Their impact is intense, intimidating and much more obvious than the smaller hooves I work with regularly. It is terrifying some days… and then there are days like today: Days when they lead me to places like this; the slope terraced perfectly in front of me; their herd instincts befitting the topography.
It was partly the movement of fauna big and small that shaped the land: migrating, fleeing, fighting, rubbing, wallowing. Influencing the movement of water and soil. Inspiring the grasses to grow, the flowers to express themselves, the trees to reach upward. Erosion becomes an incredible service provided by these creatures when you notice how it brings the meander back to the river. The thinning of the forests, the terracing of slopes, the softening of ripped up ravines into approachable, babbling brooks. While gravity pulls nutrients down, the desire for an ideal vantage point, causes the prey animals to bring them back up.
I sank into this moment: leaving the role of herder and becoming just one of the animals traversing this slope.
I reflected on the truths of the past, considering time we have spent grieving the losses of so many species from these powerful landscapes. My bison hunting blood bubbled thinking of herds 2 miles long. My bones feel formed by memories of migratory patterns that led to years of rest in some spaces. I fell quiet in a moment of mourning and the feeling of cultural disintegration pulled my shoulders down.
The cow in front of me halted, my silence had allowed me to disappear into her blind spot. I took one step back, “I’m still here” I said gently, reaching my hand out to where she could visually receive pressure from me. She acknowledged it with an exhale and continued forward calmly.
I contemplated the nuanced relationship between my ancestors and the hooves, wondering if they had to develop trust, understanding and communication methods with the elk and antelope. The feeling of hope rises in me and provides warmth; the sensation of soothing a generational scar.
I remember to be present with the herd, making low comfortable sounds to remind them of my existence in the back of the line.
My mind shifted to a place of gratitude. Thinking no longer of what we have lost but what we have to gain: This interesting relationship between us and them that is shaping our landscapes today.
They are different species, with much different intentions and habits, and in fairness, so are we.
The land has been chopped up into pieces and sold. There are fences symbolizing fictional lines defined by land ownership; a story that only we tell. It is a challenge to put the necessary animals on this land, now that it has been fragmented and privatized.
It takes courage to fight for our presence; humility to be responsible for their movement; a shit load of grit to get the job done.
After crossing a small stream and pushing through a dwarfed forested, the small foot path opened up into a big grassy meadow. The cows picked up a trot, bucking in all different directions. I exhaled a chuckle. My mind found energy and let out its own buck. Shaking back into my body, intention rushed through my veins and I was empowered to step out into the meadow, to continue interacting with the herd. Our mini-migration to their next paddock was not quite over.
I will belong to the grazing ones my whole life.
When I die, my body will become the soil, and the soil will become the grass. The grass will become the muscles of the grazers and then the meat of the men. The memories of migration will forever form our bones.
And so, I have no doubt this will always feel right to us: our movement across the land with other animals.