One morning a while back I was walking across a field near the house. I was taking particular care, because several of the cows in the herd had recently given birth; and while bulls and cattle generally are amenable beings when treated with respect, the atmosphere palpably changes when babies are around.
The herd itself was at the far end of the field, apart from one lone cow off to one side, by the lip leading down to the mill stream. I didn't know the farmer, and I wasn't quite sure why the herd had left her alone; but her look at me was so forlorn and empty of challenge that I wandered over, and she accepted my approach almost as if I had been a friend. She didn't budge or demur, but directed my gaze with supplicating eyes (no, really); and I saw a calf, in the middle of the trickle of the mill-stream below, up to its knees in mud, with thoroughly dried mud caked everywhere. It looked exhausted, and hungry, and as if it had been there throughout the night. It tried but couldn't escape when I slipped down the bank; and it didn't have energy to struggle significantly when I put my arms under it to lift.
When the calf was back up the bank and with its mother, it felt as if the mother and I were friends. When I went back the next day, the herd was all together, and the atmosphere was as one would expect: Keep your distance, stranger. No exceptions; and no glimmer of recognition, nor expectation of it from me.
One of my favourite experiences of cattle in those fields was having my daughter on my back in a backpack, scrambling down in the river, and her singing bringing the cows to the fence lining the river above, on the other side. It never failed.
That is the river along which she, my daughter, built a tiny but intricate house for fairies; while her younger brother and I skipped stones and waded.
[Originally published June 27, 2016]