“Run to the truck,” my usually calm, very level headed father yelled. My father never yelled at us.
My sister and I ran for our lives. Literally, that’s how it felt. If Dad was concerned enough to actually yell, our lives must have been in danger. We didn’t know what we were running from, but we ran.
Before that moment, the night had been like most others. We had milked the cows and turned them back out to pasture. We cleaned up the barn and fed the calves. By the time we were done, it was dark. There was one last job to do before we called it a night.
One of the close-up dry cows hadn’t come home with the rest. So we grabbed a flashlight and hopped in the truck. During the day, the dry cows had been grazing in the west pasture, so we headed that way to start our search. The west pasture wrapped around a hay field, so we could drive up to the barbed-wire fence and walk the rest of the way.
Most of our cows chose to deliver their calves in the seclusion of the willow brush that separated the open pasture from the river. We reached the fence, and Dad switched on the flashlight. In daylight, the intense shadows in the willow brush made it easy for cows to hide themselves and their newborn calves. In the dark, only the blackest cows could hide. Flashlight beams bounced off white spots like reflectors
We quickly spotted the cow in the brush. She was on a knoll of high ground that, decades ago, had once been a beaver dam. Between us was a patch of hummocks. I know that in some places, hummocks exist in relatively dry pastures. But the pastures on our farm were almost always relatively wet.
Our farmland sat atop a thick layer of Aitkin County clay. The high ground was usually dry enough to farm, but the low ground was not. So it was grazed. And that grazed low land often turned to hummocks.
The path forward to the cow required hummock hopping. I assume this is a skill only Aitkin County – and perhaps other northern Minnesota – youth acquired while growing up on low land farms.
Hummock hopping is not so much actually hopping as it is carefully stepping from one hummock to the next. A misstep meant landing in the muck between the hummocks. I can tell you that no other activity develops your balance better.
With steady, precise steps, we hummock hopped our way over to the knoll where the cow was hiding. We had reached solid ground when Dad shushed us, “Shhhhh!”
We froze. I remember standing there in the dark, listening with all my might, while Dad panned the area with the flashlight.
Either my ears were frozen too, or Dad’s hearing was better than mine, because I don’t remember hearing any unusual sounds.
What I did hear were my dad’s next words: “Run to the truck.”
I can laugh about the situation now, but at the time I was terrified. My sister and I turned around and ran. But ran is not really the right word for how we moved.
It is almost possible to run across hummocks – in the daylight. It is completely impossible to run across hummocks in the dark.
Our movement toward the truck was more like half-clambering, half-crawling, half-running. There was no avoiding the muck between the hummocks.
Part way through the hummocks, I lost my shoe. I kept moving. We reached solid ground and sprinted for the fence. We shimmied through the strands of barbed-wire and jumped into the truck. Dad jumped in a moment later.
He told us he thought he had heard an animal grunting. He figured it was either a bear or the neighbor’s beef bull. He didn’t want to encounter either in the dark.
I don’t recall how or when we went back for the cow. I do know my shoe is still there, swallowed by the muck between the hummocks.
I was reminded of this story when Daphne lost her boot yesterday in the mud by our silage bags.
As the memory came back, I began to see several parallels between that experience and the pandemic emotions I am feeling.
Judging from text messages, phone calls and social media posts, I’m not the only one experiencing a range of COVID-19-induced emotions. People are worried, overwhelmed and anxious. Our wellbeing, our parents’ and children’s wellbeing, the economy, social distancing and more are stressing us out. We’re running, in the dark, over rough ground, away from a threat we can’t see.
I read an interview with David Kessler, an expert on emotional healing, in Harvard Business Review. In the interview, Kessler talked about pandemic stress.
The best nugget of advice from the article was: “Emotions need motion. When you name (your emotion), you feel it and it moves through you. It’s important we acknowledge what we’re going through.”
Navigating hummocks is considerably easier if you keep moving at a steady pace. It’s a lot easier to get stuck in the muck if you stop moving. Navigating a slew of pandemic emotions is easier if you keep moving through them too.
Hummock hopping also requires great balance. So do our thoughts. Kessler said when we find ourselves thinking negative thoughts, we need to counter them with positive thoughts. It’s not possible – or healthy – to ignore those negative thoughts; we need to balance them with positive thoughts.
Lastly, hummock hopping is easier with a partner. That way, when you do fall into the muck, you have someone to help pull you out. While physically sticking together is not an option right now, we can stick together virtually. Make phone calls. Send text messages. Forward those funny toilet paper memes – laughter is good medicine. When you’re feeling down, talk with someone.
Keep moving, keep your balance, and stick together, friends. We’ll get through the hummocks.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children – Dan, 11, Monika, 8, and Daphne, 5. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.