Somewhere off the coast of Alaska lies the island of Chirikof, which is home to zero full-time humans but somewhere north of 2,000 feral cattle. The herd has been there for a century, its habitat enshrined as a federally protected wildlife preserve. However, as Jude Isabella makes clear in this beautifully rendered travel/nature feature (with photography to match), such a status might not be best for the rest of the area’s wildlife—or even for the cows themselves.
On the floor, a cow’s head resembles a Halloween mask, horns up, eye sockets facing the door, snout resting close to what looks like a rusted engine. Half the head is bone, half is covered with hide and keratin. Femurs and ribs and backbone scatter the floor, amid bits and bobs of machinery. One day, for reasons unknown, this cow wedged herself into an old shed and died.
Cattle loom large in death, their bodies lingering. Their suffering—whether or not by human hands—is tangible. Through size, domestication, and ubiquity, they take up a disproportionate amount of space physically, and through anthropomorphism, they grab a disproportionate amount of human imagination and emotion. When Frank Murkowski said Alaska should leave one island to the cattle, he probably pictured a happy herd rambling a vast, unfenced pasture—not an island full of bones or heifer-buckling bulls.