Ufford: Scattered thoughts about mothers

We celebrated Mother’s Day a week early – on Sunday, May 2 – with my sister and I giving our mother Carol Ufford the cards we’d brought along to Deming, New Mexico, for a week’s visit with her. My sister’s card was sentimental and flowery; mine thanked our mother for not running away from home – no matter how many times it crossed her mind to flee us (me).

She told my sister once about my formative years: “One of us was going crazy.”

All’s well that ends well.

While we were sleeping in the desert’s strange warmth, though, a different panicked mother had a chaotic night in Hoback Basin she might never forget. This is an “unofficial” version of what happened while I was gone, but I’ve had the basic details confirmed “officially.”

Late one night, perhaps before dawn, a collared male grizzly bear passed by a ranch’s calving pasture close to the dirt road and picked out a four-legged snack curled up near a fence. The dozing calf was probably twitching his legs as he dreamed about cavorting through the field with his fellow calves.

As the bear nabbed this calf, with little evidence of his passage other than a scuffle of blood and bone, mama woke up and panicked, running into and tangling through the barbed-wire fence, skinning the hair off her legs. Not much was left of her baby but backbone and hide, not enough meat left to tempt the griz into the trap set just for him.

Word has it he’d been trapped before. Now that’s been confirmed – this grizzly was captured in the Upper Green rangeland’s permitted grazing allotment last summer after cattle depredations there. He was moved to the Cody Region and the other day, showed up west of the Gros Ventres.

Personally, I’d like to think the cow was chasing the bear away in anguish and alarm but one person who knows cattle better said I had to be joking. The cow was terrified, he told me.

The griz, who can be tracked by his radio collar, is back on the road, roaming perhaps back to the Upper Green.

But I’ve seen how a herd of mother cows will alert and stampede even a scrawny coyote after wolves stirred them up earlier.

I told my sister Anita, mother Carol and one brother Scott, who joined us from El Paso to visit Deming, that I can translate cattle language, demonstrating how a baby calf calls for its mother – m-a-a-a-a – and how she calls for her little one – m-o-o-o-o-o.

Early on Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, I watched these bovine mothers charge, heads up, straight for the hillside, bellowing and roaring.

A precise, perfectly spaced line of white and gold dots was moving across the lower hillside, stopping momentarily while the cows bellowed. It was a maternal group of eight antelope, coming back to calve in Hoback Basin – four does and four yearlings. They then continued along their invisible paths that lead them every spring to nearby hilly hideaways in the mountains where they raise one or two tiny and swift calves.

The cows soon lost interest; it was obvious they knew no danger was posed. As the new soon-to-be mothers delicately picked their way across the bottom of the hayfield, they separated loosely onto their individual paths, a yearling behind each one. One aging doe trotted farther away to her chosen section of the fence to clamber under. Then they each wandered quietly but with purpose in slightly different directions. Once the does calve, they’ll watch us from high up in the sagebrush.

It all reminds me that many different mothers have their own certain reasons for doing what they do – as well as when, where, how and why.