Back at the Ranch

By Anna Mitchael

How to Name a Cow

Years ago, right after I moved to our outpost next to the Middle Bosque River, a baby calf was abandoned. Before the sun even bothered to get up, we had driven to the other side of the ranch, located the calf in one of the pastures, then put it — weak and hungry — in the truck. On the return trip the calf let out a half-hearted bleat that might as well have been a cattle prod on my own backside because before I knew what was happening, I was hurtling over the back seat to sit next to the little guy. Be still, my bleeding heart.

By the time we got to the barn by our house, the creature had peed on my leg and also suckled my hand raw. I had given him a name. The most surprising part? This was an exchange I felt good about.

What wasn’t surprising — what I should have seen coming from a country mile away — was that six months later the calf would move on to another pasture. The first in a series that eventually would lead to the big pasture in the sky.

A couple days after the calf left I returned to the pen and stood where he had lived. I thought about the morning we loaded him in the truck and how people say you should never name the cows. The mistake was mine, I decided. I would never say that calf’s name again, and I would never name another cow.

Weeks passed. Months passed. Many cattle moved through the pastures around our house, and I cared for them, but I was careful to follow the rule.

A friend who had never been to Texas — or out of the city, really — came to visit and I took her around the ranch. I sped across fields and over hills faster than I normally would have. She took her first look at the cows and she said, “I kinda love them.”

This woman was the one who had showed me around when I moved to Manhattan many moons ago. She knew how to work the grid of urban life. But that afternoon when she looked at the animals and felt the freedom, I heard it in her voice. She finally understood what there was to love about a life like this.

As a friend, I couldn’t let her open up without protecting her from the vulnerability, that soft spot that would send her crawling into the back of a pickup truck to sit with a calf who would one day go away. I told her what people had told me, “You can never let yourself name the cows.”

Unless, as the rancher who tends my heart is fond of saying, that name is T-bone.

Then last month another baby calf came to live in the pen by the house. This calf, like the one so long ago, possessed the trifecta that does a number on my resolve: knobby knees; soft, pettable, stand-uppable ears; and a mouth that is a heat-seeking missile for the human hand.

After all these years of keeping my distance I immediately knew this calf would get a name. It is an imperfect world, oh yes, it is, but finally I understood that keeping our hearts out of the game does not help.

This was no time for Fluffy, Spot, Tom, Dick or Harry. I needed the name to fit all the mornings you wake up, suspecting the outcome of the day is inevitable and failure might be in your future, but you fight through anyway. The way you approach a brand new horizon with one foot on the gas, a trusted friend at your side. The decision to choose love again and again and again. Even when it will lead you into unknown terrain.

Back on the ranch we call the baby calf Torpedo. And I think he’s got a chance at becoming one heck of a bull. Go, Torpedo, go.

Join the Conversation