I climbed the hill across from the house, yesterday and sat in the pasture with the cows. I didn’t plan on spending so much time with them. I started out with watercolors and sketch book in hand to do some studies of sheep and the view of my house from the hill. After climbing to the top, I sat on my little three legged stool and began to pencil in a small drawing of the view. That’s when the curious cows moved in. I wasn’t aware of how close they were until one snorted. When I looked back, ten cows, each the size of a small pickup truck, were lined up shoulder to shoulder glaring down their noses and chewing their cuds.
They grunted softly, snorted loudly and their rumens rumbled constantly. One calf, who probably weighed about 500 pounds, kept sidling closer and closer. Finally he worked up the courage to rub his shiny wet nose across my shoulder. Then he began licking my arm. Imagine the roughness of a cat’s tongue multiplied by ten. The grown-up cows watched him with interest and finally decided I might be a friendly beast. They moved in and soon I was surrounded by an imposing row of cows looking down at me through incredibly long eye-lashes.
As we sat there, one species pondering the other, the cows stepped closer until the circle of curious bovines was only an arms-length away. I was afraid to breathe. Even the smallest shifting of my weight from one side of the stool to the other made them jump, and I didn’t want ten tons of cows to spook and stampede me.
I was surprised when a flock of cowbirds circled and landed beside us. One or two of the small birds hopped up through the grass, dodging massive legs and hooves, until they were right at my feet. They tilted their heads like they were listening and then began pecking at something hidden the grass. I wondered about the symbiotic relationship between birds and cows. The birds hopped without care around and between the mass of shifting, shuffling beef, but when I moved, the birds startled and took flight.
After a day full of noisy students and clanging bells, the gentle cropping and burping of cows was like a lullaby. The sun was low enough in the sky to outline the cows in gold light and I was content in the shadow of their ruminations. Finally, I had to scratch my nose. When I lifted my hand the cows bolted and the birds fluttered to another part of the field. I folded up my stool and walked down the hill. It was way past time to start supper. The cows followed me to the gate and then as I clanged it shut, turned and threaded their way up the narrow valley back to the high meadow. But, the little calf who had tasted my sweat, paused for a moment to stare at me. Then with a flick of his ear, he ran to catch up with his mama. I wonder what stories he told her under the stars.