Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring 2007

Our cows were scheduled to start calving in mid March that spring, but Rosie calved early, On March 6. We had just put the cows in the maternity pen and put out straw for them to bed on because the ground was muddy—due to several inches of new snow the week before. We were about to go to bed that evening when I looked out the window and saw a new calf. Rosie was licking it, but she had a lot of help—some of the pregnant heifers (ready to have their first calves) were very curious and trying to smell and lick the calf, too. So we spread straw in one of the smaller pens and put Rosie and her new baby in there, so they could bond and not be disrupted by the other cattle.
One of the heifers (Magnolia, a daughter of Maggie) calved the next evening. She calved fast and easy, but the sac around the calf’s head didn’t break and I ran out to the pen to get the sac and fluid away from the calf’s nose so he could breathe. We have our calving pens next to the house so we can watch from the windows (with yard lights at night) and get out there quickly to save a calf if we need to.
We had a lot of wind that spring, so we put more tarps along the side pens as windbreaks. If the newborn calves can be out of the wind they don’t get so chilled.

A few nights later, however, it was very cold when Cub Cake (daughter of Cubby, granddaughter of Cinnebear) calved, so we put the baby in our big plastic sled and pulled him to the barn, with mama following.
Some of the older, experienced cows prefer to calve in the barn when weather is nasty, and it’s easy to tell when they’re in early labor, even if they are not obviously showing signs of labor. For instance, Rishira came down to the gate one morning at chore time, wanting to come into the calving pen so she could go to the barn. She showed no signs of labor all day, but by evening it was obvious that she was calving, and she had her baby at 9 pm.

We had a busy spring, because even though we weren’t calving in January anymore, some of the weather in March and April wasn't very good, and we still had to keep close watch at night and put some cows in the barn.
Michael and Carolyn finally finished calving their 280 cows; the last slowpokes calved in early May. Our smaller herd started in March, and all but 3 had calved by early April, but those last 3 kept us checking on them at nights during nasty weather. The last two calved during snowstorms, so they had to go in the barn.

We had a lot of problems with coyotes and wolves that winter. Michael and Carolyn lost a total of 7 calves to predators--2 calves were killed and eaten; the others were young calves that got trampled by cows when predators were harassing the herd. The cows were stampeding around and bellowing, and on 5 different occasions this resulted in the fatal trampling of a newborn calf.
We had a wolf in our field above the house one evening at dusk. We'd just eaten supper and heard the cows bawling. We ran out there and the cows and calves were running around the field bellowing. Two people on 4-wheelers were parked up on the road, watching. I ran out into the field to "talk" to the cows and they finally calmed down, and the guys on 4-wheelers drove into our driveway to tell us that when they came around the corner above our place they saw the cows chasing what they thought at first was a large gray coyote. But coyotes don't go into that field with the cows, because there's netting on all the fences and it's hard for coyotes to get in. A wolf, on the other hand, can easily jump the fence.
In early April Michael and Carolyn branded their big group of calves, with the help of some of their ranching friends. The next weekend I helped them and their kids brand and vaccinate their 2 smaller groups. Young Heather’s knee was healing after her surgery, but she still had to wear the knee brace. Nick and Carolyn did most of the calf-pushing to get the calves into the little chute for branding.
[[use several photos—Nick (2 photos), Heather (with knee brace),

