KEN’S CORNER: The Ice-Covered Calf of Sulphur Springs
By TLB Contributing Writer: Ken LaRive
I could never remember it being so cold. With two wool watch caps on, the wind still cut through like a knife, and there was a sharp pain in my temple. In the frozen snow covered clearing stood two starving cows plastered with a one-inch layer of ice that looked like diamonds in the noon sun. All around them and up the slope lay the rest of the herd, frozen solid. I counted 28, and quit. Some were on their backs with just their hooves showing, and calves were half buried next to them. I wanted to take a picture, but my Minolta was frozen too. It was –10 below, the worse Texas could remember for a generation. Here in the East Texas hill country of Sulphur Springs, the cattle ranchers were at a loss…
Every day they tried to break the foot thick ice in the troughs and ponds, but in a few minutes it sealed up tight again. The cattle were dying from the night’s exposure, but also lack of water. Cows will not eat snow, so I was told, and every day the landowners would drag the dead carcasses with their tractors, and pile them up in a great hill in front of the barn. What a sight.
I made my way through a small section of wood to a low clearing with a pond that was fed by a stream. It was as clear as any block ice, and encased the pond weeds and grasses like a great paperweight. I saw a small silver crack that was beginning to form from the bank, and stomped on it with my work boots. A loud Seeeeeet went out, and continued for more than a minute as the crack split the pond in half. Raised in Louisiana I knew nothing about such things, and though I look back on this hike today as being dangerous, at the time I knew no fear. I played for hours on the pond, knowing even then that if there was a soft spot and I would have fallen in, my chances of making it back to the rig would have been minimal.
The rig had been frozen for days, waiting for this weather to break. It sat like a blackened dinosaur from the hundred diesel smudge pots that had tried to keep it warm. The pots lay empty and cold now. It was no use, and now filled with the night’s light snow.
In spite of all my running and sliding on the pond, I kept getting more numb, and decided to head on back to the rig. It was a little more then a mile away, as the crow flies, so I took off across country. I hadn’t gotten a hundred yards when I saw it, a small calf trudging through the snow alone. How it had survived this week of ice was anyone’s guess, but it was on its last leg. It seemed not to even know I was walking next to it. I think it had its eyes closed. I put my gloved hand on its back and it still took no notice, keeping a steady pace through the crunching snow. I looked around. Where was the rancher’s house? Could I make it back to the rig carrying him? It weighed about eighty or so pounds, and was just skin and bones. Without my help he would surly not last the night. I estimated it would take me three or more hours to get back, and that was just about how much daylight. Sure didn’t want to spend the night here.
I was only 33, and had the strength of youth, but when I picked up the dead weight of this limp calf, I doubted I could make it more then a hundred yards. For a while its legs still moved like it was walking, but soon settled down, its head falling forward like it was asleep. I thought for a moment that it was dead, but could see its frosted breath coming from a frostbit black nose. A hundred yards went into two, and I kept on going. I think the cold air was revitalizing me, and the exercise was keeping me warm. There was the constant crunch as I broke through the foot of snow, almost hypnotizing as I thought of the options. There were no options. I couldn’t leave this calf. I would remember it for the rest of my days. I knelt down and set it in front of me for a breather, and almost mechanically it started walking again. I pushed it in the general direction and followed for a while, but it would have taken a week at this rate.
Up in my arms again, it looked at me. It had that sidelong look that only a cow can give, and for a moment started squirming. It was a feeble attempt, so weak, I could feel it was close to death. I found the ranch road and decided that it would be faster than through the snow. The gravel was icy though, and I had to be careful not to slip. A hawk jumped from a branch and made an arc ahead of me, and in the distance I could hear the tingle of wind on the frozen trees. The calf looked around once and awhile, but would close its eyes again.
I had to set it down several times before I saw the rig in the distance. The last time it folded its legs under, waiting for me to pick it back up. I got on location just as the sun was setting behind the hardwoods, and the temperature began to drop. I was lucky that the skeleton crew was watching television, or having supper, and no one saw me. I got us both into the trailer undetected.
It was hot after being in the elements all day, and I quickly turned the heater off. I set him up in the kitchen area and poured him a large bowl of water. He stood there for a half-hour, as the ice and snow melted from its fur, puddling brown on the linoleum. I took a used towel from the hamper and wiped him down. Suddenly he started drinking, and didn’t quit until it was gone. I got the bowl and was filling it again when it defecated on the floor. It looked at me like it had done something wrong, and the light returned in its eyes. I had to laugh, so glad those hands couldn’t see this!
I found the owner’s name from a delivery ticket, and called him. He seemed quite surprised, astounded in fact, and before I could finish making a cup of coffee he was knocking at the door. He couldn’t believe that the calf had survived, and said its mother must have protected him in a wash till the end. What was amazing was that he left her at all, as most calves would have died right there. Yep, he said, this was a special little calf indeed. He thanked me with a crushing Texas handshake and in a moment had it in the cab of his giant pickup truck.
I never saw the calf again, but about a year later I called that rancher. The calf turned out to be a fine looking bull, and fit right into his new herd he was building. All in all, he had lost over five hundred head.
I think of that calf sometimes. I look out over the fields at the cows around here when I’m riding my motorcycle. They look so content in the light of day, but I know it isn’t always so easy for them. We sometimes loose sight of how fragile they are, how fragile we all are, and how a little caring can make such a difference. And then, I sometimes wonder what happened to those last two cows back in the clearing…
Picture of a Texas Longhorn taken on a motorcycle ride to LBJ ranch in 2005. I picture my bull to look like this.
From the Author, Ken La Rive – We in the Liberty movement have been fighting to take back this country for less than a decade, peacefully and with the love of God and country in our hearts. Our banner has been trampled on and displaced by a multitude of distractions, further eroding our nation and the cause for Liberty. And so, as we are pulled by forces we cannot fathom, powerful entities with unlimited resources stolen from our future, unaccountable trillions printed out of thin air and put on our backs as debt, we must formulate the most pitiful of all questions any patriot might ask in the final hour: Are we going to fight for our master’s tyranny, or are we going to demand the return of our civil liberties and Constitution? Are we going to choose The Banner of Liberty, or the shackles of voluntary servitude? Will it be a war for corporate profit, or a war to regain our ability to self govern, as the blood and toil of our forefathers presented to us, their children, as a gift? I fear that decision is emanate. I fear that any decision will be a hard one, but my greatest fear of all is that the decision has already been made for us.
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