This book is full of lovely moments between the author and Daisy, a three-year-old three-quarters Brown Swiss and one-quarter Jersey cow. Shreve Stockton finds Daisy, learns to milk her, and loves her.
But there is much more here. Consumer habits of eating beef, drinking milk, and otherwise using the products of cattle, are examined as well. The modern food system — such as government subsidies to promote massive corn and soy mono-crops and other destructive industrial ways of agriculture — are put on trial, and the system comes out guilty of cruelty and callousness to both creatures and the environment. The profit motive meets Daisy face-to-face.
Beautiful photographs of her grace these pages. But without distracting sentimentality, Stockton reveals an insider’s look at human-animal relationships, western ranch life (Wyoming, specifically), and rural life everywhere.
Chapter 5, “Nature as a Model,” begins “I never knew how special a blade of grass really was, before I got Daisy.” Then, Stockton shows how quickly and easily she can take the reader to a sweet place: “She nibbled tender tendrils when the grass shot up the first warm week of spring.”
But meeting Daisy and learning her ways and personality does not lead to an obvious vegetarianism. Stockton write near the middle of the book: “On our way home, Mike drove slowly, even though the trailer was empty. I closed my eyes and silent tears traveled down my face. I’ve been providing humanely raised beef to my customers for nearly a decade and I still cry when my steers transition to food. Not from guilt, not exactly from sadness. I cry from the sheer intensity of being so closely involved in the circle of life and death, and death for life. We’re all involved in this — every time we eat and drink, no matter what we eat and drink — but often from such a distance we don’t feel it.”
She is a beautiful writer of spiritual depth (see the excerpt accompanying this review) — a memoirist as well as an analyst of data and trends. She combines the sensitivities of nature writing with smart commentary in a way similar to the narratives and truth of Wendell Berry. She tells us about calving, milking, and the habits of cows, but she also knows science, and carbon and global warming are part of the message here:
“Cattle are demonized for destroying the environment through overgrazing and greenhouse gas emissions. But the truth is far more nuanced. . . . Cattle themselves are not inherently bad for the earth or the environment. On the contrary: by keeping cattle — and sheep, for that matter — exclusively on pasture and managing their grazing thoughtfully, these animals can be a formidable force in sequestering carbon and protecting us all from climate change.”