Life, as I remember it, has always been fleeting. And although I have always been curious about its subtle nuances, I never questioned its transitory nature. Things go by so quickly, and I’ve always experienced them like, well, that was that, on to the next thing. As if I wanted things to be ever new, as if I wanted more experiences, faster and faster. I never really logged any particular thing into my memory, so to speak. Until one day, when life threw something at me that really halted me, that really gave me bearings. Let me tell you, when you experience something like this, you don’t know what’s happening, but you sure get a sense of purpose, of meaning running through you. Then, life can just take over, and drive you for a while, so to speak.
I was never a good singer but I always seem to hear the things that others don’t. I mean, I go by ear. I judge things by the sound of them. And when you do that, everything is fresh and new every time. Because nothing ever sounds exactly the same. In this way, I learn more about things; I learn the subtle nuances, the differences behind appearances. Life is a symphony that plays out absolutely spontaneously, and yet, without a note ever being out of place. Until that one day. That day, I heard a sound so out of tune with everything that I had ever heard – I had never heard anything like it. It was a horrible sound, maybe a bit like a thousand motor horns honking all at once, but then again, really nothing like that at all. This awful sound just – it just captured me. It was so intense and powerful that everything, all things just seemed to, well, stop. There was only this sound. And it also made me, well, stop. It halted me, it held me up, and drew me to it. And as I looked around, I could see that the sound was coming from a herd of cows. Now, I had heard cows before, and I know that they can make some noise. But this time, they were just screaming frantically, I could just hear the panic in their voices; even their typical low register sounded squealish, broken, stuttering; like how children run up to you to tell you something terrible that they saw but they are just speaking too fast to make sense; like someone who is in immediate danger and is trying to cry for help in just a split second when they actually have a whole second or two, but they don’t really calculate and try as fast as possible which is too fast, so that not one audible word comes out, and when they try again, the same… But what really drew me to this awful screaming was that I thought I actually could make out words in it, distinct words that I could hear! It was like they were all screaming “oh no, oh no” over and over again. I couldn’t believe it, but as I listened closely, this was actually what they were screaming! I felt that I should help them, and so I got over there. I got over there, grabbed on to a fence, and then I did something that really didn’t make sense, or it shouldn’t have: I asked them “what’s wrong.” But none of them answered, they didn’t seem to notice me, and so I asked them again and again but louder, ever louder, and that still didn’t help – until one of them saw me. It stared me right in the face, standing there, like frozen, too afraid to do anything anymore. And I looked right into its eyes, and very, very – most deliberately I addressed this one particular being, that I had locked eyes with so intensely, and to break the paralyzing panic and chaos of the situation I very slowly yet very loudly threw my words at it: “WWHAAATT’SS WWWRROOOONNGG!!” I must have sounded like a crow in slow-motion playback. I have a shrieky voice. Yet in this one frozen moment, that seemed like it could last as long as it would need to, to my great relief and utter surprise, the cow answered: “I don’t know…” And then the herd of cows pushed it along, breaking contact, shattering this seemingly infinite moment and reestablishing the normal flow of time. It left me still for just a second, but I fully realized what had just happened: I had actually, really, verbally communicated with this other being, that I from then on could no longer see as a “cow” – not only had I looked it straight in the eyes and had it looked right back at me, we had also actually exchanged meaning, meaning. I felt like I had stepped through a mirror, looking back at a dull reflection that I had once called reality, but then I moved forward, exhilarated by the sense of purpose that had formed in this event: I could find out what was wrong, and communicate this to these fellow beings! And so I shot up, and dashed ahead to were the cows were moving. I flew into the building that they were led into by humans, where I only caught a glimpse of what was going on – it, I… I will not attempt to describe it – I turned around as quickly as I could, fled back to the fence outside, where I had stood, as if hoping that if I went back to where I had just been, things would go back to how they had been. But, of course, they didn’t. I could not un-see what I had seen, let alone undo it, or even influence it, I was completely powerless. This house, I had indelibly learned, is where humans kill cows. And it all fell into place: humans eat anything, I’ve seen them, but this is why they do not hunt the cows in the fields, but herd them – not just to keep the meadows nicely maintained, no, to eat them! I was panting frantically. And as I sat there, so close again to these panicking cows, I wanted to say something, if I could only catch my breath, but when I looked at them again, and as they now also noticed me, I could see in their eyes that my distress only mirrored their state of panick and despair, and I fled.
