Sunday, April 10, 2011

Of Small Boats and Cows

There are certain people in the world who simply should not be left to their own devices out of doors or in the company of cows. I, as it happens, am one.

Recently, I entered into possession of an eight-foot aluminum johnboat. It’s hoary and dented and kind of crappy, but with its flat bottom and light weight, it’s the perfect vehicle for plying the winding, narrow, tree-limb-strewn waters of my favorite fishing hole. It’s major problem was that several hull rivets had become loose, allowing a completely unacceptable amount of water to gurgle in for a frolic. I asked around for advice on stemming the unwanted flow, and the consensus among people who are smarter about such things than I am was marine caulk; just put a dollop on top of each faulty rivet, let it cure, and see what happens. So, a few days ago, I performed the dolloping, and yesterday it was time for the maiden voyage of the newly refurbished good ship Lookslikeshit.

Now, I didn’t just shove the boat in the water and hop aboard, which, in light of what happened later, represents one of my few acts of good judgment. Instead, I dragged the boat to a level bit of shoreline, scooped water from the lake with an empty coffee can, and poured it in. A few short minutes monitoring, and…hey look at that! No leaks. Cool.

A quick word about the shoreline of this little lake. At the end where I was effecting repairs on the boat, the water is very shallow; the ground sloping gently downward from the bank for maybe fifteen feet before it drops off into deeper water. It’s also very muddy and peppered with hoof prints made by cattle coming down to the pond for a restorative slurp. A few hundred yards to the south the banks narrow into a sort of canyon, the remains of a very old creek. Here the bank has a steeper incline and the is water deeper, making it easier, I reasoned, to enter and exit the boat without getting overly cozy with the muddy bottom (it’s all thick and squelchy; that black muck that invades your skull with an entire battalion of hideous scents, and clings to your shoes like a frightened first-grader). So my plan was to schlep the boat down to the narrows, and set sail from there. Preparatory to the schlepping, I took my fishing pole and a small box of lures down to the presumptive embarkation point, and deposited them on the bank (the rest of my tackle I left in the repair area), so as not to be encumbered with too much stuff.

I lifted the Lookslikeshit and stared along the shore, not looking forward to the trip at all. And hindsight tells me that it was right about here that the day started going all sideways.

Hmmmm, I thought (or something to that effect). If I drag the boat down there across the uneven ground, I run the risk of ruining the work I did on the rivets, and if I flip the boat upside down it’s gonna bounce and rattle the whole way and I could damage the stern and who knows what else. With some rope, I could have floated the thing along, pulling it behind while I walked the along bank, but I didn’t have any rope. Better, I thought (or something to that effect) to just hop aboard right here and paddle down to where the banks narrow. And hey, if all went according to my mental blueprint, I would be able to grab my pole and get right to pestering the fish.

Now, in addition to rope, something else I didn’t have, I should mention at this point, was a paddle. (You can go ahead and wipe that smirk off your face right now.) But my six months of Boy Scout training kicked in, and I located a suitable substitute in the form of a thickish stick, about three feet long, with which I figured to row/pole my way through the shallows. So, feeling pleased with my ingenuity, and altogether the rugged man of action, I stepped carefully aboard the Lookslikeshit.

She wobbled freely from side to side, and my forward momentum pushed her away from the bank, the overall effect being that of a rubber duck in a Jacuzzi. Feeling almost completely at the mercy of the fickle laws of physics, I quickly sat down on the boat’s sternward bench and waited for things to stabilize.

There are all sorts of good reasons why you paddle a boat with a paddle and not with a thickish stick, the most basic of which is that thickish sticks, while thickish, are not so thick as paddles, rendering your progress rather slow. A particularly sluggish glacier would’ve moved at a friskier pace, but with some effort I managed to bob along in a positive direction.

Two calves wandered down to the water, presumably because they were thirsty, but all they did was look at me in that bovine way they have, until I got too close, startling them, and they ran back up the hill to the safety of their mothers. A small turtle poked its head up and gave me the ol’ reptilian once-over. (I can’t say for certain if it was the sociopathic beast that had plagued me in the past, but I wouldn’t be surprised.) Looking over the side of the boat I saw a happy sight; a small school of inch-long bass fingerlings. I’d been worried that the superabundance of turtles in the pond had been wrecking havoc with the yearly fish hatch, but at least this few had made it. A good omen for the future. If, of course, their cousins didn’t dine on them between times.

In any event, about ten minutes after setting sail I alit at my destination, pleased enough with the experience to take a crack at some actual fishing. But first I had to retrieve my gear. With a minimum of splashing and flailing, I maneuvered the Lookslikeshitaround and ran the stern (where I was sitting) toward the bank. It is in the nature of boats that they don’t really take to remaining stationary, and every time I went to stand up, this one skittled backward into deeper water. Three times this happened before I hit on the idea to jab my thickish stick into the bottom as a makeshift anchor. It worked well, until I had to let go of it to stand, at which point the boat and I once again went rocking and rolling off into deeper water in a funky sort of spin.

OK, I thought (or something to that effect), here’s what to do. Use the stick as a pole, build up some steam, and really plant the stern in the shallows. Then I can hop out before it can run off again.

You can’t really build up any decent momentum with a three-foot stick, thickish or otherwise, but I gave it a serious go. The stern oozed up into the mud and achieved a tentative brand of stasis. I lurched onto my knees, one hand on the port side of the boat and the other on the stick, and heaved myself upward and forward toward dry ground.

Two things happened at this point, and they got together and resulted in a third, larger thing.

