Cows and Global Warming

by Henry Swain

Greenhouse gasses have been accumulating for centuries but were of little concern in the past for they were maintained in relative balance. Only recently has an increasing imbalance caused alarm. Methane gasses are produced in landfills, in animals and humans as a byproduct of digestion often expressed by the other “f” word. The current discussion of global warming reminded me of a methane gas encounter I had as a teenager.

One of my un-favorite chores while growing up was to milk our Jersey cow. I actually came to have a special relationship with our cow Sook-jerz, the name we had attached to her. Farmers often called their cows in from pasture with a special call. Sook was a common prefix. Since our cow was a Jersey we would bring her to the barn by calling Sook-jerz repeatedly until she came in to be milked. This worked except for springtime when the early pasture was lush. I would have to take my prodding stick and go fetch her for she was reluctant to leave the abundant grass.

On this particular day I had her heading nicely toward the barn with an occasional prod to keep her on course. Suddenly she swished her tail aside and exploded an invisible woosh of methane toward me followed by a rather loose defecation. That was the last thing I remembered for a while.

Vaguely I recall seeing a patch of hazy blue sky with some nebulous figure hovering over me. I lost consciousness again and had an out-of-body experience except I did not see a bright tunnel with a blinding white light at the end, which most describe who claim such experiences.

Instead I saw a dark tunnel with maximum dark at the end. Oh my, I thought, I must be headed for the other place. I felt a rough wet swipe across my forehead. It slowly restored my consciousness and I realized I was looking deep into the flaring nostril of Sook-jerz who had heard me fall and had come back to investigate. I raised my hand to stroke her long nose to let her know I had returned to this world.

At that moment I sensed my right bare foot was warmer than my left. Oh my, cow pie. A few deep breaths of fresh spring air enabled me to do a clean up job and get the milking finished liberating Sook-jerz back to green pastures.

I did not seek to blame Sook-jerz for she was only doing what came naturally and had no consciousness of timing and how it might affect me. We had developed a symbiotic relationship. We needed the milk and she needed to be milked. I did learn however, after this experience, to walk behind her a couple of paces to the windward.

I’m not certain how much this connection has to do with global warming. It is interesting to note, however, that at that time there were estimated to be a little over a billion people on earth, while now the population is an estimated six billion. Lots more people, lots more steaks, lots more cows and lots more methane.

When I extrapolate my experience with Sook-jerz and add millions more cows and people, all that new methane had better be going somewhere up and not hover near the ground where we breathe. Maybe that is what the hole in the ozone layer is for. If there isn’t some way to dissipate this gas, global warming may go on without us.

Now when I work outside in cold weather my right foot always seems to stay warmer than my left foot. I don’t know that my olfactory encounter years ago with Sook-jerz is in any way related to this observation , but as I have said, our relationship was close, very similar to that some people have with their dogs.

Sook-jerz has long since migrated to lush spring-green pastures in Cow Heaven. I like to think I have a warmer right foot to remember her by. Maybe it is my imagination. I’ll bet a psychiatrist would have fun with this?