The cows have come back to our fence line. There is a farmer with a lot of property on the other side. No, not a farmer, he once corrected me, a rancher. Cattle rancher, to be exact. How we love and marry our titles.
The rancher rotates his cattle so they can eat the tall grasses of their different fields. A couple of times a year they end up our neighbors and we get to watch them and listen to them be cows. And be wild cows, too.
These are not the friendly dairy cows of New England that I’m used to, these are Hawaiian cows. Sea cows, I jokingly call ‘em. These cows don’t want to be petted and hand-fed, they want to be left alone. They are the least aloha animals I’ve encountered on the island. Probably, because they will suffer a different fate than dairy cows and they know it. To them, humans are the least aloha animals on the island.
I’ve heard it said that cows are stupid, which is itself a stupid notion. They are brilliant at living the cow life. Finding food, water. Checking in on each other with a mooing roll call.
We tend to do that, don’t we? Tend to demean the intelligence of other beings who don’t understand how to read our cues, the meanings of our gestures. They get along just fine without us. Cows and birds and pigs all talk to each other. They all hang out together. Then people cut off from any sense of relationship with life come along and call them stupid, call them lesser beings. Call them food with disdain or disinterest, but rarely with thanks.
Though we don’t understand much of animal languages, we sure love to quote ourselves. There’s the one about when the teacher points at the moon we shouldn’t look at her finger, we should look at the moon. In other words, don’t mistake the lesson for direct experience. Animals live in the now. Unlike us, they live their purpose. When you point at the moon and they stare at your finger, it’s because they are intelligent. If they’re interested, they are trying to figure out what you’re doing and why. They’re trying to figure out your purpose, the meaning of your gestures and vocalizations at them.
And what do we do when one points at the moon? Do we try to understand the gesture? Do we make an honest mistake and treat the lesson as if it’s the direct experience? Or do we watch cunningly the mannerisms of the one who points and imitate her to trick ourselves and then others into believing we are teachers?
Are we even smart enough to fail at learning anymore? Or are we all fraudulent masters affirming each other in a televised world where being seen feels like having power? We’re trapped in our heads and we’ve taught ourselves to trap other life in cages for our pleasure. They aren’t equals unless they can disconnect from life and communicate on an intellectual stuck-in-the-head manner, too. Who is the dumb animal here?
Simplicity is not stupidity. Innocence is not naivety. Being is not striving. And when such a being strives to understand you, perhaps reciprocal understanding is what’s called for. Then, together we may sit with thankful hearts: birds, pigs, people, and cows. Not demanding anything. Simply being.
Simply being is, in fact, the beginning of true, whole intelligence. Perhaps as animals point to this moon, they are waiting for us to stop trying to teach their fingers how to behave, and just shut up and be. Wouldn’t that be a welcome twist?
Plus, I hear that cows can jump over the moon. Not too shabby.