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MARTHA SEZ:The mad rush of the holiday season

January 10, 2011
I am about cookied out, but relieved. Leaving broken gingerbread men on the kitchen counter, their heads lying beside them like some grisly statement on current world events, tinsel stuck to the back of my coat, I just drove to Keene to get my last package to the post office.

There is something magical about this time of year when you finally relax and feel the spirit. Or maybe that’s just an endorphin rush I experience as the holiday adrenaline begins to subside.

Still, even the dark and cold seem beautiful now. Today is the winter solstice, marked by the full moon and a full lunar eclipse early this morning — although no one could see it, due to cloud cover. Christmas lights shine on the snow.

The other day a great horned owl perched for several hours in the garden outside the windows of elementary classrooms at Keene Central School, until school paparazzi inching closer and closer finally drove it away. As it took flight and soared off over the playing fields, the children spilled out of doors in their excitement and ran after it, holding out their arms. It was a moment.

This is a time for remembering, and for telling yarns by the fire. One of my favorite Keene stories, and probably my most popular, I heard years ago outside the now historic Keene Valley Post Office and ran home to write for this paper.

A local couple returned home from Murphy’s Tavern late one evening and listened to the messages on their answering machine. A neighbor’s voice came on, telling them that their cow was loose and wandering around East Hill.

The couple (I’ll call them Patrick and Beverly) were worried that the cow might amble out in front of a car in the dark and cause an accident. So, tired as they were, they decided they had to go out and look for the cow (I’ll call her Bossy). Pat collected rope and flashlights and some feed to entice her with. Bev brought along the deer hunting rifle, because Bossy was a little skittish, likely to panic and run out into Route 73 in front of an 18-wheeler.

It may be that Bossy had got wind of the fact that she was not to be a milk cow, but a beef cow, which is very different matter. Maybe that’s why she headed off on her own while Pat and Bev were out. It would also explain the skittishness.

Pat and Bev drove slowly down Spruce Hill, playing their flashlight beams over the woods and fields and front yards along the road. Once Bev thought she had located Bossy, when her flashlight picked up a pair of eyes shining through the foliage, but they turned out to belong to a deer. They drove and drove, shining their lights and calling, and eventually, when they had almost given up, they spotted the errant cow wandering around in the cemetery.

Stealthily, Pat and Bev drove their pickup into the cemetery and advanced carefully upon the cow. Bossy just kicked up her heels and ran away.

Pat and Bev called their cow the way they did at feeding time, but  could tempt her neither with food nor with endearments that to Bossy’s ear might well have sounded hollow and insincere, especially if she was wise to the fact — as I hypothesize — that they already thought of her as burger. Might as well go for it, she probably figured. She would as soon jump over the moon as give up her newfound freedom to return to a life of boredom, knowing it was only a matter of time before the ax would fall.

They ended up having to shoot her, but not before she got a chance to assert herself and see a bit of the world. Many cows never do.

Now what? Pat and Bev asked each other. There they were, in Norton Cemetery, an hour or two before dawn, with an 800-pound dead cow. They had done what they believed was right, but the look of the thing wasn’t good. It might seem disrespectful to the departed. Besides, they had to act quickly to preserve the beef.

Finally they went home and called a friend with a front-end loader who came right out, scooped Bossy up and took her away. A strange procession they must have made up Spruce Hill at the break of dawn, Pat and Bev following the front-end loader with the cow in its cowcatcher. Or shovel.


Have a merry Christmas!



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