I looked out of the window this evening and jumped slightly to see a collection of large pleasant faces looking back at me. The cows are here again. It’s always relaxing to wander down to the fence and watch them solemnly munching away. Occasionally one or two will venture over to give me a closer inspection, or possibly to steal a flower from the garden. I gently remind them which side of the fence is theirs and they saunter off disdainfully.
It was getting really quite dark when I took this phone panorama so it’s rather grainy.
So close to the cows, I don’t just see them. I hear every chomp of grass, the thump of their hooves across the ground, their snorts, huffs, gurgles and other curious noises. I can almost sense their bulk and their strength. It’s humbling to be in the presence of a creature so tremendously more powerful than oneself. It encourages a different perspective – a less human-focussed view of the world. It’s easier to feel part of something when you’re no longer on the top looking down. I know that people, in all our devilish ingenuity, have come up with ways and means to dominate the likes of cows, horses, nearly everything really. But perhaps that’s why it’s all the more important to simply stand near such animals and appreciate afresh their magnitude and power.
All of which got me thinking again about the vexed issue of large mammal re-establishment, a more extreme form of recapturing the wonder of a proper wildlife than just looking at cows. If lynx were once again to live their secretive lives deep within some of our larger forests, we probably wouldn’t see them, even if we went looking. But we would know they were there and that, really, is the first element of an encounter, an encounter with something that, while not particularly big, could give us a proper run for our money. Lynx never attack people – they’re simply not interested and they have absolutely no reason – but I think it’s nice to know that if they wanted, they could take us down. To regard all nature as subordinate to humans is deeply dull and seems to represent a kind of death of the soul. I much prefer an outlook of awe and wonder, and perhaps occasionally a frisson of fear. Our natural desire for safety can easily lead us to homogenise and flatten out experiences that should be much spikier. We’ve allowed that over hundreds of years to reduce our native wildlife to a shrunken, toothless, pale imitation of what it might be. No wonder we have such an appetite for documentaries about exciting, big, dangerous things. And no wonder survey results just released show a very high level of public support for lynx re-establishment. Let’s make our nature more interesting.