The first thing was, the Lookslikeshit left the mud behind in a rush, aiming merrily for open seas, and the second thing was that the stick, with my weight pressing down on it, sank deeper into the mud and abruptly tilted sideways away from the boat. I tried to wrestle with the boat’s sudden violent motion, but I grossly overcompensated and—here’s the third, larger thing—flipped the boat upside down. And what’s really funny is that, as I spilled into the water, I yelled “Here we GO!”

I came up spluttering, with moss in my hair, but somehow with my sunglasses still firmly astride my face. Planting my feet on the bottom, I stood up in about four feet of water, which suddenly became five feet of water when I sank to the middle of my shins in goo. A few feet away, the Lookslikeshit was three-quarters of the way submerged, and striving with all its might to go all the way under. Hauling my feet from the muck, I grabbed the last remaining bit of metal still showing and dragged the boat ashore, where I heaved the traitorous vessel onto its starboard side and leaned it against a cottonwood stump to drain and dry.

Standing there dripping and spitting pond water, I was glad I had left my tackle behind. I don’t know if I could’ve faced, at that moment, having to go for a snorkel to retrieve my stuff. I wasn’t at all glad, however, to discover a few of the things I had brought along for the ride: my car remote, my wallet, my cigarettes, my Zippo, and my cell phone, all of which were now thoroughly water-logged. I began spreading these items out on a log in the sun, but stopped when I heard a noise from the high wall of the creek bed about twenty feet above.

Looking down at me, in perfectly symmetrical attitudes, were nine cows. About half of the group were calves. In so far as you can read a cow’s body language, I felt that these found my antics quite bemusing. “Hey down there,” they seemed to be saying. “Whatcha doin’? Looks all sortsa stoopid to us.”

A guy’s outlook is not improved in any way when he finds that he is viewed as an object of derision by cows.

“Go away,” I said. “Take a hike.” They steadfastly refused to hike, so I called them some rude names like Big Mac and Veal-on-the-Hoof. They still wouldn’t scram, but having zinged them with my wit and proven my intellectual superiority, I felt better.

The cows continued their observations as I continued laying out the contents of my pockets on the log; phone, bits of soggy paper from my wallet, etc. I blew the excess moisture from my Zippo, located the least sodden of my cigarettes, put fire to it, and inhaled several lungsful of pond-water-flavored tobacco. (Not all I had hoped from the experience, but in such circumstances we take what we are given.) Then I sat in the grass, kicked off my muddy tennies, and arranged myself in the sun to dry.

Eventually, the cows grew bored and went back to the business of being cows. It turned out, however, that they still had roles to play in the ongoing drama of my afternoon.

Perhaps an hour later I felt dry enough to sit in my car without befouling the upholstery, so I collected my fishing pole and small plastic tackle box, and headed back along the shoreline to tidy up the repair area, grab the rest of my things, and get the hell home. As soon as I rounded the bend, though, I saw immediately that things were amiss down there. The contents of my tackle box were strewn far and wide and the box itself, which is actually a Nylon bag, was smashed flat in the mud. Closer inspection revealed that all of my little plastic bins and boxes full of lures and hooks and things of that nature, were smeared with globs of frothy yellow-white foam. Calf snot. Thick as the meringue on a lemon pie. Some overly curious bovine wastrel had slobbered all over my stuff. And it had been there a while, too, a fact made plain by the general solidity of the slobber, and its obstinacy over being scraped off.

I wondered what had possessed the animal or animals to drool on my belongings, but ultimately lacked the energy for pondering the mental intricacies of cows, so I just shook the mud off the tackle box, crammed everything back inside, and tromped up the hill to my car. Arriving there, I found that my tackle box hadn’t been the only target of the foam-spewing beasts. Oklahoma is made up of red dirt, so cars are often coated with a layer of fine red dust. Mine was. But all up and down its sides, on the hatchback and the hood, there were damp streaks in the dust; swooshes and swirls of snot and gooey spittle.

The cows had been licking my car. Why? Who the hell knows. It’s white. Maybe they thought it was a giant salt-lick.

Muttering to myself, I stowed my tackle and got behind the wheel. I made a U-turn and started back toward the pasture gate, following a pair of well-worn tire ruts left there by years of farming activity. Up ahead, a single calf stood in the way. It was very small, and so obviously very new to the world. It stared at me as I approached. I slowed. It stared. I continued to slow. It continued to stare. I slowed to the point that I was moving at about a half-mile per hour, but still it seemed as though I was bearing down on the little idiot at speed. A moment later I could look into its eyes and it could look into mine. Then, finally, at the last possible second, the calf leaped out of the way. Well, I say “leaped” but that’s not entirely accurate. What it did was totally freak out. All four of its hooves came off the ground at once as it spun in mid-air and let out for friendlier environs, for someplace, perhaps, where giant salt-licks didn’t inexplicably attack innocent young cows.

He left me a parting gift too, the little bastard. Just as he spun out of the way and my car rolled by, he lifted his tail and jettisoned a great geyser of liquid brown shit all over the hood of my car. I mean like three gallons of it. It spattered the windshield and clogged the air vents, filling the car with the enticing aroma of digested cow-cake and wet hay. Coupled with the scents of pond water and black mud that already clung to me, the interior of my car now smelled like a redneck’s wedding reception.

I sighed—what else was I supposed to do?—unrolled the windows, and motored for home for a shower that lasted about ten months.

Is there a point to this story? Yes, I think so. Three of them, in fact.

The little boat is sea-worthy. I am a poor sailor. And cows do not like me.


1 comment:

  1. Cheers, Rich. Great post. Or rather, Another great post.