Amy Roberts: Schooled in handling beef
I spent most of the month of May entirely off the grid, somewhere deep in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where I took a course to become a safari guide. Though the majority of my classmates had hopes of a guiding career, I enrolled in safari school mostly for personal enrichment. For me, being on safari is a spiritual experience. I feel a sense of wonderment and joy — an awakening in my soul — I have never been able to replicate anywhere else. My decision to become more intimate with the industry was a mix of curiosity and appreciation, with a dash of midlife crisis added in.
Since returning from this trip, a number of people have asked me what I intend to do with my newfound qualification. And for the most part, I’ve just shrugged my shoulders in response. The ability to track an aardvark in the African bush, or way find at night by the stars, or quickly translate and respond to animal behavior, aren’t really essential in Park City. Though, comically, this weekend I found myself relying on one of those skills.
It all came about because I decided to leave my vehicle at a local auto repair business on Sunday afternoon so it could be worked on first thing Monday morning. Before I left my house, I considered a number of options for my return. I could ask a friend to pick me up, Uber home, or take my bike and pedal back to Prospector. In the end, I decided to load the dogs into my vehicle and walk back. It’s only five miles, the dogs needed exercise, and it was a beautiful day.
A few minutes later I dropped my keys into the slot and headed towards a section of the Rail Trail I’m not overly familiar with. While I walk on that trail almost daily, it’s usually limited to a three-mile stretch near my house, which is paved and always packed with people. Though it’s only a mile or two away, the stretch near Silver Summit is quite different than my routine path. The most noticeable difference being a lack of people and a surplus of cows.
This didn’t bother me much. After all, I’m from Nebraska. Cows made up the landscape of my childhood. So down the trail I went with the dogs.
For the first mile or so the cows didn’t even look our way. Occasionally we got a “moo,” but they showed no sign of agitation at our presence. It wasn’t until we were fairly close to the section that crosses S.R. 248 that we encountered cows that apparently woke up on the wrong side of the pasture.
They stood in the middle of the trail, blocking our way forward. I considered waiting them out, but after a solid 20 minute stare down, I thought about turning around. As I attempted pulling a 180 to exit, I noticed we were completely surrounded by several thousand pounds of stubborn and, seemingly angry, beef.
Around this time I started thinking about my safari course. One of the first things we were taught about animal behavior is signs of aggression — stomping, snorting, pinned ears. These cows had all the symptoms.
The second thing we learned in this class is which animals tend to mock charge, and which animals almost never mock charge. It’s imperative to stand your ground during a mock charge because if an animal thinks it has scared you, it will give chase. To avoid this, we were taught to talk down agitated animals and show them we were not a threat — it’s all about energy.
Remembering this lesson gave me enough bravado to face the gang of cattle that now seemed intent on flattening us. I assured them I am a vegetarian, with aspirations to go vegan. Even the dogs’ food is only fish and sweet potato. I tried to make myself look big and marched ahead with confidence. That’s when one of the cows lowered her head, pawed at the ground, and started moving much faster than I ever assumed a cow could move.
Still surrounded by the gang of livestock, I had nowhere to run. So I hollered at that cow the way my mother used to yell at me when I was late for curfew. I think I even used some of her lines: “You stop this behavior right now, missy. I won’t tolerate it!”
Eventually she came to a halt and must have told the others we weren’t worth their time. They all wandered off, never letting up on the stink eye.
I probably didn’t have to go to safari school to learn how to talk a mad cow off a ledge, but at least now I will have a better answer when someone asks me how I use my training.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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