That Time Steve Herded Cattle In Italy Story
Hello all, just a quick/long note to let you know about one of the best days ever… one “to write home about”.
For those who don’t have a while to hear some boring stuff about cows I’ll give you the quick explanation:
Eight of us went to the top of a mountain with a beautiful view to herd 129 cattle between 30 and 50km (20 to 30 miles). I got separated from my group chasing down some stray cows through the woods but was able to reunite them about 20 minutes later. We walked for over 10 hours, the last 45 minutes of which were in the dark. Everyone arrived safely, if but a little sore.
OK, for those who can’t spare the details:
I arrived at work at 5am so that we could drive for an hour to the peak of Mount Tezzio. I sat in the front seat with owner of the vineyards I worked in and purported to be the 3rd richest man in Italy, Dottore Gritti (the Dr. is in economics). This is the first time I had actually met the owner of my company and, it turns out, he speaks English well. We talked about a lot but I’ll only relay that he would be a good Democrat. He knows, and likes, Hillary as she was his company lawyer for his enterprises in the States. I had to apologize for all of you that voted for the Shrub… and I wasn’t just kissing his ass.
Mount Tezzio is the highest peak within obvious eyesight and, therefore, has some spectacular views and vistas. Me and eight others started our hike before dawn and got to watch an amazing sunrise as we walked the slopes. Now I figured this would be a picture worthy day, so I brought my digital camera with me. We passed one of those obligatory crosses perched on so many mountain tops and I thought it would make a great first picture with the sun rising in the background. Well damn me for not checking to see if I had put in my CompactFlash card (digital film) before leaving, so I have NO pictures.
After 15 or 20 minutes we get to some grassy slopes (it had been stone). Now, I’m talking “Sound of Music” scenery here. There start to be some creases in the mountain where there were thickets of trees. This is where we found the cows. Here is where I’ll make my “City Slickers” reference… we would hoop and holler to get the beast moving and begin herding them in the direction we need them to go. Well, I have a whole new appreciation for the term “herd mentality”
We walked the cows down the mountain along a… well, cow trail. I would run back and forth trying to outflank the cows that thought they’d break with the program and meander into a nearby meadow (Melissa, one of your horses would be great to have, I came to learn). At first, I thought my biggest concern would be stepping in a cow pie. That quickly became irrelevant as my focus became not slipping and falling in them. Actually, it wasn’t all that bad, but there was a LOT of “merda”.
We finally got to a real road and it would be quite a site to see an oncoming car stop and sit there as a 130 strong herd of cattle engulfed, and finally passed, their car. This would be the first of many such occurrences. I did feel sorry for those who got caught behind us. When we finally got to the bottom of the mountain, it caught me by surprise that it was only a bit after 9am ; I though it was supposed to be a long day... It wasn’t long when the cops showed up so that we could drive the herd across a highway. We took them along a road for a while and then took off up another mountain. I would later realize that this mountain was one I had seen in the distance from the first (oh, how I wish I had my camera). It was just before lunch when the road gave way to not even a trail. We walked them, now through the woods and I learned about walking along a very “fresh” cow trail. These animals can blaze a way through dense brush like I didn’t believe. When we finally reached the peak of THIS mountain (the 2nd highest peak), it had already turned back to stone. But this time, it was quite loose and unstable. We took the heard around the peak as they just couldn’t/wouldn’t finish the last 100 meters up the steepness. I did see one 600 lb. bull slip and land on his side, but he popped up and kept going.
Finally, we reach the other side and start our decent. There seems to be some confusion as to which way we should go. The path chosen was also very steep but we make it down into some woods again. Here comes my big hero story… As soon as we hit the woods, the cows spread out and start their own decent (the rock part was hard on them). Cipriano and I are following one group trying to get the strays back to the path. Cipri is especially concerned with the baby calf and is getting him forward when I see a couple of bulls making their way through the brush and I take off after them. The thing is to be quiet as possible until you can get to the front of them… otherwise you just scare them further away from you. This means I can’t take advantage of the trail they make and have to make my own. I catch up and pass them within a minute or two and I see them approaching a line of about eight or ten more cows so I relax a little thinking I had gotten back with the heard. After about another 20 meters, I can see that all of THEM are renegades also. So off I go trying to get back in front of them. Throwing caution to the wind, I am now yelling back to my group as I don’t know how far away I am at this point… I hear nothing. OK, I get in front, turn them around solo and get my charges safely back to the herd.
We get to the bottom of the second mountain and take some gravel roads back to the stables. As most of the road was fenced with barbed wire to keep adjacent horses in, it was fairly easy to keep the herd moving nicely. But really, it was like pushing water through pipes… if you have a leak (broken fence), water (cows) spills out. So we’d either try to plug the leaks first (by standing there -“Vai, Vai (Go, Go)”) or we’d have to run out into the spill (meadow) and push the leaked water back through the hole. One (of many) humorous moment is when we passed a nice, private estate, who had left their gates open and some 30 to 50 cattle started roaming this immaculately groomed lawn and courtyard. We did manage to get them out without a single flower trampled but I think some shrubbery was munched (see, they’re Democrats too)... To top it off, it got dark before we got them home. Eventually, we got all of them home safely (the full moon didn’t hurt).
This walk blows away “DeSoto Trail” as my longest single day hike. I’ll never know for sure, but we walked a steady pace for about 10 hours, so I figure 2 to 3 mph = 20 to 30 miles. I can’t remember the last time I had spastic cramps in my legs, but a couple times up that second mountain, I had to do some emergency stretching. By the way, did I mention, that after blistering cold weather for two weeks, it was an absolutely beautiful day with temps about 60 to 65 F. and full sun. This was, indeed, a day to remember (Billy Crystal’s got nothin’ on this).
Ciao a Tutti