CALLAHAN, CA

callahan cows

When I get to where nobody knows where I am, I start to feel like one of the hills above me. I roll back from the ridge into brush that could be hiding anything–the mountain lion Ray said he heard yesterday, the deer Ray is always hunting. Last night Ray said the Greek told him there’s an injured bear stumbling around the hill, that I should be careful ‘on my little walks’, but I am sitting on soft needles not needing anything. When I have no pain in my body, I’m most invisible to myself. It’s not as if I’m asleep–when I hear Ray’s gun firing, I know what might have died.

This morning a cow frightened me–I was walking along Highway 3, staying to the left side of the road in my sweater that matches the many facets of blue and purple rock rising to my left; to my right, a ditch; beyond it, a narrow pasture of cows. Beyond that, mountains that are like shadows of something that has been sleeping for longer than I’ve been alive. Soon, on the road ahead I could see darkness coming out of the ditch that wasn’t part of the night still clinging to the reeds or my eyes. When I got closer I could see the cow that must have escaped from the others. It was white and black and saw me coming and began to run away between the road and the ditch, sometimes darting–it moved spryly for an enormous animal–into the reeds. I would lose track of it, but soon it would put its head out of the reeds and we would see each other again. Then it would take off running between the road and ditch. I imagined walking into town with a cow running before me, laughing silently like a powerful man, one of the men I see passing in pickup trucks. For maybe half a mile that’s how it was– me imagining my walk into town preceded by the cow, imagining my hands having a wideness they don’t actually possess as I nodded at the people who would be gathering to me. When I imagined standing in the middle of a crowd, I saw myself as a creature neither man nor woman, but something unregarded by sex–a windmill or an ax or a wisp of smoking coming from a chimney; a child maybe. I thought of the boots I was wearing and saw them as part of the scene I was watching in my thoughts as I walked, the cow still running from me but now, I also thought, running with me. When I got into town, I would be nothing but a wisp, but I would still be wearing boots, so people would want to think of magic and spells, or probably they would not want to think at all, they would just want to marvel at the cow running from a wisp wearing boots. But then the cow stopped running and turned toward me. I stopped. I could feel fear coming toward me; then it was closer; then it was in my body. I could hear the weight of the cow striking the road with its hooves. I thought, It must be time, now it is going to charge me into the rock I’m so enamored of looking like.

We stood for a while facing each other, me on one side of the road, the cow on the other. I had to turn and start walking; the cow was good at staring. Now the cow walked along behind me, reversing time. When I got back to the cabin the cow stood at the end of the driveway, admiring, I imagined, how it was regarded by the other cows–look at that cow herding a person. I went inside and the cow went back to grazing by the road. It was early in the morning; I had not yet woken up. The fire I’d built last night had just a little bit of heat left; I gathered it alongside my body and went back to sleep.