Another Perspective

Ice-Cold Cows

Reflections upon a herd of cattle one winter day in western Nebraska.

By 2.13.09

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The cows looked ice-cold. On a day like that in western Nebraska, if some miscreant had played the game of cow-tipping, if he had sneaked up on one of those furry steak-and-hamburger contraptions to give it a shove, he probably would have had to make restitution to the rancher. The poor cow might have broken one or more of its frigid legs in the tumble.

Although the cows budged not an inch on the snow-covered corn stubble, and in fact looked like they'd been frozen solid, the herd really wasn't asleep.

Maybe they were simply conserving energy.

Maybe they were wondering why in the heck they were in the middle of a field with nothing to eat but what could be found by nudging away the snow with their cold noses. Maybe they were, as the masters of meditation say, staying in the present, focusing upon the hot breaths out and the cool breaths in, not allowing their thoughts to ride the waves of the past, or to wade through the cloudy pools of the future.

Whatever thoughts crossed their minds, and in whatever sense what crossed their minds could be called thoughts, they were so still (as was the wind, surprisingly enough) that I half-expected a giant hand to reach down from the sky and rearrange his toy cows on the play farm set. I only hoped I wasn't mistaken for a plastic farmer.

It was one of those glitch-in-the-Matrix moments, as I have come to call them, when life seems like a play, the world a theater, and we but actors who at any moment might discover seams in the sky painted above us.

Perhaps you've had similar instances. If not, then let me assure you I don't have them too often, lest you post me notes that I should consider contacting my health care provider, or contact her or him for me. In fact, I'd wager you know what I'm talking about, even if you don't use geeky references to sci-fi movies to describe the experience.

I know the world is real, you know the world is real -- all too real at times.

At the same time I gazed at the field of cows and felt as if I'd wandered into a giant Fisher Price farm yard, just down the road from me or across the way, a person could have could have collapsed from an aneurysm; another might have hit an icy spot, her car careening into an oncoming semi. No rearranging of the doll house or the Matchbox cars would have given them another go.

And yet there remain those instances, as fleeting as they are uncanny, of the theater, the play-set, the unreality of it all. We have that mysterious quality about us called "consciousness."

Thus we can abstract ourselves from the passing moment, we can rewind the tape and play it, we can project ourselves into scenarios of our own devising that may or may not come to pass, and, yes, at times we can feel as though there's something downright odd about the trail we're following.

Maybe those cows have the right idea. Stay calm. Breathe in, breathe out. This too shall pass -- except, I have to wonder, don't their well-traveled paths look a little too much like ruts?

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About the Author

R. Andrew Newman is a freelance journalist in western Nebraska.