You can casually teach farm safety, but you still won’t make it out alive
I was walking through the pasture with my six-year-old son recently, crunching through the drought-crisp grass toward the creek where he has claimed sovereignty over an island. It’s called Bone Island, and it’s replete with the scavengings of a six-year-old’s playtime—an odd rib and tibia from the cow culled by coyotes, a bundle of sticks and a couple flagged boundary stakes from when the pipeline came through.
On the way to his island fiefdom, we had to pass the cow herd. It’s not much of a threat, of course, especially with no calves on the ground. Mostly the cows waited out the Indian Summer afternoon under a mulberry’s shade and among the honey locust. There in the half shade stood a young bull. He was old enough to have gotten his mass; his bulging shoulders were slick with the sweat an Angus suffers on hot afternoons. And, as I explained to the boy, he was certainly bull enough to be taken seriously.
With one sweaty hand holding mine and one eye on the bull, I explained again that all animals are worth keeping an eye on when you passed. I told him that male animals were especially so and that once you’ve spotted a bull, it’s best to have an emergency plan nestled in the back of your mind. “Think about what you’d do if he came after you, I said. You don’t have to be scared, but do you think you could make that gate if he decided to come at us?” The bull chewed his cud and looked on.
We swung wide of him, doglegging our way toward Bone Island where a heifer claimed her shade. Like most of the herd, she was calm and bovinely curious. We had to get close before she would take us seriously.
I took the boy toward the heifer and stopped at the trunk of a tottering old elm. “If a cow is ever after you,” I said, “You can make some time just going around a big tree like this. Just stay on the other side of tree from her. Cows don’t shuffle very fast.” The heifer put her nose out, it nearly took a touch to make her share the island.
With the island’s sovereignty securely regained, we took to frog chasing and the rest of what a six-year-old must accomplish under his pastoral reign.
The next day, I ran across an article about risk perception and risk reality. According to the article, and statistically speaking, our afternoon among contented cows put us in more danger from a deathly stomping than the risk an ocean swimmer takes for meeting his end in the jaws of a shark.
There is no Cow Week on the Discovery Channel but Shark Week is a sweeps winner. That’s perception for you. And a lesson in news cycles. But forget sharks. There is a 1 in 1,123 average chance that a person will perish from accidental drowning. And that makes a day at the beach actuarially much more frightening than a day down on Bone Island, especially if you have an eye on the bull and a tree to run circles around.
The article ends with a list of odds on how you might die. The list begins with a sobering statistic: Odds that you will die are, roughly speaking, 1:1. To get you there, the big three top the list: heart disease, cancer and stroke. Car accidents, poisoning, electrocution…the whole list is kind of a downer. But there at the bottom was at least some happy news. The odds of meeting your end from fireworks are a scant 1 in 386,766.
As soon as it rains, we’re taking those left-over bottle rockets down to defend Bone Island.
From the July-August edition of Discover Magazine article “What you don’t know can kill you,” the odds for your particular demise:
Total, any cause: 1 in 1
Heart disease: 1 in 6
Cancer: 1 in 7
Stroke: 1 in 28
Motor vehicle accident: 1 in 88
Intentional self-harm: 1 in 112
Fall: 1 in 171
Car occupant accident: 1 in 303
Assault by firearm: 1 in 306
Pedestrian accident: 1 in 649
Motorcycle accident: 1 in 770
Accidental drowning: 1 in 1,123
Fire: 1 in 1,177
Pedalcyclist accident: 1 in 4,717
Firearm discharge: 1 in 6,309
Air transport accident: 1 in 7,032
Electrocution: 1 in 9,943
Heat exposure: 1 in 12,517
Cataclysmic storm: 1 in 46,044
Bee or wasp sting: 1 in 71,623
Legal execution: 1 in 96,691
Dog attack: 1 in 120,864
Earthquake: 1 in 148,756
Flood: 1 in 175,803
Fireworks: 1 in 386,766
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