Cow-ncil of Elders

A few weeks ago I helped some friends move their cows from one pasture to another a couple of miles down the road. I figured if Hemmingway could run with the bulls, I could certainly walk with the cows and come away with an equally riveting read.

A few years ago I used to take my dogs, my brother’s dogs, basically any dog who wanted to follow and we’d traipse across the field to the most magical of places – the place where dairy cows dwelled.

I especially adored the little spotted calves. As soon as they’d spot us, they’d jockey for position against the fence so they could check out my canine companions. They each had a number tagged to their ear and I made sure to compliment them on it, just as I would any great bling.

I had a deep respect for these creatures. I called them my “cow”ncil of elders although none of them would ever be older than I. I’d sit down in the lotus positon, my dogs would circle around, and I’d just start talking to them, telling them of my troubles, hopes, and dreams. Their unanticipated antics would immediately let me know if they were for or against any idea I’d brought to the table, or in this case, the fence. I’d always leave the “cow”ncil with some nugget of wisdom that had eluded me prior to our meeting.

So it came as no surprise that the 27 cows and 33 calves I would be escorting to their summer pasture on this particular Sunday would have something to teach me. These cows had walked the path twice a year for a number of years. I, on the other hand, was making the journey for the first time, walking most of the way backwards and uphill.  Despite my lack of experience, I was convinced I could lead them to the Promised Land.

Number 44 emerged as an early leader.  Number 54 was second in command.  They had earned the respect of the group long before I arrived on the scene. Where they led, the rest would follow. My job was to earn their trust.

This is not as easy as one might suspect. A true cow whisperer respects the fact that despite a calm exterior, a wild animal lives within. (This applies to the whisperer as well.) When the cows felt the need to pick up the pace (usually on the downhill side of the rolling hills) and the group took on the energy of Pamplona, I was immediately reminded of the importance of daily treadmill training. You just never know when you might face a bovine fitness challenge.

Of course the calves were delighted with the chaos until they realized that an uphill climb usually followed the downhill free for all.  After a couple of hills I swear the precise translation of the bellowing was, “Are we there yet, Mom?”

Now I know I possess an infinitely quirky imagination, but when I did turn around to see where we might be heading, I had this image of me, 27 cows, and 33 calves walking down the road with our shades on, wind blowing through our mane, smoking hot shoes, leather pants (naturally), and whatever else is typically associated with the epitome of coolness as characters emerge in slow motion with their best badass image on display.

We were definitely a force to be reckoned with. Mainly because we took up the whole road.

In any case, it was with great reluctance that I let the cows continue their journey into their new territory without me. I had the privilege of walking with them a few miles and then the gig was up.
I had recently read a book by Martha Beck called Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. In the book she describes her many visits to the Londolozi game reserve where she learned how to track animals in order to learn from them. It is my goal to get to Africa to track lions and tigers and rhinos, but for now, my best and most practical option is to start in Iowa with cows.

My chance to practice the first two technologies of magic Martha promotes in her book – Wordless and Oneness – were present on the day I walked with the cows. When one can’t communicate with words there is no choice but to drop into Wordlessness, which makes the choice to drop into Oneness a little easier. Of course, anyone who has tried to meditate for more than 10 seconds will tell you “a little easier” is still difficult.

We live in a very chatty world. People tend to talk if silence stretches on for too long. Our minds rush to find something to say, no matter how ridiculous or irrelevant, as long as it stops the silence from stretching into something the least bit uncomfortable.

Since September I’ve been involved in a leadership training program that has provided me with a view into my profession that others rarely get to see. The last session ended on Friday so I had to say goodbye to people I’ve come to care deeply about and experiences I looked forward to having each month. While I’m sure the benefits of participating in the program will continue for years to come, the challenge now is for me to incorporate the training into my daily life.

The truth is leadership opportunities abound. “Cow”nils of elders are everywhere, if we only open to them. While we may strategically plot, plan, and pretend to pick our presidents and politicians, this does not necessarily make them leaders. Leaders often emerge effortlessly in a classroom, a herd of cows, among preschoolers on a playground, or kernels of corn in an air popper. They do not need to be told what to do. They just sense what the situation requires and offer it up.

Leaders need not be loud and in your face in order to lead effectively.  If you are the subtle sort, you might enjoy reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  In her book, Susan Cain writes about the influence introverts have on society. Quiet contributions can start a revolution.
The way I see it, if you have an intense interest, are willing to expend some concerted effort, can assemble a “cow”ncil or community of elders*, and possess a never say never kind of conviction, you can lead your own revolution. Kind of like the one that started Midlife MacGyver. One follower can lead to 8 who can lead to 263 and then the skies the limit! (Optimism trumps experience.)
What about you? Who are your elders and what might they give you the courage to create, contribute, or instigate a revolution around?
Do tell!!
*”Elders” refers to anyone of any age who possesses timeless wisdom and grace.

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