It is the middle of March, and the winter is beginning to show signs of giving up here in Montana. The last bits of snow still remain on the edges of our lawn, but there are birds chirping on the bare trees and there are a few flies on the back gate, awakened by the warm sun. People are so brave as to suggest that perhaps the snow shovels can go back into storage.
On the East Coast, however, the third Nor’easter in two weeks is closing in, and the storms have been wreaking havoc making travel hazardous. Kids are waiting to see if the schools will be open, or if they will again be staying home. At this rate summer break might not happen for them until September, for a day.
March in the Pacific Northwest brings an early spring. Even last month daffodils and crocuses were evident in Portland. Tulip trees will soon be exploding in thick blossomed glory, rhododendrons of every color will abound ahead of the actual first day of spring, the air smells like honey and butterfly bushes will buzz with bees. The intoxication of spring begins.
In Iowa, where I grew up and where my cousin still lives, March is a treacherous month. One day it will be sunny and almost summer-like with the temperature close to eighty, and the next day it might snow a foot with drifts closing roads. Barn yards that were solid with ice, frozen mud and manure can turn into a sticky, smelly muck and soup.
Cows will usually have their calves during the worst weather in March, and they will invariably decide to bear their fragile, little offspring in the distant corner of a snowy field, giving a farmer the task of driving the mother and newborn into the shelter of a barn. Frequently the cow is in a bad mood and does not appreciate the effort.
My cousin, Bert, was such a farmer and often played the role of obstetrician to cattle. His wife, Margie, would frequently accompany him, driving the farm pickup out into the field where the cow would be waiting with the calf. Sometimes they would have to put the calf in the back of the truck so that the cow would follow it out of the field.
It was one of those foul March days, sleet and freezing rain was falling and it was getting dark when Bert noticed one of the cows was missing. He knew which one it was as it was getting large and milk had started to swell her udders. But, he thought it would be a couple of days before the cow needed to be secluded in the barn’s nursery. Now he regretted giving the cow another day of freedom with the other cattle on the corn field stubble. He’d have to go find her and bring her back.
Margie bundled up and climbed into the old, Chevy half-ton and went out into the filthy weather with her husband. Within ten minutes they spotted the cow, barely visible in some tall weeds at the edge of the frozen filed. It was obvious, the way she was standing, that she was guarding her newborn calf.
Bert got out of the truck and walked toward the cow, hoping that she would walk away and that the calf would follow. As he approached, the cow looked at him with malice, the whites of her eyes showing. She swung her head back and forth, snot streaming from her nose. The calf did not rise. It had just come out and was not ready to walk.
Returning to the truck, Bert told Margie to open the tailgate so that he could grab the calf and load it into the back. He took a scoop shovel from the pickup and walked back toward the cow, waving it at her, hoping to spook her into moving away from the calf.
The cow stood her ground, now nodding her head as a threat. Bert moved in and banged her on the head with the shovel. It didn’t really hurt the cow, but the noise startled her, and she ran a few feet from the calf.
Bert picked up the newborn and carried it toward the truck as Margie waited to close the tailgate. The cow followed, slowly at first, but then began to run with her head down. She was pissed off.
Bert quickly loaded the calf as Margie slammed the tailgate. The cow was almost upon him as he jumped into the cab. The cow quickly changed directions and charged toward Margie who ran toward the passenger door—that was stuck. The cow chased her around the truck while Bert stayed in the cab, wondering what to do. By the time Margie came around the second time, she was almost as mad as the cow. With superior strength she yanked the door open, slid inside and started swearing at Bert.
Her rage lasted until they got the cow and calf into the safety of a warm barn. Then she started laughing, but she still has not forgiven her husband for abandoning her to face the enraged cow.
Of course St. Patrick’s Day is also in March, and it isn’t unusual to have a winter’s last storm around that venerable holiday in Wisconsin. Around the University of Wisconsin in Madison it has become a tradition to serve beer that has been dyed green in the bars and taverns around the campus on St. Patty’s Day. It is also a day when students tend to overimbibe on the green brew, so on the day following there are patches of green and yellow in the snow around the dorms.
March was also a tough month for Julius Caesar.