Thursday, May 23, 2013

`A Miracle of Normalcy Is a Cow's Mind'

During the week, as a concession to convenience, my boss and her husband live in Houston. Weekends they spend on their farm, their real home, near Industry, in the hills of western Austin County, about ninety minutes northwest of Houston. For a visitor from the city, the farm is an artificial paradise, a theme park of flowers, birds, dogs, hay, tractors, cows and wholesome living. Of course, I don’t have to work there, merely enjoy it when I visit, so it’s easy to think of it as a pastoral sanctuary. 

About a month ago, a growth developed on the right front knee of Barbara, one of the first cows they bought a decade ago. I saw photos, and it had grown to grapefruit proportions, but gnarled like a burl on an oak. Barbara wasn’t hobbled but the tumor leaked blood and pus, and they took her by trailer to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in College Station. A biopsy showed it wasn’t cancerous but a surgeon removed the growth and kept Barbara in the recovery barn for a week. When they drove her back to the farm, the other cows moved in from the pasture and called to Barbara in welcome, and she called back. My boss is convinced cows share a sense of kinship and remain loyal to each other across time and space, like some humans. I’m not skeptical, just ignorant. In his expanded edition of The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse (1991), Les Murray includes three poems by a writer new to me, Peter Kocan. Here is “Cows”: 

“Cows graze across the hill,
Measuring the day
As their shadows tell
Irrelevant time. Their gait is half-way
Between moving and standing still. 

“The sun is gentle on the green
Of their meadow, their mouths deep
In its heavy warmth,
A watcher could fall asleep
In the depth
Of that untroubled scene. 

“From each dewdrop morning
To every day’s end
They follow the cycle
Of the rhythm of the world turning
In its season. A miracle
Of normalcy is a cow’s mind. 

“Beyond thought’s prickling fever
They dwell in the grace
Of their own true concerns,
And in that place
Know they will live forever
With butterflies around their horns.” 

Cows are maligned for their placidity and contentment in a herd. That’s a gratuitously harsh judgment. Who needs a hipster cow? What would be the advantage, evolutionary or otherwise, of bovine waywardness? Read Kocan’s biography. In 1966, he tried to assassinate an Australian politician and spent a decade in a hospital for the criminally insane. One understands why he might write with admiration:  “A miracle / Of normalcy is a cow’s mind.”  In his autobiographical novellas The Treatment and The Cure (2008), narrated by an inmate of a hospital resembling the one where Kocan was sentenced, he writes: 

“There is a field near the main kitchen where cows from the hospital dairy graze. There’s a peacefulness about cows. At weekends you take a book and sit under the tree near the field and read a little and listen to music on your transistor and watch the cows. Sometimes you lean on the fence and click your tongue at the cows and they will wander close and sniff at you and examine you with big peaceful eyes but with a dubious look also, as if they’re wondering what your game is. You don’t stay leaning on the fence too long. It’s a bit too visible there. It might look odd. Other people don’t spend their time looking at cattle. Looking at cattle is probably a symptom of something.” 

1 comment:

DMM said...

Yay Cows!