Lessons from cows

There are wild cows where I live. Wild, I tell you.

OK – so they are hardly bucking steers – slower, shaggier and muddier. This is Dartmoor, after all – and things tend to be that way.

I encountered today’s cows en route to a nearby village. I was on a mission to see if the lady who runs the tea shop there would lend me her rooms to run meditative crafting sessions.

I had heard about the tearoom earlier that day and was so excited I set off almost immediately. The route to the village is along a narrow road that runs beside the Taw river. It is part of the moor and it is not uncommon to encounter ponies or sheep – or cows.

It was a beautiful afternoon, but I didn’t notice because I was on a mission. I sighed with impatience as an elderly lady took time to bring her dog under control on the road. I was annoyed when I had to stop and reverse to make way for cars coming in the other direction. My head was full of plans and the things I wanted to say. I didn’t see the golden autumn light shining through the last of the green foliage that bridges the road, or bother to look to my left at the river. And it is some river; this particular stretch inspired the book Tarka the Otter – it is ridiculously beautiful.

All of it was lost on me, however, until I encountered the cows in the middle of the road; two big, black, hairy ones and a skittish heifer. They stared at me for a while, then decided they had a pressing appointment behind me – rocking the car as they chose the inappropriate narrow gap between the driver’s side and the hedge, instead of going via the sizeable clearing on the left. I started to move off, before having to suddenly brake because they'd had a change of plans, all in a rush, and were heading forward again. They knocked the car around a second time and then settled down to a steady shuffle in front of me all the way to the village.

I had no choice but to drive at two miles an hour.

Even then, I was feeling driven – leaning my elbow against the window and tapping my fingers on the steering wheel. I had somewhere to be – and I needed to be home in an hour for a phone call. It was not at all convenient. Then a shaft of light shone on the cow’s backs, and the heifer jumped startled in the air as someone started up a hedgetrimmer. Suddenly, I got it – this was right now and life was telling me to slow down and enjoy the moment. I couldn’t stop smiling as I drove very, very slowly – noticing how furry the legs of the cow in front of me were. I saw the leaves on the trees and the sunshine through them and I felt profoundly grateful for living where I do.

I arrived at the teashop feeling relaxed. I knew I had come to the right place immediately; scores of teapots and cafetieres in a variety of knitted cosies lined the walls, and handmade scarves were draped in the former fireplace. Marion who ran it was lovely – warm and positive.

I waited a while listening to the man in front of me telling Marion how he and his puppy had just been intimidated by cows on their walk. His encounter had clearly left him a little stressed and in sore need of a strong coffee, but it was ancient history to the puppy. She busied herself running around my legs tying me up with her extendable lead – that was then, this was now.

When it comes to being in the moment, we have a lot to learn from puppies and cows.