From the sixth-floor balcony of my friend’s apartment they are like colourful plastic toys, all plodding in a purposeful line towards… what? I can’t see anything apart from acres of grass, bounded on the far side by the main road and the city centre. Yet they clearly know where they’re heading. There are clear, neat furrows in the grass that can only be seen from above. Are they from mediaeval ploughing perhaps, or just drainage channels? The Town Moor is ancient grassland after all, so it’s possible.
Walking along the path later that day, the cows are no longer on the march. Now they’re scattered across the Moor, each one so intent on consuming as much grass as possible that they barely notice the walkers and cyclists. Some will look up whilst chewing languidly, and one or two might decide to cross the path just in front of you to get to the other side, where the grass is most definitely greener. A few of them have even made it to very the top of the hill. A raincoated old man once flashed Janey there when she was training for her Duke of Edinburgh award. She and her friend were jogging up there with rucksacks full of tinned tomatoes and he just turned around and opened his coat.
The path ends where the town begins and I close the gate carefully. You sometimes read stories of the occasional cow getting out and wreaking havoc but we just have to be a bit careful that’s all. They’re only doing what cows do. One got through someone’s gate once. Pushed it open, walked in and ate most of the garden apparently. There was a bit of an outcry in the local paper but mostly people just shrugged their shoulders. It’s not the cows’ fault we built roads and houses and shops right next to where they live.
By the time I head back from town it’s already getting dark. I shut the gate behind me and the traffic noise recedes, so all I can hear is chomping and tearing from the shadowy shapes that surround me. Halfway along the path I sit down on a cold bench to listen. Some of them grunt or blow a bit, others seem to be rustling very near to me. Those closest to the path are illuminated by the light from the lamp-posts, but most are melted into the darkness. I want to stay with them all night, to lie down on my bench and look up at the stars, fall asleep to the munching lullaby of these creatures.
But of course I can’t.