Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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I’ve spent the day looking for a cow. A dairy cow. But this is the West. In The West, we grow beef. Wild beef. The kind of beef you have to search days through wilderness to round up. We don’t fool around with dairy cows. Sure, we need ice-cream out here, but when we want to grow cows on our land, we want something with meat on its bones, not caramel swirls in its cream.

It is very hard to find a dairy cow in Corrales, the quasi-rural town where I live. Corralians have horses, mules, sheep, goats, peacocks, chickens, an occasional pig. When I first moved here I met a woman with a wonderful pig who lived inside and played the piano. He had a small keyboard of his own. I’ve seen cows here, too, but they are all beef cows. Western cows.

The first people I asked were my next door neighbors, Don and Sue. They know everybody in the community and Don actually grew up on a dairy farm. (Somewhere else.) Don called a man he knew had cows, but they turned out to be beef cows. Sue suggested looking for a goat instead since goats are easier to find here. A fair number of people in the area make goat cheese. But, when what you want is a cow, a goat won’t do.

I asked at the Feed Store. The woman at the counter, a former 4-H participant, suggesting calling the local dairy. "But they use machines to milk," I said. "I need a private cow. One that gets milked by hand." Still, the fact that there is a local dairy could be a hopeful sign.

Then I asked at the co-op, where the manager offered to call their milk suppliers. Same problem. Even if their milk is organic and hormone-free, they’re still commercial. They’ll use machines to milk. He then introduced me to a woman he felt knew more about cows than he did. She said her mother used to have dairy cows, and offered to call her, but her mother lives in Belen, about an hour from Corrales. I need a closer cow. Saying she would investigate, she wrote my name and phone number in her notebook. I had the sense that if anyone could find me a cow, she could.

I stopped in at Wags and Whiskers, our local pet food and supply store, where Nigel, the resident grey tabby occasionally gets up from his perch near the cash register to lick the dog treats on the counter, testing them so they’re ready for any dog who comes in. Not far down the road from Wags and Whiskers a man sells watermelons from the back of his truck. His sign says, "Texas Watermelons, Blessed by Jesus." A while back I suggested to Lee, Nigel’s person, that she put a sign next to the dog treats. "Corrales dog treats, Blessed by Nigel." So far she hasn’t done it. Lee is savvy about local animals and I thought she might know of a cow. She didn’t. "But they’re easier to milk than a goat," she offered.

I phoned the local big animal vet. Their business is mainly horses, mules and donkeys. Maybe a few llamas. The assistant who answered the phone said she didn’t know of any cows, but she would ask the vets and call me back if she located one.

In an earlier article for this website, I wrote about visiting my mother’s native village in Belarus. There I saw a milk cow. As I sat by the river—the Gaina-- that flows through the village, dividing it in two, I had a good view of the bridge joining the two halves of the village. I began that piece with "An old woman leads her cow across the bridge over the Gaina. A Holstein. A milk cow. Moving from one side of the village to the other, toward pasture, or away. There is no way—on this bank where I sit—for me to know whether she is going or coming. Perhaps direction is irrelevant. The earth is circular. Life is circular. Spring always returns."

What else is irrelevant? Is it irrelevant that I’ve now spent an entire day looking for a cow? Would it have been relevant if I had found one? My friend Donna tells me that intention is everything, but I find a difference between intending to find a cow and finding a cow.

I need a cow to fulfill a bucket-list request. A woman I met years ago on an Outward Bound course is visiting on her way to the west coast with her sister, for whom this is a bucket-list trip. A life-long city person, she wants to milk a cow. Since they started in Chicago, the sensible thing would have been to stop in Wisconsin on their way west. There are one million, two hundred thousand dairy cows in Wisconsin, or, one cow for –approximately—every four and a half people in the state. Surely, one among some of those four and half people would have been willing to share their cow with my friend’s sister. Maybe they were beyond Wisconsin by the time she thought of it. Maybe milking a cow only becomes a necessity when it is difficult to find a cow. Maybe that’s what all necessity is. We only need what is impossible.

In Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, he writes of his search for the rare, elusive snow leopard. Near the end of his journey of several months, and more than 250 miles on foot across the Himalayas, he meets a revered Lama, a man who has not left his isolated retreat in eight years. The Lama asks him if he has seen the snow leopard. When he answers no, the Lama says, "Isn’t that wonderful?’

Now, years after reading Matthiessen’s book, that moment remains with me. "You haven’t seen the snow leopard? How wonderful."

What we seek exists in the seeking. Is that what Donna means by "intention is everything." Do I regard the cow as not up to snow leopard standards? Is Corrales nothing compared to the Tibetan Plateau? Yet the truth in Matthiessen’s words is universal. This moment. This place.

Still, I would have loved to find a cow for my friend’s sister.

Copyright © 2010 Ruth Rudner