T he lecture on animal behavior at the North Carolina veterinary meeting was well attended. Dr. Tom and I were standing in the hallway when he told me he witnessed one of the most astonishing spectacles he had ever seen. By chance he had witnessed a young Holstein calf regurgitate her first cud. The calf had been intently watching her next stall neighbor when the cud rose involuntarily without warning and popped into her mouth.

According to Tom, the calf's eyes suddenly widened, then they crossed as she tried to look down at her mouth. She explored the fibrous object with her tongue, shoving it back and forth like someone trying to dislodge taffy from their molars. It took several moments before tentative chewing began.

I've been around cows hands-on since I started milking the family cow every afternoon after school in the fourth grade. Not only have I never seen the cud initiation happen, I've never given it any thought.

How many other phenomena have I never noticed or contemplated that occurred right before my eyes? Like the first time you really understood what the auctioneer was saying, or your Spanish-speaking farm hand, or the outdoor speaker box at Arby's.

I was raised in a family of all boys and was naive about girls growing up. I remember being startled when I heard Linda Faye belch. It was a seminal moment in our relationship.?

Vet school was an eye opener for me discovering how things worked. Why horses couldn't vomit, that a cow can hold up to 400 pounds in her rumen, that pigs were in the top 10 of intelligence and how chickens do it.

I wonder about others who get glimpses of their aptitude for the first time. Like a budding lawyer getting a tingle the first time he hears an ambulance go by. Or a would-be teacher smelling chalk. A fledgling bull rider realizing it was a good way to attract girls, or the embryonic horse whisperer envisioning the name of his training method and clinic trademark before he even could saddle a horse i.e., The Compassionate Find-The-Filly-Inside-You Clinic, Video and Gift Shop.com.?

Or the life-changing epiphany I had as a young veterinary student the first time I donned a plastic sleeve, slipped it inside a cow's colon and discovered a whole new world. I know, not as dramatic as the Hubble Telescope or finding out you can hang a spoon off your nose. But it was this equivalent of discovering I was master of my own cud, so to speak.

And to this day I remain where destiny led me. Here, where I belong, behind the cow.

Baxter Black, author, cowboy poet and former large animal veterinarian, lives in Benson, Ariz.

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