By Jan Martinez
We climbed to the top of the bleachers. In our 60s, still agile as mountain goats, walking on the seats instead of the treads. Those seats, dusty, straw covered wooden planks.
Then the cows came in, each one led by a child or young teen often no taller than the animal’s shoulder. On closer inspection I could see they weren’t cows, but steers – aggressive, mid to heavy weight in class, grades one or two.
In the center of the barn stood a woman in boots, flared jeans, and a surprisingly frilly smocked top. The 4H judge. The cows paraded around her in a circle as the judge announced their merit. Or lack.
“I like this guy because he has a straight back,” she’d say. Or, “I have a problem with the way this guy walks.”
We went outside to see Bailey, Larry’s great niece, with her steer, a mean guy named Gatsby.
Mean or nice, Gatsby would be in the freezer by the fall. This was already a known truth. But did Gatsby know it? I wonder. I don’t think cows have awareness of self – something called theory of mind. Or is it the Mirror Test? This is reserved for primates, including children, elephants, and some crows – a personal favorite. And this means that they recognize a discrete self. Put any one of them in front of a mirror with the paint mark on their heads and they’ll likely try to clean their heads, not the mirror.
As I gazed into Gatsby’s enormous dark eyes, I doubted he had this awareness. If I just kept going I’m sure I could wonder some more. Instead I turned and went back into the barn.