An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of July 13, 2006
Issued   from Polly's Bend, Garrard County, in Kentucky's Bluegrass Region, USA

BLACK COW, FOGGY DAWN

At dawn a few minutes before the sun's red orb rises over the grassy hillcrest to the east, I jog on the ridge road, passing by a black cow chewing her cud and standing in green grass. White fog in the valley beyond frames the cow, making her into a silhouette. Pat, pat, pat go my feet on yet another morning after so many hundreds of morning jogs just like this one.

When I run, my body goes onto autopilot. I just ride atop the body, almost detached, watching images pass by. Today I'm running wondering what that cow is thinking, feeling, being.

The other day on Public Radio a scientist spoke on new insights into the fact that higher animals may have emotions. It's disheartening that this late in human social evolution we are still talking as if that were a revelation.

When I was a kid on the western Kentucky farm we had pigs, cattle, goats, chickens, ducks and other critters, and from the first it was clear to me that all our animals had feelings. I used to hide in the chickenfeed bin spying on the hens so even at ten years of age I knew that hens had individual personalities. With my own eyes I saw that there were flirtatious hens and no-nonsense ones, hens who took good care of their chicks and others who were more concerned with their own comfort and interests. There were nervous hens and mellow hens, lazy ones and hyper ones. When we had fried chicken for Sunday dinner I'd wonder, "Is it the flirty one, or the sneaky one? Who will be missing when I go spying next, and how will the community get along without her?"

In college I was assured that I was laughably anthropomorphic. Well, now I'm older than my professors at that time and I've certainly had more field experience than they, stuck in their offices and classrooms. Now in my white-bearded, bald-headed augustness I do hereby proclaim what I should have loved to hear any authoritative individual say back then: All higher animals have feelings, and often those feelings are as intense, meaningful and beautiful as human emotions.

Understanding this is important. It's important to know that humans and other animals are all members of the same evolutionary Tree of Life, all enmeshed inextricably in the same ecological Web of Life, all composed of the same chemicals, with neurons working the same way, the same laws of Nature applying to us all equally, all of us together feeling, thinking, evolving from the same ancestors toward the same destiny.

For, once we accept that other living things are of the same stuff as us, it becomes easier to see that what endangers them also endangers us. Not by diminishing humankind but by elevating other living things will it become clearer that all of us survive only as long as the biotic community of which we are part continues to function -- continues producing clean air, clean water, wholesome foods, open space... for us all.

Black cow in green grass with a silvery, shimmering fogbank behind you, chew your cud and wonder at me pat, pat, pat down the little road atop the ridge. I leave you with this thought: That the most graceful element of this whole scene is that you reflect on me as I reflect on you, and we leave one another in peace. Facebook Icon.