Monday, 30 November 2020

Cows coming home

I've always thought it lovely that cattle and donkeys stood around while Mary was giving birth to Jesus, and that is partly why I chose the image and the accompanying poem of cattle for Give Your Writing The Edge's December cover photo.

As far as I know, there is nowhere in the Bible to corroborate the presence of farm animals at Christ's birth, which is exactly what makes it, in my opinion, likely to have been the case - people shared quarters with domesticated animals during the time, and in the area, in question, so I imagine it was too obvious a part of the scene for either Matthew or Luke to bother to mention it.

Apart from that, during my years in the Eastern Cape, I learned both to smile and scowl at the free-roaming cattle there. These beautifully well-fed, mighty animals - living testament to that ever fertile, river-rich frontier country - can be destructive and unwanted visitors to your garden, even jumping over and annihilating your fences if they are desperate enough, in the winter months or during drought, for water or fresh green.

They are a liability on the roads, including highways, at times. I would not like to count how many of them are inadvertently hit by vehicles at night on unlit country roads.

Notwithstanding the problems and hazards they bring, the free-roaming cattle of the Eastern Cape are exemplars of some of the finest of their kind.

While they are domesticated to tolerate humans, they are not tame. As far as I know, only the Khoi really ever managed to 'tame' their cattle to the extent that they could ride and command them.

Beyond the legendary beauty of the patterns in a Nguni's hide, and their gorgeously crescented horns, their simultaneously shy and up-yours attitude have endeared them to me. As with all creatures, there are some that are particularly intelligent, sensitive, or bold and curious individuals, while others are simply deeply soporific, apparently bored or indifferent, possibly even a little sly.

They have a lot of work to do, digesting all that green they must eat daily to keep their enormous bodies happy. It would be a challenge to imitate the grace, with which they carry their bulk on stilty legs and delicate toes in the way they do.

Cattle in Auckland, on the R345 between Alice and Hogsback, South Africa

Bull in Summerton Drive, Hogsback, South Africa

December cover for Give Your Writing The Edge

Bull pencil sketch by Silke Heiss

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