In a recent interview with The New York Times, US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who grew up in the Bronx, noted that her childhood was so urban that she was “known to confuse cows for horses” when she arrived at college.
Don’t get me wrong. I admire Justice Sotomayor. But this really strains credibility. It’s hard to believe a wise Latina with the wits to escape the projects and the smarts to go to Princeton managed to get her diploma without being able to identify the farmyard friends. Sure, toddlers today may be lords of Farmville, but even in Ms. Sotomayor’s day, there wasn’t a kindergarten in the country where kids didn’t become masters of Old MacDonald’s Farm.
Seriously, until we were presented with scalpels and a frozen porker of the fetal variety for dissection in high school Biology class, I had never met a genuine pig in the flesh. Still, I had seen the Three Little Pigs illustrated in my Little Golden Story Book. I had seen Arnold on Green Acres. Piglet! Porky Pig! Miss Piggy! Pigs were everywhere. I would know a pig if I saw one. Come on, Madame Justice!
Not sure how Justice Sotomayor finally came to get acquainted with the cows and horses of New Jersey, but it would take relocation to California before I got up close and personal with living and breathing livestock. (Livestock is what they call the animals that humans work, shear, milk, and eat.)
So one day my boss invites me to see his horses. The equines lived at a kennel, a short drive up the nearby hills. I wondered if this was how the people “out west” demonstrate their status. By showing you their horses. Like the way people in New York exhibit their Rothko paintings or the way people in Boston display their Mayflower genealogy.
Anyway, it scared me a little, being so near to such large animals. The horses were kept in these booths with only their heads and shoulders sticking out. It seemed they would not be able to charge our bodies but could easily chomp our arms. Even so, I petted the horses and fed them some carrots and returned home with both hands and all ten fingers.
The bovine encounter came just a few weeks later. Me and the ex-man were taking a hike in some other nearby hills. (There are a lot of nearby hills in California.) When you visit a natural habitat here, there are signs warning you to watch out for mountain lions and their various cousins. They make no mention of cows.
Unbeknownst to us, however, the state has this program where they let the farmers graze their cattle on protected park land. And this is how it happened that there were three cows standing in the middle of the trail. (Trail is what they call the sidewalk when there is dirt instead of concrete.) I froze dead in my tracks, afraid to approach the ferocious beasts.
The ex-man insisted cows were quite gentle; we could walk around them. I was sure the cattle would think we were predators; they would surely stampede if we got too close. He said they were lazy; we could outrun them. But with three XXL-size cows and only two 40th percentile-size humans, I didn’t like the odds. But what I liked even less was the smell of the manure and so we made our maneuvers to safety.
I’ve long since become accustomed to seeing horses and cows in the distance but when it comes to close encounters of the animal kind, I’m sticking with the small fluffy dogs that like to nap on my lap.
© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.