Meditations With Cows: What I’ve Learned From Daisy, The Dairy Cow Who Changed My Life, by Shreve Stockton
In reading this book I felt a strong degree of ambivalence towards the author. On the one hand, there is much to praise about the author’s approach to animals and her realization of the personality that cows have and her ability to intuitively relate to and deal thoughtfully with animals who are mistakenly thought to be stupid. Yet while this is a major point in her favor, not least because her ability to reflect upon the personality and spirit of cows makes her a kindred soul to my own father in at least that respect. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel as if she comes to her love of simplicity for the wrong reasons. This is not a book that really flatters the author as a judge of character–she whines too much, criticizes people for being white despite being every bit as much of a whitey as I am or anyone else is, and generally shows herself as one of those unattractive hippy types with plenty of leftist self-righteousness combined with an unfortunate lack of self-awareness. It is all too common that the self-righteousness of leftists, especially those who (like this author) spend their time railing against commercial practices while engaging in them at the same time cannot exist without a high tolerance for their own hypocrisy and a low tolerance for self-examination.
This book is about 250 pages long and is divided into three parts and eleven chapters. The first part of the book discusses the author’s own attempts to belong in rural Wyoming, by no means an easy thing to do with chapters on becoming family (1), harmony and hope (2), communicating with cattle (3), and belonging to a place (4). This is followed by a second part of the book, which contains chapters on the author’s thoughts about using nature as a model (5), dealing with issues of conflict and tension (6), and looking at the issue of the culture of agriculture (7). The third and final part of the book contains chapters that discuss the uncertain faith of the author in herself when she does her laundry and misses the death of one of her beloved cows (8), deals with the ritual work of taking care of animals (9), thinks about her cows as lucky and privileged (10), and reflects on her meditations with cows (11), after which there are acknowledgements and references to close the book.
By and large, though, the author reveals herself to be a complicated person, and her relations with her animals is similarly complicated. Having not read her previous book about her relationship with a coyote that she adopted and spectacularly failed to raise in such a manner that it was safe to release into the wild, there is at least some context for this book that I am missing. That said, the author simultaneously appears to cultivate and shun publicity, giving out enough information that someone may find her out, especially thanks to the helpfulness of her neighbors, while at the same time upset that people would seek her out without calling her first to set up an appointment, even as she brags about her nontraditional work hours that leave her plenty of time to snuggle with cows. The author’s solution to this, seeking to spend more time in the remote mountains where she would be more difficult to track down, does appear to be good for her peace of mind but bad for her blogging. One of the more interesting aspects of this book, and one that reflects on the author’s overall lack of self-knowledge, is the way that the author’s ambivalence towards so much encourages the reader to feel ambivalent towards her, as she is likely to draw ambivalence both from the right and from the left.