Once upon a time there was a bull named Bruce. He wasn’t just any bull. He knew he was better than the other bulls because of his father. Bruce had watched his father as he grew up. Bruce’s father, Maximus, had been a prize bull. He was taller and thicker and tougher than all the other bulls, and he never failed to produce a calf. Maximus never failed in a fight and never faltered in leading his herd. He was the master of his domain. All the cows loved him, and the other bulls feared him. The farmer loved Maximus, too, and bragged on him. For all the fight Maximus had in him, he never once tried to hurt the farmer, and always went where he was supposed to. He never knocked down fence or wandered out of the pasture. He even kept a watch on the other bulls and cows, and did his best to keep them in line. As long as Maximus was around, everything was all right. Maximus watched his cows nurse their babies, his babies, and was proud of his herd. His cows never had trouble calving. He was their king. Bruce knew as Maximus’s son, that he would grow to be the favorite, too. It was just a matter of time.
When Bruce was just a young calf, he stayed near his mother and nursed every chance he got. As a cow belonging to Maximus, Bruce’s mother was also pretty special. She nursed her babies and kept them well. She kept herself clean and out of trouble. She didn’t engage with the other heifers in trivial fights at the feed trough, because they knew to step aside when she came gracefully to eat. She never threw silage like the other girls, with a silly toss of their heads, and she never stepped on the hay, so careful she was. She never wandered through a fallen fence or got into trouble. With such a grand lineage, Bruce was surely bound for greatness.
It wasn’t long before Bruce had grown enough to be weaned. His mother was ready to have another calf soon, but Bruce didn’t mind. He somehow knew that he would be the one to take over for his father when he was too old to mind the herd. Bruce was the prince in waiting for the king to expire.
Bruce spent his days grazing and looking down on the other yearlings. He liked to stay on top of the hill, as this lent itself to a greater vantage point. It made him feel quite superior to stay near the tree line, and gaze downward at his peers.
Bruce, in fact, didn’t consider himself to have any peers. So convinced was he that he would one day be the bull his father was, he never bothered himself with socializing with the other yearlings. He never bothered to learn the names of the heifers. It was sufficient that they knew his, as they most certainly did, as he was the only son of Maximus. He was a bull for all seasons, and this farm was his kingdom. He never played with the steers or spoke to the calves. They were trifling and unimportant. He grazed without a care, throwing his head toward the sky at every opportunity, so that others could look up to him.
Then one day, it began to rain. Bruce had never seen such rain. It poured and poured, and the quiet, lazy creek began to swell and make an awful noise. At night in the barn growing up, Maximus had told Bruce tales of such times, and he knew of the peril they could face. A wandering cow could be caught in a swift stream and lost forever. Bruce looked fearfully to his father to know what to do, and followed close beside him.
Maximus was still in his prime and ready to take care of the situation. He bellered and bawled and told all the cows to follow him. He led them to the lowest part of the creek and told them to get on across and where it was safe. One by one, and quickly, each cow obediently took her calf, each yearling followed suit, and even the other bulls did what he said. Such fear had never been experienced on the farm.
The waters rose so quickly, and the thunder brought down even more rain. Bruce couldn’t even see the road anymore. He looked back to the barn where the farmer stood, powerless, useless, and terrified, looking to Maximus with desperate hope that he would save the herd.
Maximus stood at the edge of the flood that was climbing by the second up the bank and running now furiously and muddily across the pasture. The other cows and yearlings had made it, barely, across the terrible current. The only ones left were the calves who had waited too long in the barn. There was no way they could make it across before the current was too swift for them to manage. They needed to go back to the barn and hope it didn’t wash away. Maximus yelled to the calves, each one by name, to get back, get back, get back to the barn! They finally heard him and turned, and at the last minute, they were saved.
Needing to lead the rest of the herd to high ground now, Maximus jumped straight into the torrent to swim to his cows. With one quick glance to Bruce, Maximus told him he loved him, and how much he needed him now. The herd needed him, the farmer needed him, as the other cows were wandering all over the hills now, panicked and lost.
Bruce was terrified, but he didn’t want to let his father down. Maximus jumped in the creek first, willing to lead Bruce across, but when he did, he was washed away in the flood, downstream to the waiting , violent surge. Bruce finally saw his father go under.
Bruce knew his father was gone, but the rest of the cows didn’t have to be. With determination, Bruce yelled to them where they were, in their fear running away, and all the wrong way. He tried to call to them to go uphill, go uphill, go away from the water! But Bruce didn’t know their names as his father did. His father knew each little calf, yearling, heifer, and steer, but Bruce knew only his own name. That was all he had ever been concerned with. Bruce still frantically called to the herd, but they wouldn’t listen to the voice of one they had never even spoken to before…and they wandered, panicked all over the countryside, never to be found again.
The moral of this story is this: He who thinks he’s better than the herd winds up alone and useless.
A teacher and mother, Meagan Morehead Bradshaw lives on a farm in Bland County; contact her at email@example.com.