The cows in question, not unlike many of our many of our seasonal visitors, spend the summer on the mountain up behind my house and garden. For the most part they are harmless creatures, the cows that is, until they decide the grass, or in my case the corn, is greener on the other side of the fence.
Let me stop here for a minute and point out that every good story involves conflict — at least that’s what I was told once in a fiction writing class I took a Western. According to the instructor, the stories I wrote never had enough conflict, my stories were, as he put it, just too darn happy.
Now, from what I remember, the classic forms of conflict are Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself and possibly Man vs. God. I’m throwing in Man vs. God because I recently saw Evan Almighty at the theatre and Morgan Freeman (God) was wreaking major havoc in the life of the protagonist.
Sorry, more creative writing terminology here. The protagonist is the main character in a story, while the antagonist is the person, or thing, that usually comes in conflict with the stories protagonist — main character. I guess in the story of the corn the protagonist could be me, or maybe the corn and the antagonist would be ... well, here’s where it gets complicated.
One of the bits of wisdom I have learned in my 47 years of life is that things are not always as simple as they first appear. OK, cows get out of mountain pasture, stomp around my garden and eat my corn, I in turn, get mad at the cows, simple right?
I wish it were so simple. How can I get mad at cows for doing something cows do naturally — cows eat corn. That’s like getting mad at middle school students for eating candy or chewing gum in class. It just comes with the territory.
If you have broccoli, you will have worms; potatoes, potato beetles; old growth forests and pristine wilderness with vast oil reserves, Republicans. If you have daughters, you will have boys calling (excuse me, boys don’t call any more, they text (“whuch u do n not much u? wen ur corn be redy? cows 8 it, sory, hav lots of broclee tho.”)
So, if the conflict were Man vs. Nature, then I guess it would be me vs. the cows. Pretty straight forward — the cows eat my corn which causes hard feelings between me and the cows resulting in a lack of corn which I now won’t have to freeze and eat on a cold winter night with hot biscuits.
But maybe the conflict is really Man vs. Man. Me, the innocent sweet corn grower, thrown into conflict with the cattle farmer, the man whose cows ate my corn. Why didn’t he keep his cows up better, make sure the fences were all secure and in place, keep them better fed so they wouldn’t be out raiding the neighbor’s (me) corn patch?
What if the conflict is really Man vs. God? What if an act of God, say a thunderstorm, caused a tree to fall across the fence knocking it down letting the cows out of their mountain pasture. And as the cows walked down the mountain in search of water, they stumbled across my corn patch and just did what cows have done for, well, since God made them and Adam named them — grazed.
As you start to peel away the layers of this event you will find what I have come to realize, the real source of conflict in this story is Man vs. Himself. It’s not the cows or the farmer of even God, the real conflict is best described as me against what I perceive as important.
My father-in-law grows enough sweet corn to feed the entire community, so I’ll have plenty of fresh corn on the cob this summer and there will be plenty of corn left to cut off for the freezer. And actually, I’m surprised the cows could even find the corn for the weeds that needed hoeing. So, the way I look at it, the loss of my corn is but a small price to pay for the pleasure of living where I live.
I would rather have 20 to 30 head of cattle on the mountain pasture behind my home, which occasionally get out and visit my garden, than a housing development, an asphalt plant or a landfill. I should consider my four rows of sweet corn as a form of land use tax that helps preserve the surrounding mountain land, its agricultural use and its well-fed and happy inhabitants.
There I go again, another story with minimal conflict and a happy ending. Sorry, but I guess the only way your going to get a story out of me with lots of conflict, cussing and possible violence is if the next time the cows get out they get into my tomato patch.
Lets just pray the fence holds.