It was a six-buckle overshoe week in the barnyard. A fortnight earlier, emerald-hooded mallards and sepia-feathered pintails had finished doing that birds-and-bees thing in winter quarters and headed home to South Dakota summer sloughs.
But that week’s bomb cyclone rain quelled any amorous ducky inclinations which might have lingered.
Northeast South Dakota was too wet for waterfowl, let alone a herd of Holsteins.
You’d think the heifer with the Helvetica “23” etched in white on her tag would have been eager to follow the lead cow into the barn, where the dry floor in her stall was carpeted with straw just scratchy enough to scrape off her mud boots. It was, after all, milking time and a ration of ground feed was waiting.
What normally makes a dairy cow eager to reach the barn? 1. The clock 2. A full udder. 3. Silage. 4. A Blue Heeler.
Nobody knows why young Missy 23 balked at going into the barn that day.
It was 4 p.m. and most of the cows were already in their stalls, munching their rations. But there was an empty space between the hefty hindquarters in Stall 22 and the swishing tail in Stall 24.
In search of the reluctant ruminant, Dad headed out the south door while cousin Steve sneaked through the calf shed. Their converge-and-corner tactic usually works. And you know how a dairy cow is – generally so docile you can shimmy up and whisper sweet nothings into her ear.
But 23 was not feeling docile. That day, she was a B-29 on a mission. She looked at Dad. She looked at Steve. She took off over the fence.
Problem is, just beyond that fence was the manure pit. And Houston, we didn’t have a liftoff.
When HolsteinAir Flight 23 landed in the poop pool, the splash was so big it could be seen from space.
Dad removed his cap and wiped some brown stuff off it. He looked at 23, squirming in liquid fertilizer up to her chest. Then he looked at Steve, who briefly wondered whether it was insubordination to his mother’s brother if he refused to wade in after the cow. Thankfully, no words needed to be exchanged. Steve went to fetch a rope and a chain, while Dad went for the green Model A.
By the time they returned to the scene of the fecal fiasco, to their relief, Mademoiselle 23 was scrambling herself out of the pit, requesting a warm shower and a bottle of Pantene.
Twenty years later, geographers studying satellite data came across an image taken north of Waubay Lake. It looked a brown Rorschach test about half an acre wide.
They showed it to a psychologist, who swears it looks like a duck, pointing and laughing.