“The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every fowl of the air; upon all that moveth upon the earth and upon all the fishes of the sea. Into your hands they are delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you. " (Genesis IX 2-3)
Remembering desiring imagining feeling: how deeply is one seen as self-deceived?
Of mute creatures confined in hide and flesh to moo and bellow, low and moan; one outstanding for scruffiness, another for proud command, for warmth and tenderness, for kindness, for a strange scent, for japery or unsociable waywardness, for sudden rage:
What record is there of their herded passing, what tale of traversal on the soil? What voice can tell off the various ways in which one loved and was loved, one knew and was known?
Loved perhaps for many reasons, but lives brought forth, nurtured and sustained for the rich red meat to be stripped from their great frames and for the hides that cover them: these to be scoured and tanned to remove the tufty fur which so resembles the stubble ground of harvest fields where these same cattle once grazed.
Patient and enduring, nuzzling slowly, sociable with their dense drizzling noses, herded hither and thither as the convenience of the little killer-men dictate, so to wander in groups gathering and dispersing, each impressive volume on broad hooved feet, miring up the hock, sinking firmly in the mud then ambling slowly to higher ground, a particular tuft of straw perceived dimply through white-lashed eye; Up to where the red-gold sun warms through the thick hide, wandering ponderously up to there with grunt and moo and sidewise nudge of herd-mate, strange old friend. And on the crest of the rise, a cooling breeze, cool of evening bring acrid scent of plop and sweet of still warm grass and buzz of blowing fly. Forbearing in these modest happinesses which great bulk and time afford. And pleasantly ignorant of prod and truck and chute and electrode and of knife which shall end in a moment of overwhelming knowingness an idyll on the land.
A long social history of them who stretch existence in this slow way of idle days, unknowing servitude but obedient to the longer strand of time which is measured by winter hay on hard ground and by tender grasses returning, measured by time in thee winds and rain on broad fields and in the crowded dark of barns, lowering in the comfortable warmth of fellowness. There high in the dark eaves live the flickering swallows dim above them, darting down and near them, a trivial enigma, uninteresting omen.
Though no longer to kick up heels, no longer to flip and flap and roll in clover, nor nudge up close to the great beloved warmth and delve beneath it, there in the best of dark to suck and taste the smooth sweet white flow of sustenance, of milk and love. Gravid now, ponderous and slow-moving, ruminant, measuring in time and slow herd drift the distances between the broad rolling earth and the flocks of pinkish clouds drifting likewise in the sky. Vast satisfaction there in the heavy factuality of that.
But looking to the eye screwing sky-ward in the socket, head slinging back and up, when fear like a cork-screw shall twist out placid sense. What, in warmth was so pleasantly enjoyed: green sour chewing cud or squish in hoof-wide ponds while wandering through rain which dripped off matted flanks, what can prepare for the onslaught of horror impossible to resist, that splits the skull in two like an axe-edge crashing down between the eyes.
If there is a wind that can take from the body its spirit, does it carry the metal-sharp imminent scent flashing down at them and bring terrible shock to their patient gentle days that have never known its like? Then suddenly aware of all this rolling time as a cruel deception, masking the sordid brutal nature lying on the far side of the enclosed fences where their wanderings stopped. Does this sudden knowing kill as surely as the night to follow?
Sense merged so deeply in this monumental meat and bone, slow to move in this frame adapted to al life of lengthy increase, perambulating interest, disgruntlement and occasional bumbling panic; all life as if there were a measure according to that pace, assumed at the end a certain visionary quality even as it is stripped away.
As if all those afternoons in sun and those morning plodding through mist leaving hoof-prints in the dew, those warm, earth-bound smells of fellowship in the cold of darkest night, all stop. They hover as if there had been a meaning which does not apply to present circumstances. All are now the view of Paradise seen from Hell, blinding in their unity.
When I was living next door to the wonderful artist and photographer, Liza Matthews, she was taking many photos of cattle in the nearby pastures. I wrote this to accompany a portfolio of those pictures.
Which leads to:
Couperin: Lecon de Tenebres 3