I just cried. Silently, bitterly cried. I could not believe what had happened. I had always had an ear for things. And I had always found that this enriched my world. Not acting merely on impulse, jittering away at any unfamiliar sound, but listening, listening closely for as long as I dared, exploring things not merely with my eyes, but hearing, discriminating things around me by any unique chord that the events may strike. Fearlessly, as my peers would say, I had pierced appearances of indescribable phenomena, just by distinguishing the subtlest sounds that they bring forth. Curious and ever curiouser for the ever new instruments and compositions that seemed to poor out of reality. And then this incredible new and intense crying of the cows. I just felt drawn to it, like a fly to fire. I wanted to help. And, indeed, my curiosity and compassion did unlock a new and unimaginable aspect of the world – no, in fact, it broke the mold. I spoke with a cow! Only to find out something that I dared not speak of, not to those cows at least! How could I presume to speak to them? It would be like speaking to a worm that I would eat – hello, how are you doing, you’re as good as dead! But then I thought: what am I talking about! I just need to grasp this. What’s going on? What did that cow say to me again – “I don’t know.” That was it. They were all screaming and crying and they didn’t know what for! They’re being led to their death and they don’t even know it! That is… quite astounding. How could they not know? And what, then, do they know, to be in such a state of panic? Or is it just a blind mass-hysteria? But what causes it? Think! I was in the building. I saw, I – I don’t exactly know what I saw, but what did I hear? There… there wasn’t much noise inside, the cows didn’t really scream as much – well, actually, they did! Yes, I remember it now, I remember it very clearly! I was in and out very quickly, but I distinctly heard at least one of the cows inside scream: “NO!” Yes, it was a very loud and prolonged scream, “no!” And the cows outside just cried “oh no, oh no.” That was all… that was it! And just this one cow, in a frozen moment, said “I don’t know” to me. That was all the cows ever said.
And then, as I calmed down and realized all this, I knew what I should do. I should not go back to that house of death. There is nothing I can do there. But cows around the world lead such languid, seemingly contented lives – I now know why! Their protectors, who allow them their lush and lazy existence, are in fact their predators – and the cows do not know this! Not a moment in the extended lethargy that is their life do they feel threatened or preyed upon, while all along they are herded to their death by their very predator. But surely, if they knew this, they would see the humans for what they are, and they would not let humans herd them any longer. If only they knew – but I could tell them! I do not migrate like some, to be sure, but for this purpose I would cross the world, to bring all cows this knowledge, that could free them. And although I do not fly like some, I’m sure that I could reach the continents if I tried, to spread this message.
