While inspiration did not elude me this week, the search for photos to go along with the inspiration failed. One of the “stars” for my intended topic is counting on the photo and I do not want to disappoint him. So, in place of that new column, I am revisiting an old topic. The following is based on a column that originally ran on June 5, 2000, and was titled “Playful animals inspire search for charismatic and playful cow.”
I was thinking about this topic for a while because, as happens every summer, I am enjoying the neighbors’ new crop of calves. What I said then: “….spring is a delightful time to be riding in the country and enjoying the evidence of new life which is everywhere. New leaves, plants shooting up and even the fresh lemon-yellow dandelions are a treat for the eyes.
“Especially fun are the new-born animals. Colts romp and baby goats leap on all fours as if they were on springs. Sometimes I spot baby deer playing in a meadow. My favorite newborns, however, are the calves, because they behave so unlike adult cattle.”
Now, I would add, also so unlike adult humans!
“Animals do play. Both in the wild and in captivity, this is well documented. Elephants are reported to be particularly playful. Masson and McCarthy, in their book ‘When Elephants Weep,’ tell about this phenomenon. They write, ‘A traveling circus once pitched its tents next to a schoolyard with a set of swings. The older elephants were chained, but Norma, a young elephant, was left loose. When Norma saw children swinging she was greatly intrigued. Before long, she went over, waved the children away with her trunk, backed up to a swing, and attempted to sit on it. She was notably unsuccessful, even using her tail to hold the swing in place. She eventually gave up and returned to the other elephants. But when the children began to swing again, she had to try again. In fact, she tried for an hour.’
“Alaskan buffalo have been seen taking turns sliding across the ice on a frozen lake, charging down to the shore and plunging on to the ice, bracing their legs as they slide, tails in the air. At the end of their slide, they would let out a loud bellow and then go back to make another run.
“Bears are playful throughout their lives and slide on snow-banks, head first, feet first, on the stomach, on the back, and while somersaulting.
“Masson and McCarthy report that the gold leaf on the domes of the Kremlin was, at one time, being scratched off by hooded crows. It appears the crows had found it was enormous fun to slide down those onion domes, and their claws did significant damage.
“Beluga whales carry stones or seaweed on their heads and other whales try to knock them off. Lions, both adults and cubs, try to wrestle pieces of wood away from each other. A favorite game of animals appears to be ‘King of the Castle,’ where one player occupies a high place and defends it against others trying to unseat the king.
“Jacques Cousteau wrote about the play of whales, saying that whales spend less than a tenth of their lives looking for food and feeding. The rest of the time they spend frolicking in the waves, conversing, having fun.
“And that’s what the newborn animals that I see along the trail seem to be doing — having fun….But when I look at the adult of that species — cattle — they have expressionless faces, and even their body movements are placid. I have looked and looked for some indication of joy, excitement, or even interest in life on the part of the mature cattle. I am searching for a charismatic cow.
“Masson and McCarthy say ‘playing games with animals is almost like looking through a window’ into the mind of the animal: we see what he intends. Play and laughter can help us cross the species barrier. Maybe if I play games with some of the cattle, they will respond. Maybe they will sense some of the joy of play, and develop some charisma….”
Now, many years later, I have come to realize the adult cows do have a little personality, after all. Occasionally, when I am driving by in my car and I slow down to watch the calves romp, one or more of the mama cows will turn and stare at me. I have decided that at least they must experience curiosity.
Also, one day, we saw a cow standing on top of a mound. Aha, we thought, she is playing “Queen on the hill.”
Maybe in another decade or so, they will all start to play games, or romp about with joy and apparent abandon. Who knows, human cultural behavior changes over the years and maybe theirs can too. That would be a sight to see.