The Great Cow Plot

I have a funny story to tell, but first, I have some bad news, so I'll get that out of the way quickly. You all know how I am for trees. I love trees, and there are certain trees I visit regularly. Last January, after years of looking from a distance, I finally stopped and visited the Baileyville white oak, near Pennsylvania Furnace.

It is a historic tree, well known in this area among those who love trees. I visited it several more times last year, and celebrated the heart of the oak. Last summer, it lost a large limb during a summer storm. The injury was trimmed up, and I was hopeful. I photographed the mighty oak one last time this year, in March; I walked boldly through the field and right up to the oak, getting very, very close, and photographing it under dramatic skies.

My husband and I drove past the tree in April of this year, on our way to Whipple Dam. I noticed that the green leaves didn't seem to have come in, as they normally do in springtime, and I was worried. I made a note to myself to come by soon and get some pictures. I guess I took too long.

I stopped at a little cemetery I love in Pennsylvania Furnace on this morning, and I walked over to visit my tree, only to discover that its spot in the big field was empty. All that remained were a few sad bits of stump. There was a Great Silence in the Force: the Baileyville white oak was gone.

So it was tearfully that I made my little pilgrimage to the pretty, green cemetery on the hill. I was thinking mournful thoughts, like: Why do I bother even caring about things like trees? Why, why, why? Nothing ever lasts, and it only leads to pain. LOVE is the ultimate cause of suffering; if you didn't care about anything at all, it wouldn't hurt when it was gone.

But a beautiful cemetery has the power to calm and heal the weary, hurting soul. And soon, I found myself captivated by my surroundings, and fully distracted by the act of taking pictures.

The cemetery is well kept, quiet, old-fashioned, charming. The graveyard is a photographer's dream, as it offers many lovely photo ops, if you are a fan of that sort of thing. There is a beautiful farm down the hill, and the cows are often out. In so many ways, it seems an idyllic place, far from the madding crowds of town.

I was turned facing uphill when the good light arrived. It threw dark green shadows through the trees. I was trying to get the shot from several angles, being careful not to trip over any gravestones (which I have done before, and I do not recommend it).

And then I heard a little sound: a quiet clop-clop-clopping on the grass. I turned around to see the WHOLE HERD of cows come parading by! A fence separated their green field from my graveyard, but they got as close as they could to see what I was up to. If I took a step, they followed.

And suddenly I realized how ridiculous my situation was. Here I was, in a graveyard, surrounded by cows. Oh, and they weren't just bystanders, no, no! They wanted to offer advice on my photography! "Nobody TOLD us you'd be here!" "What aperture are you using?"  "How's your depth of field?" "Why don't you try a more creative angle on that shot?" "What do you think of my pretty, pink nose? Worth a shot, eh?"

Oh, this isn't the first time I've been photobombed by cows. Oh no, you can see another one here. Cows, as outdoor humor writer Patrick F. McManus has noted, are very nosey animals; prone to offering curiosity and poor advice. Of course, with him, it's fishing they want to advise on; with me, it's photography.

Here's a quote from one of McManus' finest pieces, The Great Cow Plot:*
"I've given up hope of finding any place to fish where a cow won't manage to show up and put in her oar. If I was in the pet shop on the 19th floor of a department store and stopped to net a guppy out of an aquarium, a cow would get off the elevator and rush over to offer advice."

So yeah, it's like that. And as I took another step, the whole herd of cows followed. I had become a pied piper of cows! I suddenly burst out chortling, my laughter ringing out, loud and happy, through that graveyard, echoing off the trees.

And startling the cows, of course, who thought I'd gone a bit bonkers: "Look, we drove another one over the edge, Fran." "Hmmph, no staying power atall." *sad, slow headshake*

And so that is how it is, folks. Sometimes life is a combination of the tragic and the ridiculous. If you are lucky, you will get a dose of both in the same morning, so they balance each other out.

So here's a wish. May there be laughter with your tears, and may there be curious cows along all your sad graveyards. Oh, and if you love me, oh if you love me even a little bit, if you love me at all, plant a tree. . . .

The song for this day is for that empty space that now sits beneath the open sky, where a beautiful tree once held up the heavens with its strong, strong arms. Your work is done here, white oak; I will see you again - I must - for won't the golden streets of heaven be lined with trees?

The song: Simon and Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence.

*Note 1: The title of this blip is a shameless rip-off of the McManus piece I mentioned above. Do yourself a favor and read it. It's worth some serious giggles. Oh, and my title's a bit of a pun as well: cemetery . . . plot, get it?

**Note 2: There are two extra photos to accompany this story. The one is another shot of The Great Cow Parade. The other is a picture of my lunch at Gigi's with dear, old friends. (After all that tragedy and comedy, a girl needs a little sustenance to perk her up.) In the photo: a shrimp taco, a cheddar bacon cheeseburger slider, and Gigi's wonderful fries.

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