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Vermont, Day 4: The Herd


I was driving to a river to fish when I happened upon this huge herd of Highland cattle grazing on the side of the road. I quickly pulled over, and jumped out, thinking they might move off and I might miss the opportunity to take any photos.


That did not happen.


For about a half hour, I stood in the middle of the dirt road watching this herd of at least 100 shaggy cows move through a partially grazed treeline. There were big males with huge, intimidating horns, and little babies that had to be young-of-the-year, and everything in between.


The thing I remember most about this moment was how much noise they made, without making any noise intentionally. That is, the chomping, stomping, rubbing, and clomping of their mouths and bodies was constant, creating a din that was surprisingly loud in the still afternoon. They also breathed heavily as they moved, and shook their heads and wagged their tails constantly to free themselves from the omnipresent deer flies and mosquitoes. Every once in a while one would call- certainly you couldn't call it a "moo", and it would break up the constant undercurrent of a feeding herd.


Of course they weren't wild- being non-native and obviously well cared for- but there was hardly any fencing (a couple thin, weak strands of ancient wire) and these cattle appeared to have hundreds of acres to roam. It was enchanting, in a way. While this may not have been typical "wild Vermont", it felt feral to me. As if I was watching a wild herd of beasts roaming the foothills in days long gone. They gave me no mind, even those closest to me which were at most 30 feet from where I stood in the middle of the road, and I walked with them as they moved through "their" shrubby forest grazing on wild flowers and hummocks of grass.


Only the dropping sun angle pulled me away from watching them. It was starting to get low, and I realized I must have been watching them for more than a half hour, and I had left my car 200 yards down the road with the door open (like a stupid tourist). I ran- literally- back down the road to the car, and as I did I spooked the herd, who barreled off into the forest, thundering away in a chorus of hooves-on-sod.