As the three of us headed back to George's family home that evening at dusk after a very HOT but fun August day of cavorting about: touring the Samuel Morse estate in Poughkeepsie, supper in a Mexican restaurant with real Mexicans, and a walk through fields and meadows in Millbrook (spotting many deer)-little did we know or suspect that the "main event" of the day had not yet even begun.
It was true of course that when George suggested going on this walk
through the meadows he never did mention that they were full of poison ivy
and that we would have to crawl under barbed wire fences and electrified
fences and make our way under some difficult low lying branches and
underbrush-not to mention the mud flats, pricker bushes, the crossing of
the stream, groundhog holes and the cakes of fresh cow dung that were
placed here and there and everywhere.
Neither DeHaven or I being weekend guests had brought any clothing with us
for this kind of an event. She was wearing some borrowed boots from the
house (she had only brought some delicate little shoes pink trimmed with
gold beads) and a pink shirt, white pants, plus very long combed-out hair.
I was in an expensive, custom-made, monogrammed white Egyptian cotton
shirt and nice pants, the kind of ensemble one might wear to a church
Nevertheless, when we finally reached the distant field that he wanted us
to see (infinitely more distant than I was either mentally or physically
prepared for perhaps a mile or more), it made all the trials and
tribulations seem minor; it was very picturesque indeed. A sort of
Grandma Moses landscape, without people though, just farms and hills and a
winding road with a number of deer grazing in the distance a field of cows
We sat absorbing the beauty and wonder of this peaceful vista and then
when the sunset had done its thing we started back again. The light was
beginning to fade, I was beginning to itch and beginning to be
apprehensive about making it back through this obstacle course again.
Would we have to do it in the dark?
Even though the curtain of darkness was dropping, DeHaven wanted a bouquet of those tall, purple spiky flowers to bring back. What are they called?.....You know, those things that grow in great profusion in the more marshy areas sometimes they go on for miles along the roadside. I can never remember the name of them if indeed I ever knew what are they called? I really must find out and try to remember. I really should.
I really must..... Anyway, after we got under the electrified fence on our way back to the house there was a whole large area of these flowers, and another kind too; we stopped to pick some. We had to be careful though because they were growing in the muddy marshes.....one slip and your name was mud.
From the corner of my eye I could see that the cows in the lower field
were quickly arranging themselves into rows a kind of formation of some
sort almost like the Rockettes in lines. And they were swiftly moving
towards something back to the barn I thought. Besides they were separated
from us by a fence. I didn't give it another thought or even mention it to
the others, they were busy picking flowers anyway. I started picking some
Not thirty seconds later we turned and saw that the cows were
quickly very, very, very quickly-moving up the hill towards us (gee
whillikers-there was no fence between us as I thought-Oh Lordy-WHAT'S THE
STORY HERE!). We all saw them coming but didn't know what to
do.....however they were moving so swiftly we had to act quickly (like
five seconds). Talk about distress!
We frantically ran to a small cluster of nearby trees and bushes in the
middle of the field, there was no time to make it to the fence. We stood
there somewhat protected by the trees, face to face with this herd of
cows-about thirty of them, all in one huge clump.....and one sneaking
around the other side towards us.
DeHaven said he looked mean and she didn't trust him. It seemed like real impending trouble, this herd of cows trying to push in on us. George was screaming, screeching and yelling and throwing rocks at them. They didn't budge. They were just pushing clo
through the trees. We couldn't seem to really read their facial expressions at all.
None of us really knew very much about cows-and here we were in direct
confrontation with this menacing, threatening, bovine assemblage. We were
in a panic-a real panic. "This one looks very dangerous and mean-this one
over here-the one on the right" DeHaven yelled again.
We didn't know what to do to get out of this. DeHaven for some reason was
in gales of laughter. She was suffering extremely from the heat of the
day-it was a real sizzler, and she didn't particularly even want to go on
this evening "stroll" in the first place-and now this.....maybe her
laughter relieved some of her distress, but it seemed to add to mine.