Yes, I was quite determined. I would start this revolution for the cows. And so I set out to the nearest field of cows that I could think of, not a doubt in my mind that I could speak with cows – I had established that, there was no way I had hallucinated. It did not take me long, I had my bearings, and I alighted in a beautiful green field, full of fresh grass and dandelions, some butterflies even. It was a wonderful spring day, almost summer, if there is such a thing in this country. There were some thirty cows in this field, and I approached the one nearest to me. It was chewing. I hopped up to it, and very casually gave it a “hello” greeting. The cow did look down at me, then looked around, and continued chewing. I felt ignored. Had this cow not heard me? Had I lost my power to speak with cows? But it was not a power; it was, in hindsight, nothing special at all – it was something that I had never tried or thought possible, but was just simply the case: cows can talk, they can talk to me, and I to them. So, if that is true, and I know that it is, why, then, does this cow ignore me? Half annoyed I hopped a bit to the side, back into the cow’s field of vision. “Hello, you,” I said to it, just a bit louder this time. The cow looked at me, and chewed. It was a hypnotizing kind of chew – I had never noticed how cows chew before. Now, it just kept looking at me and kept chewing. This was getting really awkward. For a moment, I felt like I was going crazy. I know cows talk, and I can speak with them! Then, I thought to look to the other cows, I don’t exactly know why – for support, I guess. You know the feeling when you’ve just told someone a joke, and they just give you a blank stare, no response, as if they’ve missed the punchline, and you look to others for support? “Come on, you get it, don’t you? That was funny, right?” I felt just like that. But when I looked at the other cows, I noticed something about them. In a field of thirty or so cows, none of them were talking. They were all just standing around, chewing, or staring, or both. Some swatted the flies off their back with their tail, seemingly involuntarily, a reflex that they didn’t even notice themselves. But no talking. Then I looked back at this cow in front of me. “You don’t talk much, do you?” I said to it. It sighed. It turned its head and gave me a big, disinterested sigh through its nostrils. In fact, it wasn’t even disinterested, it was much like that swatting business with the tail: seemingly involuntary, unintended, routine. But then, the cow swallowed, turned its head to me again, and said: “To say what?”
That’s right, that’s what the cow said. “To say what.” With that moany, grumping voice of theirs. To say what. How Zen is that?! “You mean to tell me that all you do, all day, is just stand, lie, chew and stare? No communication at all? How the fuck have you ever learned to speak in the first place?” I didn’t say all that, then. But the cow could have read it off my face, had it bothered. Then, one of the other cows, at the other end of the field, mooed – no, it sort of shouted, and I could clearly hear: “Rain’s coming.” And the cow in front of me, as a reaction to that, lay down, and repeated to me: “rain’s coming.” Rain is coming. As if I needed to be told that. And besides, the sky was clear as could be, not a cloud about – rain? So I asked the cow, in complete disbelief, and somewhat irritated: “how the hell would you know that.” And the cow, quite matter-of-factly, said: “smell it.” Now, I don’t really smell. I mean, I can, sort of, but it’s not something that I practice. It’s not something I use, unless I’ve got something in my beak. So, I couldn’t really verify what the cow was talking about. And that got me even more annoyed, a bit angry, to be honest. Here I am, on a holy mission to save the cows from human predation, stuck in a debate on weather forecasting. It was frustrating. But I didn’t falter! I just shook it off, looked the cow in the eyes, and said: “Now look here, I’ve come a long way to tell you something terribly important. Earlier today I saw a group of cows being herded into a house, by humans. Those cows were all very upset and very scared. So, I went into the house and I saw the most horrible thing that I had ever seen: the humans were killing the cows. Yes, killing them, killing them one by one. Now, I know that this may be hard to believe, the way they keep you and all, but think about it: humans eat just about anything, right? I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a human eat, but I have, and they eat meat, among other things. Now, I didn’t know what meat that was, until now: it’s your meat. Yes, they eat cows. I know, I never thought of it either – I just thought that they were keeping you around for whatever reason, like they keep dogs, you know? But they don’t, it’s to eat you. Are you listening to me? They eat you!” Then I paused. The cow was just staring at me, and, like before, I didn’t know if it had heard me or what. I think that I was kind of getting used to the fact that this is just their way, the blank stare, and so it didn’t phase me quite