July 02, 2003

What kind of Animal would you be?

If you could be any kind of animal, what kind of animal would you be?

They still use this as an interview question in the hospital where my wife works. In one of the professional departments, mind you. And I faced it on the first day of the second week of the 'writing conference' a few weeks back. I was glad the enthusiastic, new guest faculty for the week could not hear my internal dialogue when she handed out the list of ten animals with phrases describing them, then instructed us to introduce ourselves to her by telling how we were like one of these creatures. She probably did however see my eyes rolling under closed lids. Sigh. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to moo or die. I was to be a cow.

Like a cow, I am slow. I chew my food, although I swallow it only once, and am always the last to finish any meal, this due to more mooing than chewing my cud. I move slowly. Ask my children. They have always been embarrassed because I drove the speed limit... or slower, especially on the back roads and particularly when wildflowers bloomed, birds flittered around, or the sky was blue, or a string of oldies was carrying me to a distant age in a galaxy far, far away. I'm use to having people sniffing my exhaust and hell no I won't pull over and let them pass, I'm going the blinking speed limit. And I'm slow as January molasses on our walks around here, with the emphasis on the journey, not the destination. (I should mention that I am married to a race horse.) Like a cow, I can be happy standing in the same place staring at the ground for hours. The grass is greener right there where I am, by golly, I can stand in one place and watch it grow, happily.

Cows know what to expect from a day because they read the signs. Watch them find their place in the pasture... poor man's weathervane, they call them. I like to think I attend the shift in winds to the east and know snow or rain is coming; I smell ozone before the storm gets here; and I know where to go to find shade at any time of day, and shelter from the wind, and from worry and work. And I can lie down and nap in a heartbeat, and although you will rarely see a living cow lying on its back, barrel belly to the sky, that's the way I like it... a world of solid ground behind me, infinity above me forever, a spinning, orbiting, expanding universal speck.

And so on the way to town today, I drove slowly, contemplating the cattle on a thousand hills, as well as the soft green hills themselves. I ate dinner slowly with a friend, settled down in a deep wallow of a chair in a shady part of the library with a good book while I got new ball joints (not me, although I need them badly... but it's my old Dodge T-ruck I mean). And on the way home this afternoon, I marveled at the variety of roadside 'weeds' that I have learned never again to take for granted. It is these tatters of white and blue and yellow that I so missed along the busy edges of places I have lived away from here during years when Southwest Virginia seemed like a greener but galactically far-off pasture.

Chickory: chicorium intybus... a name that always reminded me of a Druid incantation, a hex on a rejecting lover, mayhaps. Sweet clovers, yellow and white... Melilothus. Aesclepius... common milkweed named after an ancient Greek physician, his commemorative genus buzzing now with red milkweed beetles and skipper moths, a host soon to include the Monarch that will extract poisons from the milky sap and thus protected, will live long enough to winter in Baha. Rhododendrons bloom white and pink where enough forest remains overhead to coax them to blossom in the dense cool shade.

These untidy random volunteers planted by no one in God's garden make me smile. Rounding a bend in the road and coming upon familiar friends is to find a common thread of memory from all my homes in the Blue Ridge, of other roads on so many journeys. I know what to expect on these particular bends, and it is comforting. This is familiar country to me now, after seven years in the county, more than four in the house, countless hours standing enthralled, cowlike in our pasture or woods, or embedded to midcalf in the cold creek. I am bovine in my ways, happiest to be outstanding in my field chewing my cud, and up to my knees in flowers.

Posted by fred1st at July 2, 2003 05:46 AM | TrackBack

Great post, buddy.

Posted by: ronbailey at July 2, 2003 07:38 AM

Thank you.

Posted by: lisa at July 2, 2003 08:47 AM

What were the other animal choices, Fred? If all writing conference attendees chewed their animal over so thoughtfully and wrote about their choice as beautifully as you did, it's maybe not so bad an exercise!

Posted by: Lisa Thompson at July 2, 2003 10:25 AM

Can you tell me why we bovine-types invariably team for life with cheeta-types?

Posted by: Cop Car at July 3, 2003 08:09 AM

My favorite Larson:

Cow Poetry

The distant hills call to me.
Their rolling waves seduce my heart.
Oh how I want to graze in their lush valleys.
Oh how I want to run down their green slopes.
Alas, I cannot.
Damn the electric fence!
Damn the electric fence!

Posted by: feste at July 3, 2003 12:15 PM

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