The river had been running high on Wade’s place all winter. Finally, the water level dropped and he decided to drive the tractor across at the ford—it would save him 10 miles of driving time to feed the cattle on the other side.
Everything went fine on the crossing until his front tires dropped into a washedout hole caused by the flooding. The current caught the front-end loader and dumped his tractor on its left side in about 10 feet of water. Immediately, the back window caved in and flooded the cab. He was stuck inside.
Holding his breath, he kicked off his rubber boots and pushed hard on his right cab door—then again— nothing happened.
His lungs were cramping from lack of oxygen, so he swam to an air pocket and sucked in as much air as possible.
Dropping back to the bottom of the cab, he pushed off again, slamming the right cab door—three, four, five times—nothing happened.
Again, Wade swam to his air bubble, lips and nose pressed against the glass like a kid making faces in a school bus window, he sucked at the air that was left in the cab. Swimming back to the bottom, he pushed off with both legs bashing the right hand door—still stuck.
Desperation gave him strength. Gathering both legs underneath him, he slammed into the right cab door—the latch budged, barely.
Prying the right side door open with his fingers, Wade stood up and his head popped above the surface of the river. For long minutes— he simply breathed.
Clambering out of the cab, he perched like a shivering and soggy sage rat on the single tractor tire sticking out of the water.
Slowly, as his world came back into focus, he noticed his cattle.
A hundred and sixty cranky cows lined the bank of the river like pouting teenagers—bellowing, begging and sniveling—for their dinner. Their hay had just disappeared beneath the surface, they were hungry and didn’t care about anything or anyone else.
“Not today, girls,” he muttered to himself, teeth chattering in the freezing wind.
Wade swam to the shore. The cattle, still demanding their hay, formed a tight circle around him. An experienced cow-cusser, he remembered, too late, not to kick a cranky cow with his semi-frozen bare foot.
Slowly, petulantly, the cows stepped aside.
Stumbling along on the round river boulders like a cow-kicked stockdog, Wade tottered for home—about a mile upstream.
One by one, the cattle, still pleading for dinner, lined out behind him on his journey. Just as the Pied
Piper of Hamlin led the rats out of town, Wade wobbled home leading a line of whining cows. Resting along the journey was out of the question for fear the lead cow would run over and flatten him.
Wade separated himself from the bovine sob-fest at his house. He took an extra looooong, extra hot shower. It was some time before anyone else had any hot water at home.
The following day, Wade double-fed his cattle.
He noticed they were moving back and forth between stuffing themselves and surveying the toppled tractor.
Apparently, it would be a while before Wade would win their trust again in matters of hay.
But, that’s OK—warm and dry—he’s much more tolerant of their behavior. — D. “Bing” Bingham [Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller. He hopes your feeding chores have gone well this winter. If you have a story to pass along, contact him at bing@ bingbingham.com.]