A creative non-fiction essay by Sofía Sarabia Alfonso.

July in the Scottish Highlands tends to be colder than in the rest of the British Isles, and also incredibly wet. It may give the impression that weather has changed since the old times, when the Scottish summer was very short and the highest temperature was 15ºC, but when I was on my way to the Isle of Skye, the rains and the strong winds made me forget that it was actually summer. Packed with warm jackets and scarves, I went to the Scottish Highlands. I was travelling across the country: visiting castles, hiking and eating delicious meat pies. Have you ever tasted one of those? These pies are completely amazing; greasy, spicy and in Edinburgh they were absolutely cheap! Scotland was the perfect place to enjoy all kind of sausages, pulled pork and haggis of course. But a curious incident happened that made me think all over again about my relation with nature and the question of the “humanity” of animals.

While I was travelling to Fort William, I had to stop just to put some gas on the hired car. I had been driving for long hours, sightseeing castles, ruins, and beautiful landscapes full of wildlife. The number of wild sheep in those green fields was almost overwhelming, I had never seen anything similar, they seemed to me as snowflakes in grass. The sights I had the opportunity to contemplate created the illusion of time travelling, I had the feeling of being in the Medieval Ages, with all the landscape untouched. This was, of course, until I reached the castle of Eilean Donan and the Loch Ness tourist attractions. It made me wonder about the tourist condition of such landscapes. The consequences of having very touristic attractions next to untouched land are that the land becomes jeopardized, full of cigarette ends, food packages, and the wild fauna running away from those places. Is it worth it? To exploit iconic places in the history of Scotland for money, risking the safety of the environment?

I was ruminating it when, standing outside the car, my sight fell on a grazing bovine herd next to the gas station. They were just standing in that field, all quiet, surrounded by green grass and flowers. I do not think they were wild cows, nor some tourist attraction to spend money on. They were simply coos, the hairy cows found in the Scottish Highlands. Coos tend to be very different from other cows in Scotland and around the world since they are bigger, and have their body covered by long hair, they even have bangs!

As I approached the cattle, I saw one of the coos coming my way, following my steps along the fence that was separating us. She stood next to a bush full of flowers and started to eat. She was calm, not disturbed at all by my presence. She let me take photographs of her, and even looked at the camera a few times. At that moment I stopped looking through the camera lens and started doing it through my own eyes. During the trip, I had not felt peace, at least not as much as I felt at that moment: the sweet summer breeze, the green grass, and the serene coo. I look at her in the eye, and through the hairy bangs I saw something I had never realised. I saw “human” eyes. These were eyes that felt, that suffered, that were happy, that changed. I did not think it was possible to find human qualities in animals more than those found in pets because of their condition of domestic animals. I had always thought of the animals as something far less inferior, without feelings, incapable of suffering. But my perception changed when I saw the eyes of that coo through her bangs, surrounded in a green field with other coos grazing around her. And at one moment she changed her path and moved away from the cattle and from me; then, she pooped. I could not stop humanising that coo. No intelligent animal would have done the same. She needed intimacy. Then, I understood.

We are not so different from animals, they are just like us. But despite the acknowledgement of this fact, we believe we have the power to torture them, to kill them, to breed them, to control them. That coo I saw near Fort William was not an animal that I thought someone could torture. That tender and quiet creature, lovely and harmless, did not deserve to be killed and eaten, to be used, to be separated from the herd in order to fulfil the gluttony of human beings.

And what if that coo was not the only cow who did not deserve to be tortured?

What if no animal deserved such a fate?

Then I decided I would stop eating meat, or drinking milk. I would not be the cause of the suffering of more living and breathing beings. I would stop the destruction of the planet, I would improve my health and I would build a better world for everyone with this little gesture.