Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oh, Cow Pie!

I've been feeling bad about my last post. I'm a relatively consistent person, who would rather die than break a commitment. Even though I really only have to answer to myself, I promised that I would write a "column" every Monday through Friday. Fortunately, at this point in my day, the planets have aligned and the clouds have parted so that I have an opportunity to jot something to publish now.

I had mentioned earlier that the entire family endured enjoyed a crippling leisurely hike up a mountain while visiting my son at his college this past weekend. Since there were several adults and teenagers, we took turns carrying the baby on the trail (because it would have been too easy for my son to give us a heads-up so that we could bring the baby back pack). The only supplies we brought along were water bottles. We shoved them into a cloth bag with a cinch string and I carried them until the skinny rope dug into my shoulders. It was loads of fun, but that was just the beginning.

My preschool daughter had been fighting a bout of diarrhea for a few days. For the most part, she felt well and we thought that the worst was over. We were wrong. About an eighth of the way up, she announced that she had to go potty. The others walked ahead while I found a secluded area off of the hiking path. After she was done, I looked down and found a little surprise. It was messy and I had no toilet paper. I had no tissue. I didn't have a piece of paper. And, surprise of all surprises, I didn't even bring my sanitizer because I didn't have anywhere to put it (not that it would have helped much).

Do you remember getting lost in the store as a child? That total feeling of helplessness, no matter how short it lasted? For a moment on that mountain, a wave of panic shot through me. I called to my husband, who looked just as confounded as I. Thinking quickly, he grabbed the tiniest weed leaves that I've ever seen, bunched them together, and wiped. It helped a little, but it was obvious that he had to come up with something else. He told me that, when he went camping with friends as a child once, he had to use pine needles. This mountain was covered in oak trees--the ones with spiky leaves. There were no pines. Thankfully. Glancing around, he took a second look at his water bottle and ripped off the label. All was good with the world once more. Unfortunately, the experience repeated itself (only without the weeds) before we left the hiking trail and returned to campus.

Our target destination was an artist's studio that had been vandalized and long deserted. We were told that it offered a breathtaking view and was a favorite place for many of the students. As we rounded the last bend, we were surprised to see the small fenced property of the studio surrounded by cows and calves--many of them. You know, they appear so serene when you're on the freeway and they're several hundred feet away looking small and grazing lazily. But close up, they are downright huge and scary. They glared at us in a way that warned us not to approach. We knew that the mama cows would protect their young, so we took great pains to avoid them all, but they were blocking the path to the small brick building. Some of them knocked over the sagging chain link fence to escape from our deadly grasp. One calf was actually inside the one-room studio.

As we gingerly entered the yard area, everyone in our group instinctively became aware that they should carefully watch where they stepped. That would be everyone except me. There were tons of old, dry cow pies that didn't make a mess if you landed on them. Uh, I wasn't that lucky. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd never been up close and personal to a fresh pile of cow droppings. It certainly doesn't look or smell like the contents of the manure bags that my dad used every year to feed the garden. It's dark green, very wet, and sticky. It was like trying to retrieve my foot from quick sand. Everyone laughed. HAHAHA! What a riot. My husband reminded me that we had a long trip back home and we didn't want my shoe to stink up the entire van.

After the calf peed extensively and then exited, the people in our group enjoyed themselves as they perused the quaint studio--nice wood-burning fireplace, big windows (that have since been broken and cleared out), party debris (like wine glasses and candles), and a beautiful view. Not me. I was on the grassy knoll, frantically wiping the mess from my white tennis shoes. As the children pointed out various landmarks to my husband, I could be seen on the dirt in the background, rubbing my foot like a mad cow. By now, everyone was posing for pictures and laughing lightheartedly at the joy that they were experiencing in such a secluded and serene environment. Meanwhile, I found a small stick in one last desperate attempt to scrape out all the crud that was left in the deep crevices of my soul (literally and figuratively).

For me, the hike had one overwhelming scent theme. Unfortunately, it wasn't the one that I would have chosen, but it fit quite well with my daily experiences here in Whine Country.