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Panda Cows and Panda Huggers

Panda CowI would have loved the panda-faced cow anyway, but the fact that I’ve been called a “panda hugger” has made me pay special attention to it. Especially since it’s all alone in a field of handsome Highland cattle and always seems to be off by itself, while the big, furry, red-haired cattle hunker together.

There are gentleman or gentlewoman farmers with estates in the rolling hills of rural New York, or Connecticut, or Massachusetts who keep cows for pleasure. They go for attractive breeds like the Dutch Belted, black with a bold white band around its middle. Nothing is more picturesque against a background of green fields and low mountains. I once saw a woman offering her diamond-covered hand to a cluster of cows to entice them to come closer so she could pose for a photo with them.

Highland cattle are also picturesque, solid and shaggy beasts with long horizontal horns. They come from Scotland and I was glad when they appeared in a field on Route 41 along the eastern side of the Taconic range. I drive that way twice a week to get to get the train to New York. My friend and Berkshire editor Bill (William H.) McNeill is a proud Highlander and was sorry when a neighbor plan to graze Highland cattle in his field came to nought. Now when I see them I think of Bill and, because of the panda cow, of China.

The panda-faced cow is a special, expensive breed, quite rare. I stop to look at the cows whenever I can, enjoying the amazing view from that spot, out across low hills rippling away to the north without a building in sight, a landscape that must have greeted the earliest settlers in the Housatonic Valley. This photo was taken the first time I’d seen the panda cow looking even slightly companionable. Their cautious friendship, with long looks, brief drawing together then walking apart, seems rather like Western dealings with China. I wonder what the owner would think of my making his special pet a mascot for the People’s Republic? And of course I wonder just what happens to the Highland cattle, and calves. Are they allowed to live to a ripe age, or do they become our famous “local” hamburgers?

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