Following on from the previous post about cows and cowmen of a century ago, this account is not just a charming one about an old man who is clearly at ease with his animals and, though clearly poor and not well travelled, seems to be a genuinely contented man. But in his behaviour with the cows, he reminds me of some of the married couples I have met, and the nature of animal communication. The man keeps calling to the cows even though he knows they ignore him. How many couples are there where one person talks a lot whilst the other ignores them? It is often the housewife who has lots to say, whilst her husband has his nose in his newspaper. At first this seems to be a real imbalance, of rudeness by one or both of them, but it is more that she needs to say things and he is tired from work and really isn’t interested, and yet there is no animosity here – there seems to be an unspoken agreement on their apparently contradictory behaviour. Just as the cowman seems to need to shout at the cows, and they choose to ignore him.
This is from W H Hudson’s ‘Afoot In England’
“Walking one afternoon by a high unkept hedge near Southampton Water, I heard loud shouts at intervals issuing from a point some distance ahead, and on arriving at the spot found an old man leaning idly over a gate apparently concerned about nothing. ‘What are you shouting about?’ I demanded. ‘Cows.’ He answered, with a glance across the wide green field dotted with a few bit furze and bramble bushes. On its far side half a dozen cows were quietly grazing. ‘They came fast enough when I was a-feeding of ‘em’, he presently added; ‘but now they has to fend for theirselves they don’t care how long they keeps me.’ I was going to suggest that it would be a considerable saving of time if he went for them, but his air of lazy contentment as he leant on the gate showed that time was of no importance to him. He was a curious-looking old man, in old frayed clothes, broken boots, and a cap too small for him. He had short legs, broad chest, and long arms, and a very big head, long and horselike, with a large shapeless nose and grizzled beard and moustache. His ears, too, were enormous, and stood out from the head like the handles of a rudely shaped terra-cotta vase of jar. The colour of his face, the ears included, suggested burnt clay. But though Nature had made him ugly, he had an agreeable expression, a sweet benign look in his dark eyes, which attracted me, and I stayed to talk with him.
It has frequently been said that those who are much with cows, and have affection for them, appear to catch something of their expression – to look like cows; just as persons of sympathetic or responsive nature, and great mobility of face, grow to be like those they live and are in sympathy with. The cowman who looks like a cow, ay be more bovine than his fellows in his heavier motions and slower apprehension, but he also exhibits some of the better qualities – the repose and placidity of the animal.
He said he was over 70, and had spent the whole of his life in the neighbourhood, mostly with cows, and had never been more than a dozen miles from the spot where we were standing. At intervals while we talked he paused to utter one of his long shouts, to which the cows paid no attention. At length one of his beasts raised her head and had a long look, then slowly crossed the field to us, the others following at some distance. They were shorthorns, all but the leader, a beautiful young Devon, of a uniform glossy red; but the silky hair on the distended udder was of an intense chestnut, and all the parts that were not clothed were red too – the teats, the skin around the eyes, the moist embossed nose; while the hoofs were like polished red pebbles, and even the shapely horns were tinged with that colour. Walking straight up to the old man, she began deliberately licking one of his ears with her big rough tongue, and in doing so knocked off his old rakish cap. Picking it up, he laughed like a child, and remarked, ‘she knows me , this one – and she loikes me.’”