We were at the intersection of Campbell and Pecatonica roads, in the corner of our neighbors' beanfield, and had lost the trail. The cattle had run into the road, that much we knew, but to where?
We drove down Campbell Road to a beautiful farmstead where some cattle of ours had "visited" before, in the late 1980's. (I remember helping my Dad round them up and watching him mutter and curse under his breath. I also remember that while he seemed mad, he also seemed like he was thoroughly enjoying himself.) We pulled in and asked an older gentleman and what looked to be his daughter if they'd seen 4 white steers come by. The daughter told us that no, they hadn't seen anything but that they'd keep their eyes out for them. We drove away disappointed and returned to our neighbor's beanfield. Again.
At this point, Marcel was very diligently trying to find more cow tracks (oh, how I wish I were talking about ice-cream) while I was quickly losing patience with the slow pace of the cattle-sleuthing. You see, I can sometimes be an impatient person. I can also sometimes downplay my personality faults. But honestly, while Marcel was going all Sherlock Holmes on me, I was in the pick-up truck worrying about cow-car accidents while trying to keep the 3 kids from strangling each other in the back seat.
We decided to split up. That way he could continue dusting for hoof-prints and rubbing his chin thoughtfully, and I could drive around like a madwoman in the pickup truck and trespass on other people's farms. All in all, another win-win situation.
It was at this point that I called my sister Laura. She's always first on my list of who to call when there's trouble on the farm. Ahem.
Could she be oh-so-helpful and get Madelina to her birthday party? 'Cause we're, like, a little busy trying to find our cows that escaped. Laura was the first of many to exclaim "The whole herd?", referring to our herd of 42 grassfed cattle of varying ages, sizes and maturity levels. Thankfully, no. They were still happy as clams (what does that mean?) in their pasture.
As usual, Laura came through for me. Not only did she get Madelina to her party so I only had 2 kids wrestling in the backseat, but she joined the search party afterwards. Marcel was CSI-ing it in the beans, I was trespassing on area farms, and Laura was driving her van around the local roads, stopping in and asking anyone who was outside if they'd seen some cows. We had all inadvertently fallen back on our personal strengths: Marcel was being diligent; I was multi-tasking behind the wheel; Laura was talking.
And the talking saved the day. Saved the day, I tell you. Laura stopped in at a Buffalo farm (yes, you read that right) and the owners told her that no, they hadn't seen the cows, but their neighbors down the road had! Laura called me just as I had pulled into my driveway in defeat. She told me she had a lead: there had been a sighting and I should meet her at such and such farm on Campbell Road. According to the buffalo farmers, these people had seen the cows.
Wait a minute! That is the same farm where I had stopped 4 hours ago and they said they hadn't seen them. What is going on? I drove over anyways, met Laura there, and once again the nice lady told us they hadn't seen anything. At which point our hearts sank. We had been so hopeful, so excited to at least have a small lead. But then, this time, the nice lady said, "Feel free to drive down the lane and check around if you'd like."
By this time Marcel had arrived (cow-sighting-news travels fast), everyone hopped into the pick-up and off we drove down the nice lady's farm lane. The lane was long, and it divided a large pasture with trees and some dairy cattle on the left from a very large cornfield on the right. AS we drove on, we got to the bottom of a long hill and into the middle of another soybean field where the lane basically joined up with a long waterway running through the middle. There was a pretty cottonwood tree in the waterway and a gentle creek flowing through.
One forgets how pretty it is here in Irish Grove until you drive down a lane into the center of a farm. You're away from the road and houses and there's a quiet peacefulness that fills your soul. The gentle rolling hills, the contrast between soybeans, corn and pasture, a small herd of cattle dotting the landscape: the pastoral beauty leaves you absolutely speechless.
Laura and I were admiring how pretty it was back there while Marcel jumped out and started poking around. Soon he found an area of long grass that had been flattened by something. And wait, a cow pie! Hail Holy Mary, he found a cow pie! Poop had never been so well received as in that moment.
By this time, we had all jumped out and were poking around. "Yep, looks like they've been here awhile. They bedded down here, and there's a trail leading this way...and over there. And look, there it goes that way..." And then, all of a sudden, there they were. It was 5:00 PM and we had been searching for 8 hours. But we found them: four stupid white Charolais steers bedded down in a waterway in the middle of a farmer's beanfield.
To be continued.....