Caleb and the Steers  

Taller than his 14 years, and with long, loping steps Caleb enters the steers pen. Fire and Cracker, now large Holstein steers not yet 2-years-old, greet him as always—with their long tongues searching out the texture and weave of his jacket, their deep dewy eyes following his every move. One can see a sudden transformation take place—the gesture and body language of young man and beasts changes. Caleb suddenly reaches to his full height, shoulders no longer drooped nor eyes downcast; the steers slowly and almost imperceptibly lower their heads, just a hint, to show obedience and waiting for the command. A sort of dance will now unfold as both young man and animals begin their work of the day.

It has been more than a year since Caleb began working and training Fire and Cracker to the yoke. Barely up to his waist when they first arrived, they now stand taller than their driver who has to jump every now and again to deliver a goading tap to the off-steer. He has taught them the basic commands of “Gee” and “Haw,” “Walk On” and “Whoaa!” “Back Up” and “Easy.” With loud verbal commands, he drives them with gentleness and ferocity, tenderness and impatience; he is proud of what they have learned and easily frustrated by their stubbornness.

This dance between man and beast has existed for millennia; we have invited the ox into our midst, taken him out of the wild to serve and to work for us. He has pulled and driven; cut furrows in the deep dark earth for us to plant and cultivate; hauled water and people; and in return for food and shelter, offered us his faithfulness and obedience. But what of today? No longer needed for draft power, easily replaced by a tractor, is the ox to be relegated to the past, an ancient icon with no further purpose or is there more to unfold in our relationship with these gentle giants? As we find ourselves moving ever further away from a true relationship with Nature, is there a new meaning and urgency in creating other ways of being in relation to these animals?

Excerpt from Caleb and the Steers, by Nicki Robb, Director of Land Stewardship at Hartsbrook School