Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows – and china. – Charles Dickens
Seems like everyone’s got the blues these days. Loneliness is becoming a social epidemic, and though there are many suggested cures (last weeks London Metro proposed comfort food), life doesn’t seem to be getting much easier for anyone. In last week’s Guardian on Sunday, reporter Jemima Kiss told of her retreat to the countryside in an attempt to kick her ‘digital habit’.
Cows are just one element of a gentler rural lifestyle that many people frustrated with the white noise of city and suburban life have rushed to. In rural communities based upon working the land and becoming self sufficient, life takes on a different rhythm that often has significant effects on overall mental and emotional wellbeing. Much of this can be attributed to the basic natural benefit of being connected with the environment. In an Open University study, Dr Chris Spencer cites an experiment where ‘people were comparing two hospital wards, one of which looked out on to a man-made environment the other one which looked out on to beautiful countryside. All of the patients had similar illnesses. The patients looking out on the natural environment got better, faster.’ This relationship extends to that between man and beast also. The gentle, giving nature of cows invites an mutually sustaining exchange. In his book ‘Cows and the Earth’, environmentalist, Ranchor Prime states that ‘Cows and humans have lived together for thousands of years. We need each other, and benefit from each other’s companionship.’
Perhaps Dickens, whose novels were often set in the bleak, industrialised cities of Victorian England, really had the right idea.