In the morning when I awake the cows are in the front yard, on the wrong side of the electrified fence meant to contain them. It’s misty and barely light, and for a moment I stand there mute, watching them graze the tender grass, willing them to be back where they belong, because really what I want right now is a cup of coffee, not a cow chase. Alas, my will is too weak for the task, so I pull on my boots, drive them back into the pasture, and fix the section of fence that was no doubt pulled down by the calf, not yet well-attuned to the possibility of electric shock and therefore willing to push his way to greener grass. In fencing parlance, an electric fence is known as a “psychological barrier,” which is to say that the fence itself is not what holds the animals. Rather, it’s their fear of shock that keeps them contained, and I can’t help but think it’s an apt metaphor for the human condition and all the psychological barriers we erect for ourselves. Or that our culture erects for us, or some combination of the two, barriers we’ve lived with for so long or have gone to such great, contorting efforts to make peace with that we can scarcely imagine the shock of dismantling them, the undoing of all the manipulations we’ve done to get comfortable with them. And never mind what awaits on the other side!
(Yikes. What the hell was that? Philosophy or something?)
With the cows in place, I head out on my bike and ride my favorite morning loop, the one that takes me past the nearest working dairy farm where I come so close to the barn I can hear the rhythmic thump and hiss of the vacuum pump, and then, just past that, an old farmhouse with its enviable collection of vehicles: There’s the 80’s-era F150 with a God Bless Johnny Cash sticker on the hood, an IROC-Z of similar vintage, and a Cadillac DeVille that’s not old enough to be particularly cool, nor new enough to be ostentatious. I’d proudly drive any of those rigs, though I can most vividly imagine myself now in that low-slung IROC, running hot through the S turns at the top of the mountain road, a little Motley Crue on the stereo. No! Quiet Riot! Yup. That’s the ticket for sure.
Back home, the cows watch me wheel up the driveway, looking chagrinned. The cows, I mean, not me, though in truth, it’s probably just wishful thinking. More likely, the little one’s thinking of making another run for it; he’s been bit by that fence only a time or two yet in his young life, the pain hasn’t quite stuck, he still believes he can take on the whole damn world and not feel the sting of it. That’s ok. He’ll learn to stay in line soon enough. Like we all have. Like we’re counted on to.