That spring I got a long letter from Liz. Her son Ty was doing well, working at a food store and writing/playing music, seeking his own path in life and trying to find his way. Like Andrea, life has not been easy for him in many ways, but they both gained strength and perception that will stand them in good stead whatever comes. In some ways these two young people have gained an emotional maturity that most people take years and years to find (and some never do). Liz and I had confidence in their ability to "land on their feet" regardless of whatever buffeting gusts and storms come their way.
Liz also sent me a copy of the letter she wrote to Laurel in early March. Our continued communication meant. I felt a strong and beautiful connection with these two women, even though I’d never met either one of them face to face. They were like sisters to me, or soul mates. The 3 of us are very different, yet we share something so deep, so important, and very special. I still cherish these friendships and am grateful for each of them; we've all been a great strength and help to one another through a challenging but wondrous journey (that I could hardly believe was nearly 7 years along, that spring, in its progress).
This "net" of love has been a godsend. It helped sustain me many times. Sharing the pain, the struggle, the spiritual growth that blossomed from it--this sharing has been very special, very instrumental in how my own journey evolved. I hate to think what those past 7 years would have been like for me, without it. Having this network, knowing that Lynn and I were not alone in our journey, knowing that there were others who understood exactly what we were struggling through, and finding hope and comfort in that knowledge--and in turn trying to help Liz and Laurel through the tough times--this was one of the biggest factors in making those years a blessed journey of discovery and of love.
Liz’s letter to Laurel was so full of "life" and it beautifully expressed the emotions surrounding a part of life that is hard to embrace--the death of a loved one. Liz’s mom had passed away that spring. Losing a parent is something we all expect, but it's never quite real until we do. I very much appreciated those comments and feelings, because I had just lost my dad. He had been in failing health, gradually becoming less functional--and his disabilities were more than mom could handle. He was near the point of needing full time care, but his independent spirit would never have tolerated that, so I was thankful he was able to die at home.
He passed away the morning of April 26, 2007, after some serious episodes of failing health. He had been in the hospital a few days the end of March because of congestive heart failure. He wasn't able to breathe very well and the doctor put him on oxygen for a while in the hospital. Then he was doing a little better and went home again.
A few weeks later on a Thursday he and mom were walking over to the hospital (just across the street from their apartment) for a doctor appointment for dad, and he tripped on the curb by the hospital and fell, hitting the back of his head and knocking himself out. Several people rushed out there, and one of them started mouth-to-mouth breathing. Then a doctor gave him CPR; Dad still had no heartbeat and wasn't breathing. They finally got him going again, and the doctor was amazed that Dad wasn't brain dead. They put in a trachea tube to assist his breathing, and it took him a few hours to stabilize, but he came out of it.
He had a sprained/broken ankle, a concussion, and some cracked ribs from the CPR, but no brain injury and he looked a LOT better by the next day. I had really good visits with him that Saturday and Sunday in the hospital, and he was his old self again. He was able to go home from the hospital that Monday. He was in pain from the ankle and the cracked ribs, but able to sleep better in his own bed.
A couple nights later he fell again, going with his walker to the bathroom. Mom couldn't get any response from him and called 911. The EMT's came and took him to the ER again, where they put him on oxygen and then sent him home. He slept pretty well the rest of that night and was doing better. The oxygen helped. But the doctor told mom that it was just a matter of time and that he might have 2 more days or 2 months. His old heart was giving out. He was on oxygen full time after that, but the oxygen machine had a long hose and he could get around the house and to the bathroom and to his rocking chair in the living room--and had some wonderful visits with family and friends who came to see him.
But he collapsed again Wednesday night; my mom and sister had a hard time getting him into bed. The next day was Mom and Dad's 66th wedding anniversary and he hung on until then; he died early that morning in my mother's arms. He didn't want to end up in a nursing home, and he got his wish, dying at home, surrounded by love.
The doctors were amazed that he didn't die from the effects of his fall a week earlier, but I think the main reason Dad didn't slip away from us then was that he was hanging on for some very important reasons. It was like the door was open, and he could see it was open, but he wasn't quite ready to go.
There had been a tragic rift in our family and he hadn't had much interaction with our son Michael (Dad's oldest grandson). Dad hadn't seen his 2 oldest great-grandchildren for 6 years. Michael visited Dad once, the year before, and wanted to reconnect and continue having a few visits, but hadn't taken time to do it. When a person is young, he thinks there's always another day. Michael visited Dad in the hospital after his fall, and promised to bring his kids to see Dad--and Dad was looking forward to that, very much. He also wanted to hang on until his wedding anniversary; many times he kept asking mom and my sister what day it was, and when their anniversary was.

