The Secret Wisdom of Catfish Cows

I live on a farm in Catawba County, North Carolina in a tiny community called Catfish. Yes, that’s really the name of my community. No snickering. And true to the name, this is country. God’s country, if you ask me. One of the best places I’ve ever lived – and I’ve been around. Unless you have the afternoon free, you don’t want to ask me where I’ve lived. But now I live in the Catfish community of Conover, North Carolina.

And as you might expect, there’s a pasture next to my house with a bunch of cows. No, they’re not my cows. They belong to J.D., an old school Lutheran farmer who used to own the house where I live and all the land around me. I see J.D. when he comes to feed and tend his cows. They’re angus cows – the kind that make summer cookouts delicious on the grill. But we’re not going to talk about that. J.D. told me the last time I saw him these cows are his pets and have no appointments at the slaughterhouse. My vegetarian friends will be happy to hear this – farmhouse justice has been served, at least for these Catfish cattle. No need to solicit J.D.’s cows into joining the subversive Chick-fil-A plot to overthrow the beef industry. They’re not interested. From what I can tell, they’re not joiners anyway. Catfish cows have a good life, so why shake the boat?

Quarantine has given me time to get to know J.D.’s cows. When the walls in my little farmhouse close in on me – just about every day -  I head to the yard with my laptop, cell phone, Bible and whatever book I’m reading. There I sit at my woodshed and guide my Covid19 outdoor operations – calling parishioners, sending email, studying and writing. I stay there until the bugs get aggressive, my electronics die, or something else decides to annoy me. All the while, I have visitors: the Catfish cows.

Something I’ve learned about cows. They’re nosey – busybodies, in fact. Like the worst kind of church lady nosey. No sooner than I rest myself at the woodshed, here they come. One by one, as though pulled by a communal leash, they line up at the electric fence and stare.  Yes, stare.  My mother taught me it’s rude to stare at people like that. But Catfish cows apparently have hillbilly manners – nobody taught them any better. I’m surprised because J.D. is a good man with solid Lutheran morals. How he raised a herd of rude cows is a solid mystery - but that’s a matter for another discussion.

Anyway, uncivilized as they are, J.D.’s cows have taught me something. People think cows are stupid, but they’re not. They pay attention. Real close attention. All the time. I finally figured out that’s what all that staring is about. Even though, by my mother’s standard, they’re still kind of rude, these cows are keeping an eye on me, checking things out, paying attention in real time to the present moment. They’re fully present, hooves and all.

Unlike me, they’re not thinking about next week and all the decisions that will have to be made to steer a congregation through the Wild West of regathering for worship, Bible study and fellowship while to world continues to fall apart. They’re not worried about people getting sick and dying. They don’t seem to be thinking about anything, except maybe who I am and why I’m parked outside their pasture with a laptop.

Something I learned about the Catfish cows. They never worry. Ever. They may pay attention to the point of staring, but they never appear to be worried. When they are tired of standing in the sun, they find shade and sit down. When they get hungry, they munch a mouth full of grass. When a baldheaded stranger comes and sits by their electric fence, they visit from a safe social distance. But worry? Never. They know all’s well - at least today.

The Catfish cows remind me to stop what I’m doing and pay attention, to plan for tomorrow but not to live there. They remind me that today is a wondrous gift, a place where I have the opportunity to live fully, even with rude cows staring me. Like them, I have the opportunity to stare at the wonder of life as it unfolds. The Catfish cows show me how to do this - live with my eyes and ears wide open, awake to the wonder of life’s ever-changing scenery, even if I have to live sometimes behind electric fences set by world circumstance or personal concerns. They demonstrate how to be glad for the day, happy for the occasional company of others, no matter their type or species.

On a beautiful afternoon in Catfish, North Carolina a herd of angus cows stands 6-feet apart along my woodshed fence staring me and you plainly in the eye. They have only one nosey question: “Why worry?”

Worried today? Let it go! The Catfish Cows say: “Enjoy your day!”
Pastor Frank Waugh
Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Granite Falls, North Carolina
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1)