Calf rescue a 'birth-day' bonus in wild ride down Watauga

By Kathy Helms-Hughes


   Teresa Nidiffer, owner of Watauga Kayak Tours and Outfitters, does a lot of paddling down the Watauga River. One guided trip Aug. 13 in celebration of a friend's birthday turned into a wild ride that lent new meaning to the word "birth-day."
   Nidiffer, Barbara Bogart, Kathy Smith, Don Sluder and Nancy Oderd'hal were rolling along around 6:30 p.m., enjoying the scenery when, in the shadows of the riverbank, they spotted a cow in the water.
   "She was mooing and we paddled over there close to her," Nidiffer said, "and I noticed there was this baby calf that was stuck between two large tree branches."
   Apparently, the mother had gone down to the water and had given birth before Tennessee Valley Authority began generating, Nidiffer said. When TVA began to generate, however, "the water level came up on the river and then when the water level came up, it probably washed the calf into that tree and it was stuck -- fortunately for the calf."
   Had it not become wedged in the brush, Nidiffer said, it would have washed down the river. "Calves apparently don't have very good balance when they're born. It couldn't get out and its mother couldn't help it. We couldn't get out of the boats because it was real muddy in that area and it was kind of deep water, going off in a slant," she said.
   "We had five people there and everybody was trying to hold boats and comfort its mother and trying to get everything going. But the calf was so heavy -- I never dreamed of a calf being so heavy."
   Nidiffer held onto part of the tree while friends held her boat. "I pushed the limb down and with the calf's weight and my weight, it broke the branch. Well, the calf still couldn't move. So I had to try to wrap my arm around it, while I was still in the kayak, and try to get it close to shore. It took us 30 or 40 minutes.
   "At one point it tried to get in my boat. The biggest thing was it was really scared," she said. "Its mother, once we got over there, she figured out that we were going to rescue it so she walked up and stood on the bank," watching them.
   The calf finally began to settle down and the group tried to push and tug it along. "Where a baby calf doesn't walk immediately, it just couldn't move. I was basically having to try to get my arms under it and, with the water, kind of push it to the bank," Nidiffer said.
   "Once I got it started on the grass, we noticed something hanging down on it. It was its [umbilical] cord. Finally it got up and it was staggering everywhere. Then its mother got really close to it and they just wandered right off," she said.
   Nidiffer said she later spoke with the owner of the calf, Charlie Middleton, and both mother and baby are doing fine.
   What Nidiffer didn't realize until a couple days after the incident was, "I have this huge bruise, as big as my fist, right below my belly button where the calf had tried to get in the boat and it must have kicked me."
   She also ended up going to the doctor because of shoulder pain. "Well, apparently I pulled several muscles. I didn't realize it at the time because of all the adrenaline going on. You always see this on '911' or something -- somebody rescuing an animal -- but you never expect it to ever happen to you. It was Barbara's birthday that day, so that was a very unusual birthday treat," Nidiffer said.