I do not usually experience fear when I go walking, especially in the early morning, but yesterday was an exception. I had been down to the creek, enjoying the antics of a pair of kingfishers and trying my best to figure out whether the backlit shorebird on the mudflat was a lesser or a greater yellowlegs. A pair of dusky swallows caught my eye as I turned to head for home and I spent another few minutes watching them, wanting to be certain as to whether they were northern rough-winged or bank swallows.
I was still mulling over these identification questions as I headed up the hill, not paying a lot of attention to the road in front of me, when I saw it. Having previously spent a few years milking on my neighbor’s dairy farm I am not normally one to flinch at cows, though frisky young heifers are another matter. But what was just ahead was neither. It was a bull. The farmer, whose cows I had noted grazing on my way to the creek, also owns a bull that usually is somewhere to be found amongst the herd. I like watching him from a distance, but this was not a distance. This was all of 25 feet or so, and though we were separated by a guard rail and a thin electric fence wire, I was not comforted. Neither was I comforted by the fact that I was a human and he was an animal, which theoretically might mean that I could out-think him.
My walking slowed considerably as I puzzled over my dilemma and part of my brain was trying to figure out just how he got up to the road so quickly without me seeing him on my way to the creek. The pasture is steep at that point, with no discernable path worn into the hill, so I supposed he bushwhacked up to the top to see what the view was like from that vantage point. He didn’t appear to be nearly as alarmed to see me as I was to see him and I considered my options. Seemingly, crossing the road to the far side was in order since I would have been face-to-face with him as I passed, otherwise. As I crossed, I wondered about the next question, the one I really did not want to face. Would the guard rail and electric fence wire, which was not buzzing actively at the time, deter him if he decided he wanted to leave the serenity of the pasture? I doubted it. I have seen heifers jump a fence the height of the guard rail with room to spare and I didn’t think he would let something so piddley stop him either.
Though I was familiar with the expression, “being weak in the knees” as a result of fear, I don’t know that I had ever truly experienced it up until that moment. My stomach was in knots and my legs were shaky but I decided the best thing I could do was to walk on, without making any show of being afraid or of challenging the bull’s authority. I did my best to simulate invisibility as I passed, assuming what I intended to be a non-threatening posture and being careful to avoid looking him in the eye. Whether as a result of my deliberate intentions, or because he was in an amiable mood or for some other reason, he let me pass with no more than a stare that followed me on down the road a ways.
Once I was back to breathing normally and enjoying the birdsong around me I felt a new sense of energy and adventure, having just lived through a potentially life-threatening, or at least health-threatening, situation. Or it might have been, anyway. I’ll never know for sure but the experience did make for a good story and something to look back on with gratitude for its outcome. Maybe next time I’ll greet the bull with a smile and remind him that we almost met once-upon-a-time.