Today I would like to discuss an important aspect of life in Bethesda. I am speaking, of course, about cows.

There are no cows in Bethesda, you say? That is exactly my point. I have been thinking how aesthetically pleasing it would be if the parking lot across from Barnes & Noble was converted into a pasture, where cows could graze. There’s never any parking there when you need it anyway, because everyone else got there first. In fact, I don’t know who those people are, but they must arrive at 4:30 a.m. and leave their cars there for the day, because whenever I need to park, there is no space. These same people must then sneak back every couple hours to feed the meter, which must be exactly when I’m looking for a space, because I end up following them as they walk to their cars. And they always trick me by walking between cars to go to another row, at which time I have to screech tires around the corner to get there before the guy in the minivan who’s coming from the other direction. But the joke is on us both: This person was only feeding the meter. That is what always happens.

So, cows, right? A huge improvement over that experience. Think about it. Instead of the stress of not finding parking, the whole issue is off the table. (I don’t mean parking in general, of course that’s still an issue, and for more on that, see Susan Coll’s blog, Alternate Sides—she’s an expert!) Instead of speeding around corners and attaching one’s bumper to a pedestrian’s calves, you could be gazing at actual bovine calves. (That wasn’t an insult; I’m talking about cows.)

Cows are calm and peaceful. Even when mooing, a few cows are quieter than revving engines and skidding tires and far less strident than accidentally triggered car alarms. Cows move slowly. They even CHEW slowly. There is nothing at all about cows that will add tension to your day. Unless you get too close, and you step in something. Or if one of them steps on your foot. So, gaze from a respectful distance.

Imagine this: You are halfway through your holiday shopping. You have made a mad dash through the clothing store, the card store, the gourmet candy shop, and the paper store, and you have picked your child up at school. You are counting on your child to cooperate while you go book shopping. Hahaha! As you are about to cross the street and head to the bookstore, you pause and look around; something seems different… and—suddenly—you know what it is: There are cows. One of them stops eating (because they are always eating) and looks up at you. It’s so cold you can see your breath, and you can see the cow’s breath too. Everything around you is moving quickly, but the cow is not moving, and neither are you.

Instead, you are MOOOOved.

Maybe there could even be a milking demonstration.

You think I’m losing it, right? It might not surprise you to know that I recently spent two weeks staring at cows myself, and it was extremely restful. This is because I was at the kind of place where they send people who need a long period of rest. Just kidding. In fact, I recently had a residency at an artist colony in a rural location. Instead of circling parking lots, every day I stared at cows. I learned the difference between beef cattle and dairy cows. There are many differences, but one is that beef cattle are more likely to run away from people. It does not take much guessing to determine why that might be. Anyway, this staring at cows for two weeks was calming, and I left that place still feeling extremely calm, which lasted until I hit Beltway traffic.

Once I was home, it wasn’t long before I noticed that there is a severe shortage of cattle here. Maybe that doesn’t strike anyone as unusual or even regrettable. But I will tell you a story: When I was growing up in the suburbs of Silver Spring, there were cattle. And I’m not THAT old. I wasn’t educated in a one-room schoolhouse before the advent of electric lighting, in spite of what my kids think. No, in fact, the cattle I remember were pastured next door to my junior high school. (Yes, we used to call it “junior high” and now it’s “middle school” which still sounds to me like a newfangled term no better than calling it “junior” to high school.)

As I was saying, my junior high school was not in a rural location. It was firmly planted in suburbia, across the street from a strip mall containing a Giant grocery, along with the obligatory chain drug store, dry cleaner, McDonald’s, and a head shop, er, I mean record store. Nevertheless, next door to the school, on the other side of a split-rail fence, there was a pasture, where one could find what I think were dairy cows. As for what the cows were doing across from the strip mall, I can only assume they were waiting for Chinese carry-out. That was a joke. In fact, I wonder if the proximity to McDonald’s made them uncomfortable.

As a student, I thought that the presence of cows next to the school was an interesting novelty. And there were, as far as I know, no tipping incidents. However, there was a legend, which may or may not be true, that for a senior prank one year, a group of students from a nearby high school “kidnapped” one of these cows and somehow enticed it into their school building. I won’t tell you what I heard about how they removed the cow from the building.

For whatever reason, the farmer who owned the land next to the school was not persuaded to sell until later years, when I imagine the value of local real estate was such that he received an offer he couldn’t refuse. Because now, there is no pasture, and there are no cows. Instead, there are townhomes. I’m not against progress, not at all. I’m just not sure that IS progress.

My point is—if there IS a point—there was something special about the presence of those cows. Not that raising cattle is something I’d want to do; that job is a lot messier and certainly more physically challenging than sitting at my laptop, writing about them. But maybe having them around would be a nice reminder that not every living thing feels the need to move as quickly as we do.

And, it would give everyone something interesting to look at while they’re standing in the cupcake line.

For more from Paula Whyman, see and her online parody newspaper