The Time Exchange
Chapter 2

This episode at the sale yard happened about eighteen months before I arrived on the farm where she was taken with her broken leg. The veterinary surgeon did his best to set the bone correctly but in spite of his efforts it proved to be impossible to restore functionality completely, and so from that day forth she waddled with a pronounced limp which explains how she got her curious name. Brown Star's name was given to him by the herd within a few weeks of his being born because he had been seen gazing into the firmament one morning, and also because, like so many of his kind, he had a coat which was a distinctly rusty brown.

It was Brown Star himself who eventually told me what his name was. On the day that he told me I could see from the expression on his face that it wasn't an easy thing for him to relate something so personal as his birth name, not because of his shyness but because of factors complicating our telepathic rapport. Throughout my entire telepathic career, spanning some twenty years or more, I have had to test a string of hypotheses about the physical mechanisms which allow individuals to relate to each other telepathically. Telepathic relations are not like verbal ones, and understanding why they are not is often perplexing. In Brown Star's case he struggled to translate his name into terms which I could understand because of differences in the way cows and humans represent the world. When he told me his name I sensed that he had spent the previous three weeks trying to think of how he could explain to me the subtle combination of perceptions which his name was meant to represent. It wasn't the brown of his coat that he was struggling with, but the inexpressible dimension beyond the cloudy sky that defied his ability to explain himself. Cows are evidently well aware of the vast infinity which staggers the comprehension of anyone who endeavours to look out there. It may stagger the mind, but it gives hope to the soul to look out there and remember that once we were all dreaming of the vast beauty of a world which should be so dear to us.

I felt so much like a member of the herd in the days which followed my learning Brown Star's birth name. Senior members of the herd seemed surprised to observe that such intimate relations were possible, and I was favoured with a new expression of their respect for me. Hoppy could barely contain the pride she felt for the two of us, and even I had to stop and consider some of the consequences which such relations made possible. The chilly winter days were, however, getting longer and in spite of my perceptual faculties I failed to foresee the storm which was about to ravage our cosy domestic joy. I failed to realise that I now had a conflict of interest between the loyalty I owed to the cows for including me within their group, and the loyalty I owed to the farmer who had provided me with a home and whom I had been helping.

Yet in spite of the biting chill which blew from the south across the flood plain I enjoyed a confidence within myself which had been sadly lacking in my experience of life for too many years. For too long I had suffered the stigma which telepaths must endure. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia some fourteen years prior to this episode with the cows during which time I endured a personal storm of relentless doubts and recriminations. So my experience with the cows allowed me to draw some conclusions about the nature of my experience which once and for all put an end to much of the conceptual argument raging within me.

My perceptual confusion resulted from the denial of our telepathic potential by the human groups I had previously been associating with. I grew up in Sydney at a time when its flourishing industries attracted more and more migrants, so my lasting impression of this bustling metropolis was its congestion. I felt overwhelmed by the scale of urban existence, and I also felt deceived by those countless urban dwellers whose livelihoods depend on a subtle manipulation of the truth. I had begun to seek the smaller country towns quite early in my adult life, so my appetite for such magnificent landscapes began with a comparison between my urban and rural experiences. I felt so much healing in the quiet beauty of a country afternoon. I looked out into space during the late afternoon as if the landscape were as much an extension of time as it were in space, and the melody I saw playing among the subtly coloured lights eased a tension which I had acquired during my earlier urban life.

The farmer was a sharecropper who was usually busy helping other farmers in the district, so it was a great relief for him to have some help at home. Most of his paddocks were used for cropping either sorghum or rye grass and by this time of the year the crops had not been sown, so there was very little at home for the cows to eat. There was, however, a surprising abundance of grasslands just begging for some cows to come and eat them beside the numerous roads which cut the district up into smaller parcels of land. I would take the cows out in the morning, check on them throughout the day and bring them home in the evening. There were only about fifty of them, so during the time I spent with them I got to know them pretty well.

Cows have a sense of humour when they get a chance to express it, and they've got a sense of mischievous amusement too. You may have an impression of cows scattered randomly around a paddock with their heads down diligently attending to their grazing which is true for the most part, but I found out how naughty they can be while supervising their behaviour outside the gates and fences. They're very aware of the fences surrounding a paddock. They think a lot about the significance of fences and how their lives are structured by the constraints which fences impose, so being outside the fence lines and being able to graze beside the roads surrounding the home paddocks allowed them to do a bit of strategic scouting.

About three or four kilometres along the road back into town the farmer had erected a couple of posts on either side of the road, and had strung a length of tape between them which was supposed to define the limit to their grazing and which the cows were supposed to observe. The road was, of course, open to passing traffic, so the boundary was a purely psychological one; there was in no sense a physical boundary which the cows could not cross if they chose to. When I let them wander along this length of road it took them several hours to get to the boundary tape during which time I expect they would have casually thought about what they would do when they got to it. I guess it was a tribute to the respect they had for the farmer and his authority that more often than not they would stop at the tape and wonder what to do. If I wasn't there to turn them around then before long they would have waddled around the tape and onto the next length of road, but even so the boundary provided me with an interesting demonstration of their thinking, and I was surprised to see them wrestle with a distinctly moral dilemma.

It was a virtually insignificant issue in practical terms; I could turn them around and get them to head for home anytime. But occasionally the neighbour's cows were out grazing along the same length of road, so that the two herds got mixed up, and it took a few days of sorting to separate them again. This would have been an imposition for the farmer who had to take time out from his other duties to distinguish his cows from his neighbours, but it was a profoundly social occasion for the cows who could discuss their differing experiences with the new intruders in some detail.

