THE GROUND IS ALWAYS WEAKER OVER THE SEPTIC TANK
HERE'S ONE COW YOU WON'T WANT TO EAT,
POOL, POND . . . POND'D BE GOOD FOR YOU
by Mantel Man
Laurie's observation that “Nothing good has ever come from a phone call from Dad in the morning” reminded me that nothing good can come from being awakened by Mom in the middle of the night.
When I was a teenager on the ranch, Dad had grown tired of occasional mass bovine escapes and was gradually replacing our miles of old barbed-wire with heavy steel fences. It took a while to complete the job, and the pastures that bordered out our back yard were at the tail end of the schedule.
(Original photo used by permission of ShakataGaNai on Wikimedia Commons)
We had always taken break-outs in stride. One night a few years earlier I woke to the sound of barbed wire being stretched to its breaking point and finally snapping, accompanied by the sound of many hooves -- and then a splash. We had just installed our in-ground swimming pool but had not yet put in the fence around it. Fortunately the entire pool was only four feet deep. We shooed a very surprised heifer toward one end so she could walk up the steps and make her exit.* I'm sure Mom shock-treated the pool afterward, but it wasn't as fouled as the irrigation-runoff ponds I was accustomed to swimming in anyway.
The next wading adventure was more stressful -- for the cow and for me. All Mom had to do was wake me with the words, “Sorry, Mantel Man -- cows are out again,” and I would have rolled out of bed, grumbled something about the wisdom of any animal that needs fences in the first place, and prepared to do what needed to be done. Instead, Mom shock-treated me by standing, dimly silhouetted in my bedroom doorway, holding a flashlight, and saying, “Wake up -- we've got trouble!”** Climbing down from the ceiling, I'm sure I grumbled something about the wisdom of any woman who wakes someone in such a manner.
An old-fashioned country septic tank is an open concrete box covered at the top with heavy wooden boards and buried underground. The boards don't last forever, and the owner is typically notified that it's time for new timbers when something heavy passes over the septic tank -- like, say, a cow.
We heard her mooing in the darkness but couldn't find her in the beams of our flashlights. We were looking too high. The animal had broken through the top of the septic tank behind the mobile home next to our house and was craning her neck just to see above the ground. She couldn't climb out by herself, so we tried lowering a hay bale to use as a step. However, even a dense alfalfa bale is too buoyant to be pushed under the, uh, water that filled the tank. Next we brought the old wooden stepstair from the mobile home's back door and lowered it into the tank. The cow tried climbing up but quickly turned the steps into splinters. Okay, so those boards needed replacing, too. Then my older cousin Mike arrived with Dad's big Ford loader and began excavating the earth beside the tank, using great care not to excavate parts of the frightened cow standing just inches from the huge steel scoop bucket.
By the time Mike had dug out the earth beside the tank and broken down its concrete wall, the cow had grown too weak from the cold water to climb out by herself, so he got a chain around her neck and dragged her out with the tractor. I half-expected to hear the sound of the cow's neck being stretched to its breaking point and finally snapping, but once on solid ground she was able to walk away with only her dignity injured.
Mike, with his wonderful twangy voice and blunt wit, summed up the event: “Growing up on your farm I've always seen people covered with cow shit, but I've never seen a cow covered with people shit!” This is country life -- where septic tanks become swimming pools, and vice-versa.***
*Laurie simply MUST add that The Swimming Pool Incident happened at about 5:00 a.m. on a school day at the tail-end of winter and it was raining. Of course.
**"We've got trouble"? Who says that, except maybe in "Old Yeller"?!
***I must object here. I have NEVER used a septic tank for swimming. Also, I was not there on this fateful day as I was off at college killing brain cells improving my inbred little pea brain.