Those last days, Dad had several wonderful visits with friends and family, including a great visit the evening before he died--with Michael and Carolyn and their kids. Those kids (age 14 and 16 at that time) hadn't talked to their great grandpa since they were 8 and 10 years old. They now have that wonderful memory and will always know that their great grandpa loved and cared about them very much.
Dad collapsed later that night (another episode of passing out and not breathing for awhile), and mom and my sister had a struggle getting him into bed. But he rallied and had a pretty good night. In the morning when mom got up, dad was awake and aware, and she played their music box for him. It played their special song (from their honeymoon 66 years ago), and he knew it was their anniversary--and then he had another passing-out episode and she couldn't get him sitting up so he could breathe, and he died in her arms.
Life throws lots of curve balls at us, and we're still learning how to play the game. As we get older we try to learn how to go with the flow and take each new development as it comes along. It's not always easy, and I am glad that the Lord gives us the strength we need when we hit the various potholes and detours in the road. I was glad for the opportunities to spend a little more time with Dad during his final week, and that several other family members were able to visit with him; he had a really good day, the day before he died. It was like God granted him that extra week to say good-by, and to do some things he needed to do. There were some wondrous family healings that took place in those last days--and in the following days as family came together and planned the funeral. Some bridges were made and I think Dad accomplished, in his death, some things that he couldn't do in life (such as getting my sister and my son and kids speaking to one another again and hoping to go on from there with the past behind them).
The funeral was Friday, May 4. All of Dad's grandchildren were there, even my brother's son who was living in Australia. It was a wonderful get-together and celebration of Dad's life. A fitting touch was his old saddle, next to the coffin, surrounded by wildflowers from the hills of our ranch—the lupine and balsom-root blossoms that he loved so much—that Lynn and I picked that morning in a very wet snowstorm. At the memorial service we laughed, we cried, we sang, we prayed, we rejoiced, we grieved. It was a very, very special time. We knew we would miss him, but we also knew it was time for him to go.
Family is precious and special, and we are grateful to have our kids and grandkids living nearby. Because of some of the tough times our family has experienced in relationships, Lynn and I try even harder to make sure that communication glitches don't occur in our immediate family. I guess that's the up-side of bad experiences; you realize how precious the good things are, and work harder to maintain them.
Lynn hurt his back that spring and I was grateful for the help of family. For several days Grandson Nick (who had just turned 14) and I loaded the hay bales after school and fed the cows, and Nick split our firewood. After about a week Lynn was doing better and was able to feeding hay again, but we still had a little help from Nick when loading the heaviest bales--which we saved until weekends. We (and the cows) were very glad when there was finally enough grass to quit feeding hay!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Late Winter--January-February 2007

Calving season started for Michael and Carolyn in late January 2007 and the weather was cold. Ice on the creek built up dramatically and it was a challenge to chop down through it to create drinking holes for the cows. They often had trouble with slippery footing, so Lynn hauled some old straw to the water hole on Heifer Hill to create better traction for the cows.
During January we were trying to finish up the "Fall" projects we never quite got done--tagging and vaccinating our heifers, hauling hay, etc. We helped Michael and Carolyn work their cattle and ours--running them all through the chute for their pre-calving vaccinations, and branding/tagging the new heifers they bought. Young Heather and Nick helped, too.

Lynn was driving to town every day to check on his Mom, who had a bad fall and was in the hospital for several days and then in the care center. My parents were still managing to live by themselves at age 88, though Dad was becoming more frail and forgetful.
Our little herd wasn’t scheduled to start calving until March, but Michael and Carolyn had their first calf on January 16. They had a set of twins a week later, but the first one born did not survive because the amnion sac around the calf didn't break and the calf suffocated. The other calf was ok but it got very cold by daylight (nighttime temperature was down to zero) and when they found it in the morning they had to help it nurse.
One night about midnight we heard a wolf howling on the hill above our house, near where a couple calves were being born, but Lynn aimed a spotlight at the hill and it left. The year before, wolves killed one of Michael and Carolyn's newborn calves so we’re a little nervous when wolves come around. A few nights later 3 wolves ran across the highway in front one of our neighbors and he struck one with his pickup. We are getting too many wolves! Michael got a shot at a wolf that was right in the middle of the cowherd one night, but missed.
Coyotes are always a problem, too. Michael and Carolyn lost several calves during that calving season to coyotes; the cows get upset when coyotes are trying to kill a calf, and run around bellowing and chasing the coyotes, and newborn calves sometimes got trampled.
One morning in early February three coyotes were trying to kill a newborn calf when Michael drove into the field to feed the cows, and he was able to shoot one of them. He took the carcass up to the haystack where dozens of whitetail deer had been eating the alfalfa bales at night. The smell of the coyote deterred them for a few nights, but then they got used to it and came boldly back into the haystack to eat.
Another group of deer were eating hay every morning and evening with our weaned heifers, chasing the 25 heifers away from the feed. In spite of the coyotes and our increasing wolf population, we still seem to have plenty of deer!
One of Michael’s heifers stepped on her newborn calf’s hind leg, breaking the bone midway between stifle and hock. A cast wouldn’t work, that high on the leg, because it’s impossible to completely immobilize the leg between those two joints. So our vet put a dog splint on the leg, held in place with wraps of adhesive tape. Within a few hours the calf learned how to get up and down, and walk with the splint. The fracture healed.

