On the front porch of a cabin, I chatted with my roommate for the week, Marina—behind us the sounds of our housemates getting settled.

Marina said, “Beautiful spot for a retreat, isn’t it?”

If you like bugs and dirt.

I swatted a gnat. “Beautiful.”

I was preoccupied. As there was no sidewalk through a well-manicured city park and also no air-conditioned YMCA, where would I take my daily walk? The options were limited.

A gravel drive, which led from the cabin to the main road, half a mile away. Dusty. Rocky. Unprotected from the intense mid-afternoon sun.

Or a lake, which was circumnavigated by a path that lay in the shade of spreading oaks. Oaks, which harbored oak mites. Spreading branches, from which ticks would swan dive into the blood coursing just beneath my shirt collar. Standing water, which bred mosquitoes waiting to feast on the thin skin at the back of my knees.

Marina was halfway across the porch, hiking boots clomping on the wood. “Wanna walk around the lake?”

I opted for the driveway. It cut through a pasture where a dozen cows grazed. Strolling toward them, I hesitated, leery of anything wearing four legs and a tail. A calf looked up at me, then ambled closer to its mother. (My apologies to the cows for being presumptuous about their relationship.) The little one was cute, until she was obscured by her bigger meaner mom.

I froze. My knees quivered.

Mama cow squared herself to the drive, ready to attack. Further ahead, her cow reinforcements were lying close enough to swat me with their tails.

My knees got very fluttery, in addition to the quivering.

I turned to retreat back to the house. A hundred beasts had closed in from behind. They would definitely breathe on me.

My knees buckled, in addition to the fluttering and quivering. I prepared to die from bovine cooties.

The cows chewed maliciously. They advanced, as quiet as death.

In addition to the fluttering and quivering and buckling, my knees screamed in panic, knowing they were about to be crushed under ten tons of marching T-bones.

A motor sounded. A pick-up loaded with hay was creeping across the field. The cows veered off toward the truck, parting neatly around me. Like I was the one with cooties.

At the end of the retreat Marina and I packed up. She said, “I can’t believe how gorgeous this place is. I saw a bobcat yesterday.”


Note to my knees: Are you nuts? You wasted my scaries on cows? There were bobcats out there.

Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey writes to incite compassion. Whether she’s challenged by Mother Nature or the nature of her wild mind, she hopes readers will recognize themselves in her stories—and then lovingly accept their own wild minds. Downey is the author of Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room; Searching for My Heart: Essays about Love; From Dawn to Daylight: Essays; and Stumbling Toward the Buddha: Stories about Tripping over My Principles on the Road to Transformation. Learn more at DawnDowneyBlog.com.