Some cousins kept cows, but my suburban neighborhood saw none, not even at the zoo where more exotic animals, crowded in cages, paced and stank.
I have eaten cow, I have drunk cow milk, consumed cow cheese, used cow cream to top my raspberries and make scones. I have even skimmed cream from the top of a milk bottle, watched my mother stir it into iced coffee, making liquid marble.
But until I moved (again) to Tennessee a bit more than a decade ago, I had never really looked at a cow, noticed its size -- its startling heft and height, admired its steady gaze and protection of calf, its gathering into groups, following a leader, its seemingly placid nature, endurance in storm, and habit of standing in stomach-high water on a hot hot day.
I like them, and I have been eating less and less beef because I think about their faces, their eyes, the trust of their encounter, like this afternoon, when, on taking the long way home from a necessary errand, I saw this dozen in an Alto field, not for the first time, but this time stopping my car in the middle of the road, backing up, parking, grabbing my camera, getting out, and standing for a long while, looking. At first, I heard one and then two lowing or mooing in the distance, then more loudly, until finally they had approached me, each of us on our own side of the fence. They stared and stared at me as I did at them.
Dinner time, I imagine, they thought; someone coming to see to our needs. And then I felt a bit sad that I wasn't the one who would touch them and feed them today, and also that I was the one who had needlessly brought them forward. I thought these things as I drove off, watching them in the rear view, watching me still.