Last night I walked home from a meeting at the town hall along a graveled road, my path lit by the near-full moon, fat and buoyant in the sky behind me. To my left, a dozen or so yards beyond the roadway’s sloped shoulder, I could hear the mountain stream that runs through the center of town (which is to say, it passes behind the old church). The stream is weak with drought but still makes those pleasing stream sounds, the whispery sluice of water over rock, the burble of water falling and folding on itself, a noise like little beads of some soft alloy.
I turned up our drive and faced the moon in full, and now could clearly see that its light had blued the darkened sky ever so slightly. At the top of the drive, where the barn comes full into view, I saw the cows as I see them so often: Gathered into their small herd, three lying, two standing, all turned the same direction, heads to the west. As if facing something.
Not for the first time, not even close, and surely not for the last, I stood for a minute or two and considered the small comfort of these animals in my life. And how in times of uncertainty or discontent – and yes, of course I have those, probably no less nor more than most – the cows seem always to offer something. It’s not certainty. It’s not an answer to anything, but rather what feels to me like an invitation to share in their evident bovine contentment: The metronomic chewing of cud, the sheer mass of all that warm flesh and long bone against the ground, the faith that the day to come will be not unlike those that have passed. Or perhaps there is such faith – such a deep, embodied faith – that no faith is necessary. Yes. I think that more likely.
I stood a short while longer, then turned away, feeling chilled now, wanting the warmth of the cook stove. I could still hear the weakened stream in the distance, though only just. We sure could use some rain. We’ll get some one of these days.