Wednesday, February 1, 2012

...thoughts on edges and cows

Early eastern light reflected on coastal clouds, from the galley of FOREver AFTer

There were hints of sunrise on the rim of the sky, 
yet it was still dark, 
and the traces of morning color 
were like goldfish swimming in ink.  
Truman Capote, The Muses Are Heard: An Account

I met such a morning as this in June while on the boat.  Mug of tea in hand, I watched color morph into shape. The bright light of morning brought the details. So many dawns, each a promise. If the start of the day is a preface, then sunset is a punctuation mark, a counter of sorts. Ticked off another day. Reset button, please.

One particular thought has stirred - and recurred - in recent weeks: life on the edges. Especially as we drove up Highway 1 on Sunday, along the headlands of the northern California coast, then out to Point Reyes. Past herds of Tule elk, deer, and cows. Lots of milk cows, mostly Holsteins. I scanned the fields, looking for an elusive breed I encountered in Ireland. Right there, in the middle of a field, lo and behold, I saw them. Not milk cows but big, beefy critters. The breed’s markings fascinated me when I first encountered a herd on the way to Killarney: black, curly coats swathed with a wide white band around the mid-section. When I searched in 2007, I found nothing. Yesterday I typed "black cow with wh" and Google populated the search window with "black cow with white band around the middle". Oh, yes. Finally, I can assuage the doubts of all who thought I was hallucinating heifers. I have found my beloved Belted Galloways. The following description is from the nice people at Oklahoma State University (

Yes, sir, that's my baby...the Belted Galloway.
Gotta love a cow that knows how to accessorize.
[Galloways are] a very ancient [breed], with obscure origins shrouded in antiquity and its name derived from the word Gallovid or Gaul. The Gauls were the native inhabitants of the regality known as the Province of Galloway. This province once comprised six shires (counties) in the very southernmost extremity of Scotland's Lowlands. The cattle of the region were said to be dark, smooth-polled, wavy-haired with undercoats like beaver's fur and for centuries they went unnamed, referred to only as the black cattle of Galloway. From this coastal environment of winds and damp cold, combined with an undulating terrain of moors, granitic hills, heathery mountain ranges and fertile glens ... emerged the Galloway breed of cattle.

William McCombie, (pioneer Scottish Angus & Shorthorn breeder) said, "The Galloway undoubtedly has many great qualifications. On poor land they are unrivaled, on land so poor our Aberdeens could not subsist upon it. There is no other breed worth more by the pound weight than a first-class Galloway." "Galloway cattle are generally very docile," quotes William Youatt, (English researcher, scientist, veterinary surgeon, historian & standard writer on cattle in the early 1800s.) He goes on to say, "This is a most valuable point about them in every respect. It is rare to find even a bull furious or troublesome." Galloways are very courageous however, and if annoyed by dogs or wild animals, they will act in concert, by forming a crescent and jointly attacking. There are claims that one or two Galloways in a field of sheep prevent any danger from dogs.

There you have it. I celebrate the edge of day, the rim of night, much as I did my brand-new box of Crayolas and pristine Blue Horse notebook on the first day of school. Inside, the promise of a clean start, along with the allure of perfectionism’s seductive but deadly dance.  I dearly love sharp tips of color, clean paper with no pockmarks of last Monday’s theme pressed into the surface. But it was in dog-earred notebooks scribbled with dull nubs of crayon bits that I met my metier. And daily I find my mettle in life’s rocky fields, in the glare of harsh light, in the depth of dark moments.

When I land dead-center in the morass, when I long for edges and drama, I try to remember that I am a temple under construction. Like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, I am unfinished. What a generous man of faith, many architects do you know who would willingly, yea willfully, pass along an incomplete vision to unknown others? I daresay that far too many skyscrapers populate our cities, fully built and occupied, yet incomplete in both form and function. Would - or could - Capote have written as he did without the full realm of his experience?

And when I depart this earth, I will leave my incomplete human form, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Lessons yet unlearned. Promises dangling. Humility still not my strong suit. Yep, there I’ll be, trailing dust bunnies, not clouds of fitting.

I am drawn to beautiful, dramatic edges where land meets sea. And aware of life's approaching edge as well. Thank you for my green fields wherever they are, for those places I do not choose to visit but where my center is rooted. Here's to the indwelling.

Oh, my darling Belted Galloways, preach on. Not with words but with every plodding, docile step. Meek: powerful in submission to a master, peaceful. Whisper to me, remind me, "Over the next hill, Celeste, lies a coast, but this present spot is quite good, too." You're my people!


Jeannette said...

You were in my ( West Marin & Sonoma County) native terrain...and of courseI also recognize the spiritual terrain for the Master teaches these lessons to us ( over and again...yes) until that day....
but! not everyone who hears is able to show and tell with the grace with which you have shared here....

Celeste said...

Thank you, Jeannette. What a privilege to live here. I think the reason I blog lies in a desire to accept this season, all seasons, of life and put them into context. The dialogue greatly enriches me as does the letting go of so many false gods that kept me frozen.

Carole said...

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the picture of the Belted Galloway! They are my favourite breed of cattle. For much of 2010 we were contemplating going into farming with our eldest son who currently works in dairy farming, and his choice of beef cattle were the Belted Galloways for the quality of their meat and for their wonderfully docile nature. I quite fell in love with them! Sadly life has moved on and the farm enterprise will not come to fruition now, but my other encounter with these wonderful creatures was whilst away on retreat last summer. My morning walk took me past some fields and I was delighted to find that in one of them were a small herd of Belted Galloways. We would stand together and pass the time for a bit, they make wonderful listeners! Forgive me for by-passing the real message of your blog today, but I just had to tell you about our joint love of these beautiful beasts!

Celeste said...

Carole, I think we must be related!!! My Mom's family were from Ireland and Scotland. With the exception of my French great-great, my Dad's family came from England. Stricklands. Dad was in Bath the winter before the invasion. He always wanted to visit in peacetime but never made that journey. I hope to make that trip for him. Keep painting your word pictures of Yorkshire. Maybe we can collaborate on a blog post some day. I am so glad that we have connected. Blessings, my dear!