It was November of 1998. My experience as part of the Intentional Community program had ended two months earlier. I found myself at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Ghost Ranch conference center in Abiquiu, New Mexico attending a “reentry event” to process my volunteer ministry experience. Only one of my housemates was in attendance, and so it was that one afternoon, Alissa and I (we weren’t dating yet) found ourselves going out for an afternoon walk. If you had only seen a picture of the land, you would have thought it was hot and dry. Well, it was dry, but Ghost Ranch is in Northern New Mexico on a plateau seven thousand feet about sea level. It was dry, but also quite cold.
So, bundled against the cold, Alissa and I set out to the south. It was not long before we found ourselves walking across the cracked read earth of the dry lake bed. We talked of spiritual things, as is common when confronted with such stark beauty as exists in the high desert. Making sure we could see Kitchen Mesa marking the location of the conference center, we ascended from the dry lake bed into the dessert scrub land.
We had been talking about dessert experiences, of retreating to nature to seek solitude and discernment, to seek out the voice of God. And there, near a brush-filled ravine, it happened. We heard something. It seemed that our solitude was not nearly as complete as we thought it was. Turning right and left revealed only the same scrubby brush. Then we heard more sounds approaching nearer and nearer until we found ourselves confronted by a great horned beast. A white horned head, nostrils flaring beneath deranged eyes towered over us.
What was this beast? A cow.