lungs heaving, we stared at the line of wild-eyed cattle that collided with each other as they tried to stop themselves from ramming into the fence.  Snorting and bellowing, they had halted two feet from us – with the blessed fence between. So much for public lands.  After a few nervous minutes of catching our breath and checking our equipment, the realization of our close-call and escape settled over us.  The cows continued to grumble and blow, shoving each other as they stared at us, and as we said a heartfelt prayer of thanks.

Evil Prime (Rib) stamped in frustration, still eyeing us with malevolence. We kept a watch on them as we slowly gathered our stuff with disbelief and made our way back to the car along OUR side of the fence.  We had been
incredibly fortunate and we talked of little else the rest of the day.  But the following morning, we were doubly fortunate to find a Baird’s Sparrow singing on the barbwire not far from the spot of our escape.  The cattle were
not to be seen but we would never have dreamed of crossing that fence again.  It was our last day in North Dakota and the thought did occur to us that we should celebrate that evening with a steak dinner.