The Heavens Have No Reply

In the evening, after chores and dinner, but before clean-up, reading, bed, I walk to the pasture to see the cows. For a while I stand with Pip, letting a portion of my weight fall on her back as I scratch her favorite spots: The hollows on either side of her tail, the place where her chin would be if she had such, and along her spine, loosing the last of her furred winter coat, letting the tufts float off my fingertips and into the breeze, like a magician’s bird. The tufts drift sideways for a moment or two, then fall slowly to the ground, and I remember that years ago I found a bird’s nest with our cow’s hair woven in, and how much this pleased me.

I am weary, so I lean on Pip a little more, still scratching so she doesn’t move. It seems a fair trade: I get support, and she gets comfort, and aren’t they really of the same cloth? I move my fingers to the base of her horns, the divot right in the center of her poll, where often I can excavate a surprising amount of hay chafe. She tilts her head a little, stretches her neck. I lean even more.

Some people believe that cows use their horns to communicate with the heavens. There was a time in my life when I’d have been dubious of such a claim, but that time has come and gone, and now I accept the possibility, the proof of which falls outside any realm of knowing I can fathom, anyway. It happens or it doesn’t, and I suppose either is fine with me. Besides, I like Pip’s horns; they lend her a certain devil-may-care aesthetic, which sort of makes sense, because if you’ve got horns, why should you give a fuck what anyone thinks?

Maybe because I’m tired, or maybe because of the way the late sun is falling across Pip and me, or maybe for a million other reasons, I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of communicating with the heavens. Not merely praying for some sign or another, not merely taking it on faith that there’s someone up there to communicate with, if only you could figure out how to get his (her?) ear, but actually communicating. Now wouldn’t that be something? And maybe this is really the source of Pip’s nonchalance, because if you’re talking to the heavens, and actually getting a reply… well. I guess I’d be feeling pretty chill, too.

So what I do is I keep scratching the divot with the fingers of one hand, while I run the four splayed fingers of the other hand gently up one horn, then back down and up the other, back-and-forth, back-and forth, like a marble rolling up one side of a bowl until gravity halts its momentum, reverses its course. Down and up, down and up, back and forth, back and forth. The horns are ridged near the base, but smooth through most of the curve and near the tip. They are bone hard. They are bone. They are cool to the touch.

Pip doesn’t notice, or if she does, she’s too deep in the pleasure of the scratching to mind. The rest of the cows pay no mind. I hear the voices of the boys down in the orchard, but I can’t make out what they’re saying, even though for a moment I try. In the distance, I hear a car or truck engine revving hard, then the tires spinning, gravel spitting. Saturday night.

Up and down, back and forth. Close my eyes. Open them. The boys are laughing now, and I’m glad of it. The air has gone still, gotten softer. Pip tilts her head again, angling for a different spot. Back and forth, up and down. I’ve got plenty to say to the heavens, and I’m letting it fly, I really am, all the things that piss me off, that make me feel sad, happy, grateful, lonely, fulfilled, lost, found. Human. One thing after another after another. Up and down, back and forth and back again along those lengths of hooked bone, those antennae to the gods.

And maybe there’s a reply, maybe there really is, but if so it is in a frequency I have not yet learned, and so eventually I stop scratching, stop rubbing, stop talking. I stick my hands in my pockets and walk to the orchard to find my sons.

24 thoughts on “The Heavens Have No Reply”

  1. It just may be that you ARE receiving the reply in those acknowledged feelings of being happy, sad, frustrated, lonely, grateful, fulfilled, lost, found . . . Human. Absolutely AMAZING post Ben.

  2. Ah. Yep, I totally feel this. I often reach out to the heavens w hope and am left w an echo of my own lacking… there’s a bit of comedy about it. My human flailing and failing… But it’s a beautiful thing. Beautiful post. Thank you.

  3. As everyone else says: gorgeous writing, gorgeous sentiment. One of the reasons I got so much pleasure from reading this is that I have done exactly the same thing: standing in a pasture with a cow, scratching her while holding on to these horns, wondering about the whole biodynamic Rudolf Steiner philosophy of horns channeling some spiritual power.

    I also derive the same pleasure as you do from finding a bird’s nest with hair woven into it – not cow’s hair, in our case, since we have goats, but dog hair, and pieces of fiber when I’m spinning yarn under the cherry tree where the swallows nest.

  4. This is a stunningly touching post. I really liked it.
    I am sitting here, taking a break from planting all weekend. Browsing a little before going into the garden once more and continue what we did all weekend; planting the seedling, which hopefully will fill our plates in a few months or even weeks.
    The really weird thing is that we are having a windy day all day, but at the moment I finished reading your post, the wind slowed down to a very gentle breeze. No more rustling of the leaves of the aspen and birch around our house. Silence…. weird, chilling, awesome.
    I believe that communicating with animals by nonverbal means, as you did, IS a form of communicating with the heavens, with all the creatures beneath them, with ourselves. Those experiences are real revelations.

    Thanks Ben.

  5. Ben, just yesterday I was writing and it struck me how language is a way to understand until it isn’t—how at some point, human words just can’t take us any further. The frequency heaven is speaking on, Pip’s horns, they’re out beyond our language.

    I’m letting it fly to the heavens, too, and it’s only after all the words fly out that the space opens up, and at least maybe that’s the way to start learning the language of the wind and horns and heavens.

    Thanks for your words. These ones especially.

  6. Personally? Not to get all earthy crunchy Caulifornyah but I think we are all cow horns and are lightening rods for the Voice of God. We stand. Like a tree. We are just as much as conduit as anything. There ya go. I said it.

    Every once in a while as we move about we hit the sweet spot and then God will speak to us in a language we can understand. We just have to figure out what is God speaking and what is schizophrenia. Not that easy apparently.

  7. Wow!. Channeling the heavens through Pip’s horns. Amazing and probably more valid than any evangelist that claims the same.
    By the way, beautiful spoons. Are they for sale?

  8. This is a great post. Many a time I have sat in a moment similar to this. Its the moments where I stop and realize just how wonderful and privileged my life really is. Its in those moments that I truly find my faith in God.

    Thanks for the great post Ben. Your post are always a highlight to my day.

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