Now, I don’t want to get the reputation as the girl who always writes about gross things, but the story I have prepared for you today does dip into the unsavory. I promise there will be no graphic images or anything that will disturb you from meals you may be eating, but you should still be aware that the following tale is not so pleasant.
Warning out of the way, now we can begin.
One of my favorite parts about traveling is not only meeting new people, trying out my language skills, and sampling tasty national dishes, but also exploring the country on foot. I’m an outdoorsy person (to a certain point — I wouldn’t want to sleep on the rainforest floor where lots of man-eating spiders dwell) so I love going on hikes through hillsides, forests, mountains, along lakes, etc. You name a beautiful scenic location and I’m there, even if it means a lot of sweating and sore legs to get there.
My French host family lived in the perfect rural location to satisfy all my Fern-Gully-like fantasies. There were rolling hills, great green patchwork pastures, forests with ancient, moss-covered trees, and little streams you could follow to larger ponds. The countryside of Bretagne, the region of France in which I lived, is known for its beauty. Inland you can see all of these idyllic scenes, and along the coasts are breathtaking cliffs and plenty of islands to explore by kayak or ferry. This story takes place inland, on the lands surrounding my host family’s house.
Just in the backyard there were a plethora of trails to follow further into the different pastures, some leading only to cows and neighbors’ houses, others leading into the small town, and others that went on and on into the forest and over the hills. My host dad even had a whole compound for birds, since he was a falconer and kept not only chickens, but also hawks, pigeons, peacocks, and a variety of other feathered creatures. I loved going out back and seeing all the birds, but even more, I loved to explore the sprawling wilderness with my host sister, Claire.
As I mentioned, we lived in an area heavily populated by farmers, particularly cattle owners. There were always cows afoot, and plenty of road signs indicating their presence. Sometimes you would get stuck on the small dirt road waiting for a herd of cows to cross from one side to the other. It sounds like a bad barnyard joke, but it was actually sort of a pain when it happened. And what’s worse, in large groups, those cows could be dangerous. Claire described one experience that left her slightly more wary in the presence of these bovine behemoths.
“Lucie and I were out hiking in the fields. It was a great day. And then all of a sudden there was a herd of cows charging down at us!”
Here I pictured something out of The Lion King, except with the wildebeest replaced by your everyday heifers.
“We were able to run away and get up a tree, but if we hadn’t got there on time they would’ve stomped us! We had to wait a while before they all went away to another field.”
I could only imagine the terror of these deranged, mad cows. It was something I wanted to avoid at all costs.
Keeping this story in mind, we set out one day for a nice long hike through the forest down to a small lake that was a few miles away from the house. It was a nice, enjoyable stroll. We probably talked half the time, and enjoyed our scenic surroundings in silence for the other half. I loved taking walks with Claire; just hanging out with her. Those walks are some of my fondest memories of France. As we approached her house once more, we noticed a huge herd of cows in the field we’d been planning to walk through. There were two options if we wanted to avoid the cows: take the long way around or go through the lower part of the land that was sure to be muddy. We chose the latter, thinking it couldn’t be that bad.
Let me tell you, it was that bad. It was springtime, and the combination of melted snow and heavy precipitation meant the ground at lower elevations had turned into a bog. What was worse, the cows had recently used this bog for their grazing, and had turned it into a morass of mud and poo. Smelly, goopy, completely gross. Luckily there were higher dry patches we could walk along, like little grassy stepping stones. By the time we made it to the halfway point we were convinced we could finish crossing the bog just as easily as we could turn around.
And then, disaster.
It seemed to happen in slow motion. I put my hands up in the air, because I knew I didn’t want them to be covered in the disgusting mess, but everything else went into it. As soon as I landed, butt first, I sunk a few more inches. I wasn’t going to be getting out of this muck by myself.
Claire, in the meantime, had broken into a hysterical fit of laughter at my predicament. It took her several minutes before she could get over and pull me out. During this time the goo got into my jeans, into my shoes, up my back beneath my shirt. I have never felt so gross in my entire life. And then I stepped in it once more after I finally got pulled out, but at that point it didn’t really make much of a difference.
I will not even attempt to describe to you how I looked and felt for the rest of the walk back. I can’t imagine how I must have smelled. Fortunately we were near the house, but Claire wouldn’t let me change and rinse off until she took plenty of pictures. Then, finally, I got rid of the filth.
And now you have learned a valuable lesson: never walk into a field of cow pies, but if you do, make sure you have better balance than me. You have been warned.