My Three Cows
Pure Slush, Cow, Vol. 23, June 2022
A lovely book by the late Thich Nhat Hanh is How to Relax. It’s tiny, not much larger than the palm of your hand, as if to say, don’t fret, relax, I’m small. Most of the instructions are short, some less than a hundred words. One entry, “Naming Our Cows” begins “Each one of us has to sit down with a piece of paper and write down the names of all our cows.” He talks about how we struggle and suffer. He says we should “Let go so that happiness, joy and peace can be possible.”
I sat down with a piece of paper to write my list. It was short.
Hannah came with a friend, a palomino horse, whose name I forget. Let’s pretend it was Kevin. I agreed to keep Kevin and Hannah until their owner, whose name was Sally, found a more appropriate living situation. We made a paddock for them by stringing electric fencing on posts. The hard part was having to test it to see if it was live. It was. Hannah didn’t like it inside. She routinely disregarded the shock and muscled her way out to lie in the grass outside her enclosure. She didn’t want to go anywhere. Just not be inside, except when I attempted to ride Kevin. Then she’d moo bloody murder, break out, and chase after us, running as fast as her cow legs could carry her. We’d wait for her, Kevin and I, knowing our ride was over, as Hannah ran circles around us, like a Border Collie rounding up her charges. When Sally came to get them, she hopped up on Kevin and the three of them rode off together, Hannah trotting along behind, screaming all the while.
Rosebud was so named because of a swirling bit of fur on her forehead, a cowlick. Ironic, right? A cowlick. If you squinted and tried really hard you could imagine it looked like a rose. Her brother’s name was Big Mac. I didn’t name either one of them and don’t know what became of him. I always hoped his name was joke, not a prophesy.
Rosebud was young when I got her, but as she grew older, as cows tend to do, she became large. And she grew horns, and although they were short and stubby, she routinely tried to impale me on them whenever I entered her enclosure. Another thing about Rosebud, inconsistent with her obvious desire to kill me, was that when she wasn’t in her paddock, she loved company. Whenever I’d come home she’d moo boisterously for attention. She loved to be scratched between the ears, and demanded it often.
I’d always check on Rosebud as she grazed in her field when I left the house. One morning, I glanced over and noticed two white beehives at the far edge. I was quite certain that I was not a beekeeper and that those hives had not been there the previous day. Faced with beehives magically appearing on my property, however, I experienced a moment of doubt. Am I a beekeeper? Have those hives always been there? It would be several days before I spotted someone tending to the hives. It was Paul, the son of the family who owned the grocery store in town. Paul had spotted the red clover growing in my field and thought red clover honey would be lovely. Who was I to disagree?
Paul came from a long line of beekeepers. He told me stories about tracking bees through the woods over the course of several days to find their hives. He’d snag the queen and thousands of bees would swarm onto his arm, and he’d gently guide them into a basket. His grandfather was known for intentionally knocking hives over in order to get stung to cure his arthritis. He was hospitalized more than once for his shenanigans. His arthritis prevailed.
Paul’s family also kept cows, so naturally, I introduced him to Rosebud. They hit it off right away. He knew just how to scratch her and she appeared to have no interest in killing him. When I moved away, Paul was the obvious choice to give Rosebud to. As it turned out, Rosebud wasn’t like any of their other cows. None of them mooed at the top of their lungs when he came home. Rosebud did, no matter how late at night. He tried everything, including parking his truck down the street. Once he went so far as to take off his boots to sneak by quietly in his socks, but she always knew it was him. That was some bovine love right there.
If I ever get another cow, I will name her Sally. I’ll write her name on a piece of paper.
And I’ll smile.