George was shouting and yelling and in the most direct
confrontation-almost nose to nose. I don't remember what I was doing
besides hiding behind a bush, but I had a large rock in my hand if any of
them came near me, boy were they going to get a clout. It was all fear,
fright, and frantic hysteria-"make a run for it." "No, we can't make
Visions of being chased by this herd of cows, perhaps
being trampled, visions of being squashed-a vision of these enormous cows
rearing up on their hind legs! We didn't know what these cows wanted or
what they might do. "We can't make it to the fence, get some more rocks."
EXASPERATION: what can we do? "Run to the right" "NO, we can't make it."
What was happening, what to do next to end this nightmare we couldn't just
wake up-we were very awake and very hyper. (This somehow made a nightmare
seem easy). Whatever to do, what was going to happen? The cows were
pressing closer through the trees and bushes now. It was becoming more
Then, I don't remember what happened or how we decided, but we made a mad
skitter and skidoo up the hill through the mud flats towards the electric
fence-I was the first under it-in my monogrammed shirt, I just dove
under-don't believe I ever moved so fast. Safe-we were safe. The cows
came right after us but stopped a yard from the fence-they knew. They all
stood there staring and glaring at us (or so it seemed). We had survived.
Hallelujah-I just want to go to sleep.
We couldn't go home the way we came though because we would have had to go
through "that" cow pasture again. So here it was getting dark and here we
were branching out into the unknown. And so it was under another barbed
wire fence and through some more mud and into a vast field of pricker
bushes. The sky began to flicker: a lightning storm was coming up.
Exhaustion-bewilderment-disbelief-that was the way I felt. OH GLORY--what
else can happen? I didn't have any idea where we were or what direction to
move in. George knew the general direction and finally after walking
through more fields and pathways we made it out onto the road and we were
home just before it got completely dark and before the storm came. Our
walk home was very quiet interspersed with gales of laughter (a slightly
hysterical laughter-a little bit unsure that we should really be laughing
We spoke about this all evening after we got home. Were we really in any
danger? Maybe these cows just wanted to say hello (but it sure didn't seem
that way). Were they even cows? I don't remember seeing any milk bags.
DeHaven and George remember seeing some they thought-I never really
looked (no time, never gave it a thought). We didn't really know. What
ever really was going on there anyway?!
We ruminated about this the next day too-trying to somehow figure it all
out, trying to digest what had happened. Maybe we will never know
Later in the week after returning to New York I spoke with Lois Long. She
said that when she and John Cage used to go looking for mushrooms they
would often go to farms because many mushrooms grow out of cow dung. The
farmers would tell them what fields they could go into and what fields
they could not.
For breeding purposes the farmers would often put in with
a field of cows-one bull. It was very dangerous to go into this field
because they become very territorial. She said it might also have been a
field of young bulls who can be very territorial and aggressive.
Someone else who knows cows said sometimes mothers and young cows often
stay together in a field and the mothers are very protective, to enter
this field could be very dangerous. Shirley Carlson who was brought up
with cows said that the cows were usually very peaceful and gentle and
curious, but they were not all that way and some could be very mean and
Clifford Gastler said he thought that the cows thought we were going to
lead them back to the barn! If they did indeed think that we were going to
lead them back to the barn, the poor things must have been in complete
bewilderment when they found us cowering in the bushes and throwing rocks
and then darting frantically to the other side of the fence and
Bob Wollman said cows are very nosy and like to keep a check on what's going on.
We will perhaps really never know what happened for sure. But there is one
thing I think I will remember from this (besides of course not entering so
freely into a field enclosed in an electrified fence). When I got back to
my apartment, I took out my Audubon Guide to American Wild Flowers and
looked up those tall purple spiky flowers that I can never remember the
name of; they are called "purple loosestrife."
And those other purple flowers that grow in round cluster groupsþthey are called "spotted Joe-Pye weed." Whenever I think of this incident, besides remembering the attack
of the herd of cows, the frantic tension, and the mud-I think of "purple
loosestrife" and "spotted Joe-Pye weed." I must remember those names:
purple loosestrife and spotted Joe-Pye weed.
"In commemoration of the evening in Millbrook, New York
August 14, 1993."
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