Having a Cow

name of god

At the busiest bus stop in the heart of the affluent college town, a middle-aged black woman flanked by bulging plastic bags sits and rails at an enemy no less real for being invisible. The passersby — students, professionals, mothers headed for the public library — lower their voices, murmuring into their clamshell phones. Those without phones mutter prayers. Those without Jesus take a strong sudden interest in the weeds sprouting through a fissure in the pavement, this thin and brittle lid on green disorder.


In the news, the former Bosnian Serb leader and instigator of genocide, Radovan Karadzic, turns out to have been hiding behind a bushy white beard and glasses all this time, selling New Age snake oil. The webpage of his alter ego, Dr. Dragan Dabic, apparently intends no irony with the English email address, “healingwounds@dragandabic.com.” At the bottom of the page appear “10 favorite ancient Chinese proverbs as selected personally by Dr. Dabic.” They include “He who cannot agree with his enemies is controlled by them” and “The one who gives up his own, should dig two graves.”


In the news, the name of God appears in Arabic on several pieces of cooked beef in northern Nigeria. Thousands flock to see what local mullahs proclaim to be a sign of the universality of their religion. What was it like for the cow, grazing in the near-desert with the One Name growing like a tumor, thick enough to appear on three eventual cross-sections of muscle tissue? Did it burn? Did it give off light? In which part of the cow did the deity inscribe His miraculous autograph? The reports do not say, and I hesitate to hazard a guess. I recall that the second and longest sura of the Qur’an is called Al-Baqarah, “The Cow.” It takes its name from the fawn-colored heifer sacrificed by Moses at God’s command.


Responding to a relayed message about a fawn trapped in the deer fence around our three-acre wildflower sanctuary, I find instead a bluejay with what looks like a broken neck, lying on its side in the middle of the trail and bleating like a fawn in distress. I run back to the house to get the .22. Later, I try and tell dad it was a jay he heard. “Heard? I saw it, from out in the field! A light-brown, mid-sized animal, thrashing about.” But later, when he went back to check, the fawn had disappeared — escaped on its own. Perhaps the shot from the other end of the exclosure had given it the strength to break free.


Among the stones at the side of the road I notice three purple stars: Deptford pinks, blooming on two-inch stalks. Are they merely stunted by the harsh conditions, or do they represent a new, road-adapted strain? Natural selection is constant, the scientists now tell us; significant evolution in weedy plants can take place in as little as seven years, and among animals, “fewer than 40 lifetimes.” Seven, forty: such Biblical numbers! This presumes, of course, that the populations are subject to large-scale die-offs or other extraordinary stresses: prolonged droughts, the sudden arrival of competitors, the use of pesticides. That too seems Biblical.


The jay was hardly the first bird mortally injured by flying into the fence. In the seven years since we erected it with the help of our hunter friends (who had a vested interest in creating a permanent demonstration of their value to us), we’ve found a ruffed grouse, two sharp-shinned hawks, and a red-tailed hawk that all seemed to have died that way. Lord knows how many more bodies were carried off by scavengers before we could find them. In trying to protect a small patch of woods from the deer, we end up killing birds. Losing predators such as sharpies and redtails is especially bad news from an ecological standpoint, though at the same time the revitalized understory should make much better nesting habitat for migrant songbirds.


The chipmunk is in the tree again.


dead sharpie

7 Replies to “Having a Cow”

  1. yup, I found the name of the flying spaghetti monster scratched into the ground by the chickens this morning…or maybe it was a trick of the light

  2. I love the structure of this, reminiscent of Alain de Botton’s books all organised as numbered lists. (And it’s a relief to know that you do occasionally get into town!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.