Herding Cows with a Canoe

We have all had those “you had to be there to believe it” moments. People will tilt their head to one side, pondering if they should believe you or not. I remember using a personal illustration when I was in the pastorate. A friend shared that someone asked, “Do you suppose he really did that?” Thankfully the man knew me well and said, “Oh yes. He did.” Because of these types of responses we sometimes hold back from sharing life’s unique experiences. Well, tilt your head because today I am going to share one.

In South Dakota because the water table is so high, they are able to find water for livestock by digging into the ground. These ponds are called dugouts. The dirt is bulldozed out of a low spot and piled nearby. Once they dig a few feet below the water table, the pond fills with water. Dugouts become gathering places for livestock and wildlife.

During a rainy spring, I received a call from a good friend. He asked if I could help him with a difficult situation. He had a small herd of cows standing on the large mound of dirt next to his dugout. Because the dugout was in a low spot of the pasture, the heavy rains created a lake around the mound and the cows would not leave. They would have to swim because there was so much water. He knew we stored a canoe at our home and asked if I could paddle to the island and herd the cows to safety. That was the start of a great adventure.

Do you herd cows with a canoe? I had done it with horses, on foot, on my motorcycle, and in trucks. But canoes? I was ready for a new adventure so off I went. I met the farmer at the edge of the lake. After seeing the situation first hand, I stepped into the saddle of the canoe and paddled toward the cows on the island. They had never seen a canoe before this time. They were nervous already from being stranded. As I approached the small island they moved to the far side. I finally herded them into the water but they started swimming the wrong direction. They went deeper into the lake rather than toward the shoreline.

I paddled my mighty canoe around the swimming herd. I didn’t want to get too close for fear of a cow hitting the canoe and tipping me. After a bit of maneuvering I was in front of them and they turned. I know my friend was praying as he watched from shore. Once they started swimming the right way, all I had to do was keep them swimming by paddling behind them. I don’t remember if I was singing “swim along little doggies, swim along,” but they finally came to solid ground. Standing near the shoreline, dripping and exhausted from their ordeal, they stared as I pulled the canoe up the shore and loaded it on my vehicle. They still didn’t know what to think of me and the canoe.

Yes, it was a first for them and a first for me. I can just imagine you now, tilting your head and thinking, “You suppose he really did that?” Yes, I have been herding cows with a canoe. “Saddle it up partner and paddle on out there and herd them cows.”

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