Build Me a Snowcow
an excerpt from "Ask the Cow"

You know the best kind of snow: medium-size flakes falling fast and thick, just damp enough to stick together and build a snow fort, stock it with snowballs, and after a sure and swift victory, fashion the perfect snowman. Last Wednesday had it all: temps holding at 32 degrees F, snowing so smoothly the mountains disappeared; everything a silent, silky blur of tumbling iridescence. And I was hard at work.

I rolled the first hunk of snow until it was so big I had to put my hip against it to make the last turn. Then I set it just right – where my snowman would face the road and greet with good cheer, each passerby. His finished self would be visionary, I had decided. No wooly hat and scarf for my creation – he was born to be a poet, reading verse to the trees and birds. A mixed-fiber burgundy cardigan would wrap about his ample body and a French beret sit slanted atop his snow-white head. Being a nonsmoker (health-conscious, of course), instead of a pipe, he would hold a book close to his chest and with the other arm outstretched he would appear to recite words of love to the world. I would name him Percy.

I turned back to start rolling the chunk of snow that would be Percy’s upper body. One second my immediate world was mysterious – shrouded in swirling whiteness. The next second: a hulking mass was pushing toward me, completely snow-covered except for a dash of auburn down the shuffling legs. The apparition emerged from the Mysterious and halted abruptly in front of me. Large, despondent brown eyes peered at me from snow-encrusted eyelashes.

“It was spring yesterday,” a sad voice murmured. Then the bulky form belched in a familiar and endearing way. 

“Yes. Yes it was,” I replied undaunted. True, it had been a lovely day on Tuesday, reaching into the 60s. I had remarked to No One Listening that the grass was even turning quite green for early March. But a touch of late winter keeps one alert and guessing, I assumed. If nothing else –

“I suppose it’s good for the spring hay crop and gardens,” the now-shivering beast said with a sigh, completing my thought. No question now who I was conversing with.

“See?” I said pleasantly, trying to cheer up my disgruntled cow, “I’m building a snowman. Want to help?” The look returned from the Being before me was less supportive than I would expect from such a normally placid and balanced creature. Perhaps it was her day off.

“His name is Percy,” I continued cheerily. “He’s a poet, inspired by nature.”

“I suppose he gives freely of his work?” Christina asked. She seemed to be perking up. 

“Absolutely,” I replied. Things were shifting here. Was my beloved cow turning the simple act of snowman-building into another one of her Life Lessons?

“Uh-huh,” she said, once again reading my thoughts while nodding and gulping. Cud followed. Things to be Chewed On With Care. I always thought she should write a handbook.

“And, being earthbound,” she continued with more animation now, “he understands about strengths and weaknesses? Does he feel passionately about the sanctity of all life? Does he…”

“Yeah, okay, sure.” I said hastily. Percy was to be, after all, a snowman. He wasn’t running for Poet Laureate.

But Christina was obviously on a roll – but not the kind I needed right then, the kind that binds snowflake to snowflake until you have a firm yet well-toned midsection for said snowman. Never mind, Christina was not even reading my thoughts by this point.

She circled widely and carefully around Percy’s beginnings, as if pondering an as-
yet uncarved block of stone. “hmmmm,” she said softly. More circling, more hmmmming while the day was moving rapidly toward dusk. 

I decided to return to my happy task and began rolling the next chunk of Percy’s anatomy. 

“Wait!” the trembling bovine behind me cried. Was she cold? Ill? My heart raced with concern.

Does Percy understand about vulnerability and impermanence?” she demanded. “Is your poet-intended versed in the concept of immortality?” 

Oh, not cold or ill. Only her Inner Philosopher tuning up. I breathed easily again. 

“Please!” Christina declared, stomping her left front foot, not the best sign. “I mean it. Look!” she said, nodding her head toward Percy’s abbreviated form. “You have begun to create not just a snowman, but a SnowSomeone! Someone with energy, name and passion. A poet, and by your description, not one who writes for profit and fame, but for the love of the word as art and communication, for love, for goodness sake. How can Percy be just any other snowman?”

I looked first at Percy’s bare beginnings. And then at my by-now exuberant Teacher. And with utmost respect I asked her, “So what’s your point?” 

She stared at me with that bland expression cows are so famous for, the one that tends to get them labeled “dumb animals.” And then up came the cud again. Slow rotation of the jaws. Silence. Lowering of the eyelashes. 

I knew I was in trouble.

“Forget building Percy. That’s my strong advice,” she said quietly.


She lifted that left front foot and placed it Just So, an inch from the new ball of snow. “If you are going to create someone, anyone, create with conscience and build me a snow cow.” And she turned and started to walk back to the barn. I looked from Percy’s meager start in life to Christina as she began to once again melt into the veil of falling snow. And I thought, and thought, and thought.

“Think about the sun!” came drifting through the flakes. 

