Recently my husband and I went on a short trip to Vermont to take in the foliage season, and so I could wax nostalgic by taking a short trek to my hometown of Bellows Falls. I grew up in Southern Vermont, and while I love living in New York City, the Green Mountain state always calls to me during my favorite season: Autumn. We stayed at a beautiful 200 year old house that had a tiny Alpaca farm, nestled in the hills of Hartland and Windsor, Vt. It was bucolic. There were stunning reds, oranges, yellows blanketing the countryside. There were adorable Victorian houses and charming little towns like Woodstock to drive through and meander. It was pretty darn relaxing.
Until I heard the cows.
One night during our short stay, we decided to go stargazing. It was a crisp, clear night and in New York City, you NEVER see the stars. Not really. You see some planes that might LOOK like moving stars from a distance as they leave LaGuardia or JFK. Occasionally, a twinkle here and there. But when we stepped outside, where almost no other houses were near us, up on a hill overlooking a stunning valley, all we saw were thousands of sparkling diamonds lighting up the sky. It was around midnight, and it was magical.
Then, piercing the dark, came the moos.
There were a small group of cows right down the road that belonged to a nearby farm. We had seen them earlier that day, and they had a few intermittent moos here and there. But this was different. The moos became louder, and louder, more urgent. At first we laughed, thinking “Why are they mooing at night?” Then they kept going, until it got annoying. “Shut up cows!” we jokingly said out loud. “It’s late, you should be asleep too!” “They must be drunk.” Then the daughter of the house’s owner (we rented through AirBnB) came out to grab some firewood (she’s an insomniac, so this was not that odd), and asked us if the cows had woken us up. We laughed and said no, but that they were getting awfully loud.
“Yeah, I think the farmers took their babies today.”
And that’s when my heart sank. With every desperate moo that broke through the darkness, my spirit withered just a little bit more. They cried throughout the night and into the next morning. Instead of getting annoyed with their mooing, now I just felt incredibly sad. Someone had come and taken their children away. They didn’t even have a barn to rest in. They were left alone, out in the chilly autumn night to mourn for the babies they would never nurse or get to nuzzle ever again; babies who will likely end up as veal, or be sold off to another dairy farmer. Meanwhile their milk, which had been meant for their calves, will be taken every day by the people who stole their children. All they had was their voices to raise up into the night, railing against the cruelty of their situation. That is a sound that haunts you when you know the suffering behind it. It is a mournful dirge, the only voice these voiceless creatures have to rail against the injustices they are dealt with.
This isn’t a rant against anyone who isn’t vegan or who eats meat. While I am a nearly life-long vegetarian, I am also still certainly complicit in the suffering of these poor creatures. I LOVE milk. I drink it all the time. It is actually one of my favorite things in the world. I am allergic to both Almond milk and Soy milk, so I have always partaken of the cow stuff. I also own a pair of Uggs, and have several leather handbags. I love animals with all my heart, and a part of me really wants to call myself an activist. But the stark truth of the matter is that I am just as guilty of causing their pain as any meat-eater, or person who wears fur coats.
I’m not someone who tells people not to eat meat, an Evangelical Vegetarian as it were. I try not to get too into an anti-hunting (growing up in a rural, pro-hunting state like Vermont, it was a hard stance to argue with people!) sparring match with people; though for the life of me I will never understand the need to go out and shoot living things, whether they need to for food or not. If I’m being brutally honest, I also feel that eating baby animals is nothing short of barbaric and it is a completely unnecessary evil.
Yes, it is more than understood that the world can be cruel and heartless. That is an unavoidable fact. I understand that nature is not warm and fuzzy, and that sometimes others need to die so that more may live. And realistically, most people who love meat are never going to stop eating it, no matter how much they are exposed to the wonder of animals. Farmers are not bad people. They’re just trying to get by doing what they love. But do they have to take away the babies of those mother cows? Do those animals, who feel pain and loss as keenly as we do when it involves their children, have to lose the only thing that makes their lives worth living for the short time they are allotted to live it? There must be a more humane way to get milk. There must be a more humane system for ALL of this.
There are no easy answers or solutions, and I am not here to be sanctimonious. I certainly do not claim to have them. The only solution that creates total compassion is to go completely vegan, and that is a very tough thing for anyone to be, including myself. I haven’t gone vegan. I haven’t given up my Uggs. But nothing will ever allow my memory to shake the heart-wrenching sound in the deep Vermont night of mother cows crying in the dark for what they have lost.