One of the defining characteristics of reading or writing fiction, at least in the vast majority of cases, is the strange intimacy that can be fostered between the reader or writer and a character. To experience another person's thoughts, words, and reactions with, and to some extent within them, is a feat which other mediums can skirt, but which none can achieve as fully as fiction.
I often consider this when I think about our animals. It is one thing to attempt to relate to a human - real or imagined - on this level. But to attempt it with an animal seems like a fool's errand. What could it ever really be besides hokum? Wouldn't the act of transferring a creature's thoughts into human language wholly debase them? In part this opinion may have been shaped by a novel titled "Rat," written by Andrzej Zaniewski, read by me as a freshman in college. It attempted just this - to describe the life and times of a rat, from a rat's perspective. In it the rat travels far and wide, doing ratty things. In my dealings with them, rats do not appear to have particularly rich interior lives, and Zaniewski seems to agree with my assessment. If memory serves [spoiler alert] there is an ambiguous hint of self-awareness in the final chapter, but for all the potential symbolic interpretations of the novel, it's pretty rough reading.
Whether this formative experience put me off of it, or whether I simply lack the imagination to bridge the interspecies gulf, I have never felt qualified to attempt to write something from the perspective of our livestock, despite the time I spend pondering how they view the world. So imagine my surprise when I found, tucked behind a hay bale in the barn, a few pages of a diary. I did not write it. Alanna did not write it. Yet it referenced events of the past few days. As impossible as it seems, the entries must have been made by a resident of the barn. When I looked over the pages, put down in a surprisingly tidy cursive hand, I realized that I would never think of barnyard animals with the prejudices I had previously held towards them. I searched for more of the diary, since it seemed to be a work in progress, but found no more pages, though I do not doubt they exist. I offer this transcription of these scant entries in the hopes that they will broaden the minds of all who read them.
Feb. 20th - The tall one came in this morning, like he does every day, but then he opened the other door, and a whole bunch of other cows came in. The tall one rearranged a bunch of gates (I swear, sometimes it seems like this is all he does) and the other cows came into our section of the barn. They'd been away for months, so I was excited to see most of them, even though a couple of the older cows used to pick on me, but it was soon clear that little had changed. Everyone really only cares about who's dominant and who gets to be first in line to the hay feeder. Even Mystery, who I used to be really close with, kept head butting Sable in the ribs. I understand doing it once or twice to establish hierarchy, but after that it's like, 'Okay, you've made your point, can we please give it a rest now?' But this evening I did have a nice talk with her about 'Inception,' which I finally saw last week. She didn't like the ending, but I thought it totally made sense.
Feb 21st - The tall one gave us a new bale today. It was a little better than the last one, but with all the extra cows in the barn, I basically had to wait until lunch to have my breakfast. I've got horns and the other cows don't, so I could push them around if I wanted to, but I'm not going to be a jerk just because everyone else is. The calves had to wait outside with me, and even though they're really nice, they aren't much for conversation yet. They still spend about half their time frisking about like they were still two month olds, even though they're closer to a year. Grow up already.
This afternoon the tall one came back and separated us into groups. He is SO ANNOYING! It's like, I understand that it would be too crowded if we all stayed here in the barn, and yes, it probably is past time for the calves to be weaned, but you can't expect us to be happy about dividing us up when we've just got back together. Also, it's totally unfair that he can touch the fence and not mind, but whenever I do it hurts like the blazes. Maybe his boots keep him from grounding. I'll have to think about it more.
Feb 22nd - The tall one gave us a bale of good hay. I love him! So that was a good start to the day, but things went downhill from there. I generally try to be a calm cow. 'When something angers you, look within yourself and breath before speaking a word.' That's what my yoga instructor always says, and even though I haven't taken a class since I completely tore up my hip flexor doing Warrior 3 last year, I still think of those words all the time, and I try to live by them. But whenever the chickens come into the barn, I totally flip my lid. It's not just that I'm shocked (and yes, a little disgusted) by what Werner Herzog termed as "the enormity of [their] stupidity," it's also that they're so close to the ground and quick, I can barely see them when they're underfoot. And this afternoon when I was bedding down to ruminate I felt something crunch against my stomach. I didn't even need to stand up to know I'd lain on an egg, and there's no way to get that out of my winter coat. I haven't yet, but I'll get one of those buggers on my horns soon, and then we'll see who's clucking.
Feb. 23rd - The shorter one gave us a bale of good hay. I love her so much. Sable and Juno and Gonzo came down yesterday, but today it was just Gonzo. The calves don't seem to mind, and I was getting tired of their mooing, so it's fine by me. But Gonzo somehow went through the fence, so he's back, at least for the time being. He's too small to be really pushy, but I still wish he would go back up where he's meant to be.
Feb. 24th - The good news is that Mystery got to stay down here with me. She's seeming more and more like herself every day, even though she did mount me for no reason at all this morning. The bad news is that Vona also got to stay. I've met Kerries like her before, and they are the worst. She thinks because her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents came from Ireland, she should wear a crown of shamrocks and prance around like the queen of the Emerald Isle. Sometimes she speaks with a put-on accent, which is frankly embarrassing, and she spends so much time humming 'Danny Boy' that I'm going to lose it if I hear it one more time. Worst of all, it's completely rubbing off on Gonzo, who's constantly talking about Guinness and how much better Guinness is in the 'motherland' and how he'll go there once he's old enough. I just refuse to engage. It's pathetic. He'll probably party and end up putting a hole in the fence on St. Patty's day. I hope he's out of the barn by then.
Feb. 25th - I CANNOT wait for the growing season to start up again. Sure, it's more work to graze, but the food is so much better, and at least it's something to do. Vona is completely insufferable. The tall one was listening to Sports Talk Radio while he was working on something or other, and I don't care about sports AT ALL, especially not basketball, but I still spent an hour listening. Even I have to admit that Jeremy Lin is a pretty compelling story, but I'd really rather be outside plowing through a foot of clover and orchard grass.
Feb. 26th - I'm thinking maybe I should assert my authority. Sure, I'm a little small, but I do have horns, and now that Juno's gone, someone has to fill the void. I could be a way better boss cow than Juno ever was. I mean, we all like food, but she ONLY liked food. I could lick any cows face, and they would usually lick mine in return - it's just common courtesy - but try to go near Juno and she'd be all, 'Do you have better food than what I'm eating? Do you know where better food is? No? Okay, I'm going to head butt you.' It was pathetic. It worked, but everyone hated her. I think I could be a much better leader. First order of business: no references to Ireland. Just kidding. But Vona and Gonzo are the worst. Anyways, I should eat something and ruminate for a few hours. Mystery and I are planning on attending a poetry slam down in Oneonta. I know it's going to be terrible, just a bunch of skinny kids in dumb glasses spouting off whatever asinine rhymes come to mind, and there'll be nothing good to eat, so I'll end up putting down a whole plate of cookies, but at least it's something to do. Here comes the shorter one. Hopefully she'll give us some good hay.