On Monday evening, when we were on our way to pick up Simon’s daughter and her husband from the train station in Carcassonne, I was surprised by a sudden glimpse of a white cow-shaped object, looming in the edge of the headlight glow at the side of the road, in the entrance to the track that climbs the hill behind the Fairy Wood. I replayed the image in my mind, and could only conclude that I had just seen a cow. Now of course, in many settings, this would seem yawningly commonplace. But here, in the middle of wine-growing territory, far-far-away from any grazing land or animal farmers, and actually on the edge of the main road from our village to Limoux, a cow is a very Unexpected Thing.
Simon was driving and, being sensibly focussed on the road ahead, (and not being blessed with the superior peripheral-vision abilities of the female) didn’t see it. Given my tendency to flights of imagination (many’s the time I have seen camels, buffalo and crooked old crones during twilight walks with the dog in Markeaton Park), I did wonder if it had been nothing more than a perception-tricking lump of road-side rock. But as I pondered the relative likelihoods of differential explanations, a vague aural memory of a mooing sound somewhere in the distance when I was walking back from the llamas the previous day sprang into my mind. Absolute proof then. Convincing corroborative evidence.
We saw no trace of the phantom beast on our return journey, and in an effort to convince sceptical by-standers that I was not insane, and also because I thought it would be a Very Nice Thing, I willed the cow to exist and to turn up at the village the next day.
Tuesday dawned, wet and muddy, and Nikita and Tateru donned intrepid spirits and borrowed wellingtons (several sizes too small for comfort) to accompany us on our llama-round and meet the creatures they had read and heard so much about. After visiting and feeding the Breeders and admiring the latest addition to the family (STILL unnamed….keep those comments coming!) we trudged through the sticky clay, with increasingly heavy feet, to meet the Walkers. Given the treacherous conditions, we decided not to attempt a mass walk with all the llamas, and only to take Valentine for a slip-and-a-slide around the squidgy countryside.
And in the heat (cold) of the llamery moment, and the ensuing busyness of entertaining our visitors, the phantom cow was forgotten.
Yesterday morning found us seated around the kitchen table conducting interesting eggsperiments to determine the variations in taste and texture between different sized and aged eggs. (Conclusion: very fresh eggs are hard to hard-boil, and much harder to shell than week-old ones, but they all taste lovely). As I glanced out of the window to admire the view (an inescapable by-product of living in this house-on-the-hill) I noticed some whitish blobs in the valley, where whitish blobs didn’t ought to be. I hurried off to get the binoculars. Sure enough, there at the bottom of the hill, ambling around contentedly on the grass verges of the tracks between the vineyards, was a whole, there-for-all-to-see caboodle of cows.
We watched, and wondered where they’d come from. We watched, and wondered if anyone else in the village had noticed. We watched, and wondered what would happen to them. And then we decided to leave for the airport a few minutes early, so we could take a detour past the errant oxen, and capture them on camera for posterity and the blog.
There were thirteen of them. One behemothic bull, a bevy of females and a straggle of youngsters – a happy little family group. A bumbling, unfolding pack of free-range bovinity, drifting inexorably down the gradient in the direction of the Fairy Wood.
Of course, by the time we returned from the airport drop-off trip (and the oh-so-exciting purchase of a flat-pack wheelbarrow), the Cows had vanished.
Disappointed at their capricious disappearance, I decided to console myself with a damp, windless late-afternoon dog walk down into the valley. And at the lowest point of our promenade, where the streamless stream crosses underneath the track, and red squirrels can sometimes be seen cavorting in the rattling poplars, I came across a cluster of puddled cow-prints. Max and I traced the prints back along the track to where we had seen the cows earlier in the day. The prints were all headed in the same direction, towards the little streamless crossing point where I first saw them.
I turned around and retraced their path, hoping to discover what might have become of the vanished creatures. But under the trees at the crossroads of the streamless valley, in the grassless mud, the footprints of the vanished cows came to a halt. And, try as I might, searching in the impressionable mud radiating from that point in various directions, I could find no trace of where the cows had gone.
Away with the Fairies and back to the Otherworld perhaps?