*Alternative title: Send in the cows
Subtitle: In which Atticus meets a cow for the first time
By our home in the southeast corner of Brussels was a great forest, filled with trails that made for unending possibilities for wandering beneath enormous beech trees. The forest—called Forêt de Soignes in French and Sonian Wood in English—was a magical place, and I spent many hours walking there with my big white husky, Atticus. It will (I hope) always be a magical place, it just feels quite far away at the moment.
Our new home just beyond the Belgian border in the small farming community of Bailleul does not have a magical forest. There is but one trail a few steps away (à deux pattes [in two steps], as I have heard people in Belgium say in French). It is a lovely trail. When we first arrived in Bailleul, the sun shone bright every day, and the shade from the many willow and other deciduous trees that line the trail was a welcome respite from the near constant exposure when out walking around the open space around our house. We are bordered by farm fields on three sides and a narrow road on the other. Walking has become an entirely new experience. Without sidewalks, tticus and I stay close to the edge of the road. I am ever vigilant of the many vehicles, which often pass by far too close for comfort and at what feel like alarmingly fast speed.
I have a near constant need for movement. And so, even in the midst of a heat wave (une canicule en français), Atticus and I found ourselves wandering the one trail we have discovered by our house.
In the heat, the narrow footpath composed of dry, cracked earth that reminded me of eastern Washington and Arizona wended its way between farm fields. I let Atticus off his leash. This was how we spent our mornings in the Sonian Wood, so why not create an echo of a familiar experience in this as yet unfamiliar place. I did not anticipate what would happen when we rounded a corner and Atticus came face to face with a new species of beast.
I was blissfully watching a majestic willow tree and thinking of my own beloved willow friend in our old neighborhood, which I had only recently visited and taken a photo with before we moved. So it was a slow, surreal unfolding to watch my dog dive underneath the barbed wire fence and disappear across the field to my right. I ran down the trail, only to see him, already having navigated the space beneath two large, iron gates and across the trail between them, running full tilt toward what appeared to be a large cow, and a male at that. I watched, with an uncanny sense of the unreal, as he chased said cow across another field. They must have run through the large culvert that ran underneath the trail I had just been blissfully standing upon because soon they were moving quickly across the first field and toward the entire herd of cattle in the distance.
I watched in slow motion, feeling the entire situation in the hands of the universe, as what had been a domesticated canine transformed in front of my eyes into a being of old, engaging in a wolfish dance with the bovine. He cantered. He sashayed. His movements were nimble and full of grace.
Shaken out of my reverie, I began to follow the trail, hoping he might return. He was well out of shouting distance, though that had not stopped me from screaming his name until I my voice could withstand the strain no longer.
It was with immense relief that I saw a swoosh of white and a familiar body crawl back underneath the barbed wire to collapse, panting with intense force, by my feet. My dog was alive, untrampled by hooved feet. I sensed not a speck of remorse radiating from his being. There was only the sense of joy from discovery. He lay at my feet, panting with his entire body. He even seemed to be smiling, but perhaps that was my own anthropomorphizing.
Since that moment, I have let him off leash only a couple of times and then when out of sight and smell range of our bovine neighbors. And we have far more bovine than human neighbors at present.
Having done extensive training with the many horses that graced the trails criss-crossing the Sonian Wood, I simply did not see predict this deranged enrapture with cows. As a human, I would think cows would be that much less interesting than horses. But for a canine with a heightened sense of smell this must be heaven on earth.
When the sun shines, our corner of Bailleul is a little piece of paradise. We have spent many hours winding our way around farm fields, Atticus pulling me ever forward toward the next bovine. While I tug, scold, swear, and sometimes scream in exasperation, Atticus brims with anticipation, radiating with his entire body the tremendous joy of meeting each new animal.
Now the cows come to visit when we stop by a barbed wire barried. Just the other day, they came bumbling up the hill behind us, lowing greetings to this white wanderer. Certainly, I do not think they have any interest in me. But noses have been touched between species and a bond is being built.
Perhaps, as with the famous line of old, This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.