first published Arizona Republic – Gilbert
The Moo Cows Are Gone
By Connie Wesala
I took my usual route to the mall last Saturday; radio blaring with country music, singing along with Taylor Swift. As traffic slowed for the light I waited for the smell to hit.
On the southeast corner of the intersection is a large dairy. I never had the time, or the inclination I’ll admit, to sit and count them. My guess would be several hundred cows. It sometimes smelled more like a thousand, depending on the wind. I moved to Gilbert four and a half years ago from north Scottsdale. My friends and family thought I’d lost my mind. But I was ready for a change! A big change, but one that didn’t include leaving my kids behind in Arizona. I chose a well-developed 55+ community and began to build a new home. During construction I drove the newly opened San Tan freeway weekly to check on the progress. I turned south onto two-lane rutted black-top but mostly dirt roads. As I headed east on a street I kept calling German, I relished the country views. True, it wasn’t Pinnacle Peakor Camelback Mountain, but it felt like rural Oklahomawhere I grew up. Tractors and chicken coops, occasional sheep and even a llama. Goats and lots of horses. And then on Germann and Greenfield – the cows!
I always slowed to check them out. Cows are interesting creatures. At certain times of the day they would huddle along the southeast fencing and stand quietly swishing their tails at insects, twitching their ears occasionally, and staring at you with those big dark “cow eyes.” They seemed to be watching the ridiculous sight of humans zipping past in four wheeled contraptions, like bees buzzing along the road from one place to another all day long. Humans were odd creatures too, always moving, talking, singing, cursing and always in a hurry. I could almost hear the cow saying to the friend next to her – “where do you think they’re all going?” or perhaps when I passed by, “What do you suppose she’s singing?”
Some people hated the odor. It hit about three blocks from the corner before you even saw the cause of the stench. Even with windows closed and AC on, the car would fill quickly with the pungent smell — a blend of hay, manure, dirt and cow patties. On really bad days, you might scrunch your nose and go ‘phew’, might close the air vents although that rarely helped. A stop light replaced the four way signs, helping you move past a little quicker, but as the population outgrew the two-lane road, you might sit through two or three change of lights, grumbling as your leather seats absorbed the smell. During feeding time, they all moved to the west and stood facing traffic along Greenfield Road, row after row after row – heads through the iron bars that divided them, chewing their morning or evening meal, intent on the trough in front of them.
Some mornings as I raced to work, I envied them. Calm, peaceful, lazy days standing around chatting with girl friends, joining them for a leisurely evening meal, and tucking in early so they’d be up the next morning for milking. I never got to see the milking. By the time I passed horse farms and a few fenced-in goats and hens staring at my sleepy morning face, the cows would already be milling around enjoying the early morning coolness.
When my daughter was little we often drove from Minnesota to Oklahoma, and as we passed through Iowaand Kansasfarmland, she would spot them from her child seat behind me – “moo cows” she would say with delight – “moo cows, mommy.” And her dad and I would grin and agree – yep, moo cows. Perhaps that fond memory increased my daily enjoyment of the dairy. Or perhaps I was simply reliving my own Oklahoma childhood.
In addition to the farmland, I grew to love the old falling-down buildings and the structure on the corner of Queen Creek and Greenfieldwith the American flag painted on its roof. I kept intending to get out on a Saturday morning to photograph it all and never did. First I missed capturing the potato farm building on Power and Pecos. Then one after another the buildings disappeared. And then last Saturday as I approached the dairy, I realized that something was missing. I hadn’t driven that stretch for a week or more. As I came square-on at the corner, there it was – a huge, vacant, silent plot of empty stalls and buildings and feed troughs.
I stared in disbelief and for a quick second had ridiculous thoughts like – did they take them on a vacation for a few days to a cool indoor barn? I had to face the fact that they were gone for good. My cows, my dairy. I took it as a personal affront. Wait a minute. I moved here for the country scenes; I moved here to recapture something I’d long missed. Who decided to change MY plans? I never got my photograph, and if I don’t move quickly all the other nostalgic places will disappear before my eyes. I’m not big on change, and this one hit me hard.
Later that evening with tears in my voice, I called my daughter to tell her, “The moo cows are gone.”