My heart pounded. My legs were shaking things that did not belong to me. My breath was hot. It hit the cool air that stirred just so. It was the same color as the fog that draped itself over the green hills.
I shut the cattle gate behind me with a clang.
I could see Ingrid, yards off. She grew smaller and smaller, in her white coat, bright against the winter green and gray and brown, a purple Nalgene full of water held in one hand for balance as she picked her way through the decimated field. Her feet sunk into a stew of mud and shit that threatened to swallow her shoes at any step.
“Come on, Sarah. We are not going back.”
“But, I’m scared.” I yelled.
“We are not going back!” Ingrid grew even smaller as she circled the herd.
The cows looked first to her, then turned back to me with curious, agitated faces. But who really knows what goes through the mind of a cow? A few of them advanced.
I always thought of cows as big, placid masses of leather and breath and heart, incapable of reason but not really requiring it — not really. Sometimes when I pass by them on a trail I say something stupid like, “Thanks, my lovely future burgers.” Then I get mad at myself for being an asshole and vow to become a vegetarian.
Pushed all the way to the cattle gate by some other hikers and their dogs, these cows did not seem terribly excited to have another variable introduced into their brainspaces.
The herd stood between me and the trail, filled the pasture, pressed closer. I stared at the cows. The cows stared at me. A brown horse stared on from one pasture over.
“We are not going back!” Ingrid called again.
I was scared. There are so many ways to die. By cow is not the death I would ever choose.
On the trail, on the way to that moment, I had just been telling Ingrid about anxiety, how strange it is, how one day you wake up and you are scared of things that weren’t ever scary before, how you reason through them and you realize: things, just things, all things can be terrifying.
Cows, twisty roads, movie theaters, cold medicine, crowded rooms – you don’t know why. They are just terrifying. One day Thing X is fine. One day Thing X is not.
Anxiety is the worst.
But, I told Ingrid, the trick is to realize, you can only get so anxious. There is a threshold, and then you break open. You have to surrender. Not that I know anything about this, but I figure it’s something like smoking pot. At some point, you are just so high; you can’t get any higher no matter how much more you smoke. One cow, two cows, a thousand, thousand pound cows all staring at you: at some point, you realize, it is all the same.
You can stand in one place forever, you can turn back and lose all your progress, or you can just walk the fuck through them like a hero.
So, that is what I did. I shut the gate, and I marched through the mud and the shit. I heard hooves close by, curious snuffling and mooing.
I just walked, my eyes straight ahead, until I reached Ingrid and the trail again.
Fuck those cows with their blank, staring faces of doom.