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Close Encounter of the Fifth Kind - Highland Coo

Author: Joana Avi-Lorie

I have had many great (and amusing) encounters with Scottish animals, but none was as special as the one with the highland coo. This remarkable cow was always one of my favourite Scottish animals but I still don't know much about cows, even after what I'm about to tell you. To this day, I am still puzzled and amazed at this memory and I question if it ever really happened.

During my first recce in Scotland, in a mission to move here, I was exploring Glen Tanar, on the East foothill of the Cairngorms, in Aberdeenshire. When I say exploring, I mean it! I was off the dirt roads, roaming in the grass, looking for interesting things.

I was lost between my fantastical thoughts and the sunny beauty of the landscape around me, when I saw it: a dark brown highland coo.

There was no fence between us. Somehow, I was walking on the meadows across the cow and it had seen me. It started running. I drowned a scream. The beast was charging! The panic grew and I looked around. Where to run? Could I really outrun a cow? How fast and enduring were they? How fast and enduring was I? I decided not to run and just move slowly, trying not to seem threatening when my heart was beating its way off my chest.

I was not ready to die when the highland coo stopped in front of me. Its head was the biggest head I've ever seen, and the eyes... gentle, clever eyes under thick dark brown hair. Its horns were not too big. It was a young cow and it looked like a magical creature.

I stretched my hand. The cow sniffed it and then licked it with a massive link tongue. And then, she rubbed her colossal head against my hip. It dropped its head and strecthed her front legs forward... like a dog! Suddenly, the big scary beast was a giant puppy, jumping and playfully asking to be pet.

I pet the Highland coo a lot, let it lick my hands and talked to it about my day and how happy I was about moving to Scotland.

After what felt like hours, the cow started to move away, always turning to look back at me, breathing loudly. I said goodbye. We parted ways.

It is always daunting to move to a new place. I wondered if I was going to be accepted, if I was going to find a community, if I was going to understand people and if they would understand me. That magical encounter with one of Scotland's majestic animal symbols strengthened my decision. I hope there will always be mysterious events and connections that lead us in life. I hope we never fully understand them, dismantle, dissect them, looking for the truth in it. I think the truth just floats around them like dust and in a sunny morning, narrowing our eyes, we can see it and we don't have to explain it.

In H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald wrote of the goshawk she adopted after her father’s sudden death:

“In my time with Mabel, I’ve learned how you feel more human once you have known, even in your imagination, what it is like to be not.”

I hope the highland coo is still enjoying or enjoyed a good life in Glen Tanar.