Alright. The sun. My turn to “hmmmmmmm.” Yes, tomorrow the sun was forecast to re-emerge; spring in its more temperate persona, would return. The snow would melt and….. Oh! Percy! My poet! He would dissolve back to earth, still pitifully proclaiming the importance of love. I turned to yell in the direction of the barn, but a cough and hiccup behind me caught my words half born and I sat down abruptly in the snow.

The soft voice and garlic breath of my familiar friend embraced me from just above: “Percy, gentle soul that he is destined, by your vision, to become, would not understand why one day, this day, he is Poet Extraordinaire, and the next a mere puddle on a swampy lawn. He is to be fashioned, after all, after humanity, is he not?”

I nodded, dismally. I had held such great plans for my Percy.

“Nonsense,” Christina replied, eavesdropping on my brain. “The poet shall live, but let him enjoy existence as a cow poet, a creature who is experienced at living as love, not just the purveyor of words. Cows know that whatever is their current lot: material existence or meltdown, a true poet lives no matter what. Cows are so much better at handling the ebb and flow of life, the emergence of energy into form; the dissolving of form back into fluid energy. We have that stuff down pat. Believe me, Percy would thank you.”

With that parting statement, my companion once again trod northward toward the warmth of her stall and hay, leaving me pondering how to construct a cow from snow.

“Well,” came drifting through the air, “If I were you, I would start with the body, then add the legs and head – don’t forget the tail…and that cardigan would be a nice touch….” 

You know the best kind of snow, when that last fling of late winter keeps one alert and guessing, if nothing else….


Creating a Sanctuary

An excerpt from Blessing the Bridge: What Animals teach us about Death, Dying, and Beyond by Rita Reynolds

In the midst of a routine day I gathered my dog, Oliver, into my arms, and held his soft, small body close to mine There is a strong possibility, I explained, that the cancer growing inside you will eventually cause us to be separated from each other. As the word separated left my mouth, his face rose to mine. Although blind, his eyes danced, shining with life. I sensed that he was seeing on another level, within and through me. You will change worlds and I will have to remain behind, but I will always love you. Oliver turned his head downward as my words and tears cascaded over him. A knowing flowed between Oliver and me that in truth we could never be separated, and that everything was perfect, even the cancer.

Portrait of Oliver by Tim Reynolds, 2002

But I had not always felt so. When I had heard the diagnosis three months earlier, I had immediately made Oliver's cancer an enemy. That cancer was the monster that would tear my dear friend of eight years away from me. Later, in a reflective moment I realized that by declaring war on the cancer, I was making all of Oliver's cells the whole basic structure of his body my enemy as well. From that moment, rather than cursing his cells, I began loving and blessing them, even the cancerous ones, hoping this approach would cure him.

But what if he died anyway? I asked myself in doubtful moments. Would I have accomplished anything at all, or wasted energy, time, and emotion? Was I entrapping myself in false hope, blind faith, and utter stupidity? I wondered if I was setting myself up for a hard and terrible disappointment.

Oliver's tumor was in his bladder. The medical prognosis was that the cancer would not respond to surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. After introspection and prayer, I decided to begin my own integrative therapy for Oliver. My intuition, always my best guide, directed me to use sound and music therapy, color and light, supportive nutrition, and the prayer support of friends and family. At the same time, I also realized that it might just be Oliver's time to go.

As we proceeded with these alternative healing methods, I began to realize that everything I was doing for Oliver was appropriate for possibly curing his physical condition, while at the same time helping him through his dying if that would be the outcome. I was no longer attempting a cure-or-nothing approach, which would imply success versus failure or winning versus losing. I had ended my battle against the cancer.

No longer was this therapy focused on my little dog alone. Now, Oliver and I were moving in tandem through a mutual and inter-supportive healing on infinite levels. As with so many of the animals who had been in my care, I was once again learning when and how to let Oliver go, making sure I did so with unconditional love, grace, and peace.

We walked through our healing, step by step. Nothing long range. I felt compelled to give up all my goals, including healing him. My job was simply to offer Oliver my full participation and accept each moment as perfect, no matter what was going on. It was easier for Oliver, he had no expectations. But I also knew Oliver and I were not alone. There was a boundless, pure spirit that led us with love. Oliver shone with that love.

But when finally faced with the certainty of Oliver's impending death, I once again struggled with my emotional attachment and inevitable sense of failure. I questioned everything. Was the pain I saw cross his face only momentary? Would it pass, and then we would still have more time together? Or was it his way of asking for compassionate release? I could not decide, so I turned within and prayed for help. The guidance came and I knew Oliver was ready to leave.

The day before Oliver died, he laid his head on my foot as I wrote down my thoughts about him. He communicated to me, Don't begin missing me yet. Share this moment with me, everything is as it is meant to be. And if you let me, I will guide you for all the moments to come.

I will, I responded, out loud, knowing he was pleased. And so Oliver's life on Earth ended well. My friend and teacher joined me in this lifetime as a honey-colored terrier named Oliver. Through his living and dying, he taught me there is no such thing as life versus death, or success versus failure. Love given and received, moment by moment, is all that really matters.


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