so much as it did at first, but I had been talking for quite a bit, and now I just really liked to have some sort of reaction, acknowledgement, anything. But no, just the blank stare. “They eat you!” I reiterated, quite firmly. “Humans like milk,” the cow finally yet uncomprehendingly replied. “Milk? What are you talking about?” I said. “They eat our milk,” the cow said. I did not know that. “What, your milk? Aren’t they mammals as well?” The cow gave me another blank stare and, magically, started chewing again. I hadn’t seen it taking a bite of grass or anything. At first, I decided to ignore the chewing – apparently it happens to them on regular intervals, food or no food. But then, I had to ask: “what are you chewing?” The cow said: “food.” I let it go. I can’t take two complete mysteries and simultaneously try to work them out. I went for the one that seemed more important, in the context of my mission with the cows. I tried to imagine why on earth humans would eat cow milk. They have their own milk, don’t they? And how would they have come up with the idea to eat cow milk? “What’s good for the calf, that’s good for us,” or what? How do you come up with that? Like, they saw a calf drink from its mother, and that looked tasty to them? Humans. But what does it matter anyway, so what if they milk them for a while before they kill them, all the worse for it! I had to focus on the message that I had come to deliver. Apparently, it hadn’t come across yet. “Listen,” I said, “that doesn’t even matter! I didn’t know that they liked your milk, but I do know that they like your meat, and that they are going to kill you for it! So what if they milk you first – they eat your meat, that’s what they do!” At this time, the cow started to look a bit annoyed. It looked around as if it was being bothered by a fly, buzzing around its head – but there was no fly, just me – a mental fly, if you will. And, apparently, cows don’t deal well with mental flies. All of a sudden, it shot up, then just stood there for a few seconds, looking around, and then walked off.
I’ve never been so angry at a cow in my life. I mean, what the fuck. I really didn’t know what to do now, and so I just looked at the cow, completely baffled. The cow walked into the herd. It walked up to another cow, seemed to walk past it, but then stood next to it for a while. I thought they were going to sniff eachother’s arse, what with their excellent sense of smell and all, but they didn’t: they both looked back to look eachother in the eye and seemed to be talking for a moment. Then, the cow came walking back to me. I had calmed down a bit. The cow came up to me, and lay back down. “You see her?” The cow asked me, pointing its head to the cow that it had just talked with. “Yes,” I said. “She just came in from a big car, some day ago. She’s been with more humans than any of us. She says the humans don’t eat us, because if they did, they couldn’t eat our milk.” I was livid. Apparently, the cow had understood perfectly well what I had said, but just didn’t believe me! As if I would lie about such a thing! I come here, on my most holy quest, the salvation of cows, to save them from industrial predation, from mass-slaughter, and this cow just – just… dismisses me! I could not control myself, and started raging: “I saw them! They were pushing cows into a big fucking house, where they drove a big iron bar into their big fucking heads, I saw it with my own fucking eyes!” It was, like, I couldn’t get through, and so I started shouting and swearing, as if to violently break down the wall of ignorance, that seemed to stand between me and the salvation of the cows. But all I did was startle the cow. Imagine that: me, such a small creature in comparison, startling a cow, like a snake in the grass shooting venom. I heard myself chirp. I sounded like a referee’s whistle, you know, from human sports games. I was never a good singer.
I don’t know, I kind of lost it then, I guess. The cow jumped up and backed away from me, looking at me like I was the one with the problem, then turned around and walked back to the herd. I found myself fuming and hopping and flapping my wings like a wound-up toy that was set off in the grass, jerking around for no apparent reason. Then it all just, sort of, disintegrated – all the sounds around me, I tried to focus, shaking my head like I was shaking off flies or something, and I just couldn’t bear it any longer, I just couldn’t stay in one place for too long, I felt restless, unsafe, and I suddenly also knew why. I could hear it coming from afar, the sort of breeze that I know all too well: fucking rain. Would you believe it. I had to take off. And I did. I fled.
I don’t remember much after that. It’s as if I’ve been fleeing ever since, nervous, jittery, as is, in the end, my nature. It is only now, talking to you, that I realize what focus I had mustered in those events. To grab a hold of something incredible, something incredibly important, and to stay my attention with it for so long. I guess I’m too old now to ever muster such a feat again. Too tired. How would you know what really matters, anyway?