I felt honoured to be a member of a social group so distantly related to the groups I had previously been associating with. I've always been a fairly solitary type, so I've never been overly dependent on my membership of human groups, and I guess my solitude has made it easier for me to relate to those outside the human family. Even so, I feel strongly about my membership of my own family, notwithstanding my concerns regarding the ecological context in which families bear their children. I don't have any children of my own but I cherish the affection I feel for my brothers, and my sister and their children, and I couldn't fail to recognise the affection which the cows felt for their own offspring.

The farmer's bull was allowed to graze with all the other cows, so cows were inseminated whenever they were fertile, and calves were being born throughout the calving season. When a cow was ready to give birth she would drop her bundle where ever she happened to be, even if it was several kilometres from home beside a dusty country road, and I was constantly on the lookout for new born calves when I turned the herd home in the late afternoon. If a calf was born late in the day then I would have to herd the others home, wait for the farmer to return from work, and let him know of the calf left behind by the road with its mother. Otherwise I would try to persuade the little one to follow the others home, and I was often surprised by how resilient they were at such a tender age.

Sometimes I would let the herd remain outside the gate until after sunset because I sensed how much it meant to them to be able to make the gathering dark into something special. I didn't want the farmer to know that I was allowing the cows to enjoy this special treat because I knew that he would be annoyed, so I only did it on those days where he was not expected home until quite late. On most other days the older cows would not linger by the gate when they got to it, but the younger ones would hang around outside the gate until all the others had gone through because it meant so much to them to savour a lingering taste of freedom before they were locked up overnight. It was a virtually insignificant thing since everywhere outside the gate there were fences along the roads we travelled. Yet in spite of this very subtle distinction the little ones could tell the difference between their freedom and captivity, and I was overwhelmed by the sense in which the farm was not unlike the concentration camps seen during the Second World War.

On one occasion one of the little ones refused to go through the gate no matter how hard I tried to persuade her. I wasn't going to get rough with her because I felt so much affection for them. So I picked her up around her four legs, and believe me those little ones are not light by any means. I struggled back to my feet with this little one in my arms and carried her over the threshold of the gate where I put her down again.

Some of the other cows had evidently been watching this because I heard one of them say, "Look! He loves us."

She was right. I did love them which made it very difficult for me to see the yearlings taken off to slaughter. I had this Bambi thing going on down at the farm which was typical of my kind of city folk who had moved to the country to escape the rat race. The farmer had no such qualms of course, and neither did his family. I could tell from the way he spoke of them that he was vaguely annoyed by the way I had cast them in this role.

The farmer never told me when he was going to take his prime vealers off to the sale yard because he knew how I felt about it. So when Brown Star was taken to be sold the first I heard of it was the wailing among the ones left behind in a fallow paddock a fair way off beside the south road where the loading ramp was. I went down to the south paddock and stood at a distance feeling glum, listening to their grieving, and trying to see if I could recognise any faces. I was still too far away to see any of them clearly, so I walked on a little further. When Hoppy saw me she turned to me and let out a huge barking wail, and I knew immediately that her young one had been taken.

I turned and walked away. I didn't need to know any more than Hoppy's expression of her loss. I'd seen them behave like this before, so I knew they'd be several days grieving in this way. I could see that they'd been provided with enough food to last them a couple of days, so there'd be no droving for me for a while. I went out the west gate and into the hills nearby so that I could walk a bit and think about what I'd seen, and to partake in a little grieving of my own.

I arrived at the top of a neighbouring ridge line late in the afternoon. It was fairly rocky ground unsuitable for any kind of farming, so the scrubby bush was untouched by human hands and left as it had been for an age now lost to the memories of those who would come by this way. To the west the next ridge line was about ten kilometres away, and to the east it was about twenty kilometres to another, so the hill where I was standing was surrounded by a broad flat flood plain. I couldn't see it because of all the trees in the way, but I could feel it stretching out before me, and I'm sure the aboriginals in the past delighted in the sensation, as do the remaining wallabies who inhabit it today.

I found my favourite rock before long and sat down to do a little brooding. I realised that I found myself in an impossible situation. I was caught between two worlds. My desire to prove the otherwise doubtful case of possessing telepathic powers had tempted me to get so involved with the cows. But I was unable to contradict the farmer's behaviour because so much of society depended on his produce. I made up my mind to leave the farm as soon as possible. It was a Friday so I would have to wait until next week before I could organise my things and decide where I would go. I was thinking about Armidale a couple of hours drive to the north. I'd been there before and I knew of a place out of town which would be perfect for me.

I tried to shift my attention away from the sadness I'd left behind me. I tried to trace the shafts of light penetrating the tree tops back into the picture plane several light seconds because I knew that the hope of all who suffer lay beyond the clouds. The light was of such a golden colour which complemented the deep blue sky, but it was the length of the rays I saw arriving that inspired such hope. The subtle combination of these simple perceptions eased the grieving I had brought to this place that afternoon, and the rhythmic rustling of the leaves in the breeze spoke of timeless memories which seemed to transcend the drama unfolding back on the farm.

I sat there while the darkness drew closer, feeling sorry for those insignificant ones who had suffered because of my silent collaboration with a farmer who believed that what he did to them was a trifling thing.

This drama unfolded late in the summer of 1998 before I moved back to Armidale to continue my studies. It was, however, some time before I realised the significance of this episode, and you won't be able to see the context in which I locate it. You may be inclined to doubt the veracity of what I have told you. You may, for example, doubt my possession of telepathic powers, but perhaps even more so you doubt that hope exists in the vastness beyond the sky. Let me now try to address these doubts by telling you about the summer of 1981 when I moved into a rambling old private hotel by the harbour in Sydney's Neutral Bay.

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