A Whirlwind... Literally
It’s been quite some time since I wrote a farm story! Better late than never…
At any given time, Eener’s Farm is home to between 15 and 20 beef cattle. These animals are entirely grass fed, so in the winter they eat bales and bales of hay. The rest of the year they cruise our 60 odd acres of hilly, wooded pasture.
Cattle are often thought to be not the sharpest knives in the drawer. But, I think they have their own type of intellect. They are wise in certain ways. Our cattle see a lot of interesting things up in those pastures. One day, a few years back, I got to witness something with them.
It was the first warm day of spring, the kind of day you dream about in the middle of winter. The air smelled like earth, the trees were budding, there was no wind and not a cloud in the sky. It was the first time in nearly five months that the temperature had reached almost 70 degrees.
It was an excellent day for planting potatoes, so I hitched up a trailer to a tractor, loaded in some garden tools and a 50 pound sack of seed potatoes. I didn’t have far to drive, just across the barnyard and through a couple of cattle gates.
The field I was planting potatoes in that year was at the base of a pretty tall hill. As the hill gets steeper the field stops and thick woods take over. To mitigate erosion issues, whenever this field is plowed, we leave a wide grass strip right down the middle of it. That way, if it rains hard the water running off the hill won’t wash out the field.
Anyway, so I parked in the grass strip and started marking rows and digging holes in the plowed field. As I worked, our herd of cattle wandered down into the barnyard. While they were hanging out, I paused to take a look at them from afar. It’s always a good idea to take a look at your cows. I like to count them and make sure no one is limping or doing anything else odd.
As I was looking at them, a whirlwind started up. I’m sure you’ve seen them before, it’s just a breeze that rotates, they look like slow moving, lazy, miniature tornadoes. This one was just your standard cute, little whirlwind…at first.
It was picking up dried leaves and spinning them around, it looked pretty cool. The cows and I all watched it with mild interest. Then, before our eyes, it suddenly intensified and went from a three foot gentle whirlwind to one that was about six feet tall. It picked up more leaves and spun faster. And I thought, “huh, never seen one of these get that big before”. At this point, all us gave the whirlwind our full attention.
A couple more seconds went by and it grew to be about 10 feet tall. It started to whistle, the cows and I watched with rapt attention, no one chewed, no one blinked, all ears pointed forward. Then it started to move towards the barn and the cows. As it moved across the ground it got as tall as the barn and started to howl. The cows all side stepped it and sprinted away full speed and tails up.
The whirlwind screamed forward, picking up small sticks and rocks as it went. It hit the side of the barn, ripped a couple of shingles off the roof and then bounced off the barn and headed straight for me.
I stood watching it for a second more and then followed the cows’ example and ran away. As I looked back the whirlwind went right over my tractor. I could hear all the sticks and rocks hitting it, an impressive staccato of ‘tinks’ echoing through the air. After it cleared the tractor, it continued across the field and then hit the side of the hill. When it met the hill it just shrunk down to nothing, like it never happened.
After it was gone, I pondered the whirlwind as I went back to planting potatoes. How did that happen on a sunny day with no wind? How did the cows know to keep an eye on it? What else have the cows seen out here? Obviously strange weather events. And most likely bears, coyotes and maybe a stray wolf or cougar. Maybe even UFOs, bigfoot, hard to say…