|The cow painting hanging in Uri's room|
To me a cow is a symbol of a return to nature and a simpler life. It throws me back to childhood visits to the Kibbutz (the Israeli communal farm) or the Moshav (the cooperative farm), the smell of cows hanging in the air, their melodic moos carrying in the breeze. Cows symbolize, for me, an assurance against starvation, which I draw not from life but from literature. I remember Hector Malot’s touching and adventurous Nobody’s Boy, and the thin cow which alone protected Remy and his foster mother from poverty. I knew: as long as there’s a cow, there will be milk and butter.
So when Patricia MacLachlan, author of the wonderful Sarah Plain and Tall, said (and I think it may have been a quote from her books) at the SCBWI conference, “I can’t write anything better than a cow,” and again after that, “a poem as beautiful as a cow,” I felt a deep connection to that sentiment. What is there, in our world, more beautiful than a cow? She is a symbol of mother earth, nourishing, generously sharing her milk with us. In India the cow is a sacred animal, and in Feng Shui it is a symbol for prosperity and good luck.
But if a cow embodies the mother: patient, calm, accepting, what does it have in common with a conflict-filled, dramatic, fast paced book? For me, at least, Ms. MacLachlan’s analogy evoked a feeling rather than a comparison: that a writer has created something as pure, innocent, and perfect in its own way, as real, as true to its own nature, as a cow.