In February I got a long letter from one of the people Lynn and Andrea met at the Burn Center, the summer of 2000. Fay was there that summer, with her brother, who had been severely burned. He did not survive, and that was a really tough situation for Fay. We’ve kept in touch with her ever since and keep sharing ideas and thoughts about life, and death.
I sent her a copy of an article that appeared in the Burn Support News, and told her, “Whoever goes through a life-changing event like cancer, a severe burn, serious injury, or loss of someone you love, can understand what this man is writing about. Indeed, these "tragedies" and trials are what carve and shape us and make us more fully aware of God and His love, and the need for loving one another. Most of us do not truly understand nor appreciate life until we run into the rough spots. The blessings and beauty that can eventually evolve from pain or tragedy take us so much farther in our journey than an "unscarred" life can take us. We are truly blessed by things that happen to us, especially the "bad" things. What a paradox. But it's really the only way that God can touch us, transform us, get through to us. We have such a thick veneer of unawareness otherwise... it has to be deeply scratched or broken to open up our view (to really see other people, and God) and let Love pour in.”
We also got a letter from Liz—whose son was burned that same summer. She had recently lost her mom, and she sent us a copy of the obituary (what a wonderful, kind, loving, exceptional, strong person her mom was!) and a copy of a letter she had earlier written to her mom. Liz said that slipping out of this life was a blessing for her mom--to slip free of the bonds that tied her to a narrowing and increasingly unacceptable existence.
Lynn and I could understand. There comes a time, as we age and our bodies fail us, that we are very ready for the next stage--moving on into an expanded unknown, just as a baby is full term and ready to be expelled from the womb into a bigger but totally unknown phase of life. The "birth" from one phase to the next is painful, and some transitions take longer and are more painful than others (we all hope for a quick and easy "birth" and not have to spend too much time in the painful prelude of getting there!!) but I am sure that what awaits us at our emerging is wonderful beyond our imagining. We get a glimpse of Love, here in this life, but I am sure that we can experience it more fully when we shed these rusty old clunker vehicles we travel around in and our spirits are free.
Lynn and I very much appreciated the letter Liz wrote to her mom--observations and reflections on their relationship. It's hard to capture in words the emotions we feel when saying good-by to someone so special in our lives, but Liz did it so well.
Life is fleeting, so frail, yet so wondrously strong and enduring at the same time. The people who make such differences in our lives are ever with us, in life or afterward. The human spirit is a miracle, and we are so loved--to be able to share our journeys with other spirits like mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and special friends who make a lasting impact on our lives and our perceptions of life and love.
The hardest part is letting go. We all expect to lose our parents, but it is not "real" until we do. Liz was ahead of me on this road, since I had not yet lost mine. Lynn lost his real mom when he was a small child, and that loss had a harsh impact on his young life at that time; we seem to need our parents for security for quite awhile in our lives. He lost his dad in 1997, but he'd lived a long and fruitful life, dying just before his 91st birthday. The toughest thing is losing someone long before we can even begin to imagine such a thing--like Lynn losing his mom as a little boy, or a parent losing a child. I am so grateful that Liz and I did not lose our burned children. Even though we went through a long and terrifying minefield of anxiety, we were ultimately blessed. I cannot imagine the pain that Laurel went through, but I am happy that she is coping with it and moving on with her life. By 2007 her letters were so much more open and flowing--a definite difference. Even though she will never "get over" her loss, she was getting past it and moving on.
Loss is devastating, and only Love can carry us through it--Love and trust, trusting that we are all part of something greater. Love is a great blessing, because it is so simple (yet so all-encompassing and profound). It can take us by surprise, full bloom, or slowly grow from a tiny seed (that we didn't even know was there) until we suddenly become aware of it being there.
I am continually amazed at how fundamental Love is. Love needs no words, no explanation, no wisdom, no logic. We don't need to be intelligent or wise to understand and comprehend it. Love just IS, and I think it's God's greatest gift to us, and certainly the only thing that can sustain us at certain times of our lives. It's the only thing strong enough to begin to compete with the devastation that engulfs us after a loss. And then, as it grows, it starts to filter through into our everyday lives, to change and color our perception so that we can appreciate the many small things that bless us--and experience Love in more ways than just the necessary comfort that holds our souls and sanity together when we thought we couldn't go on.
And so, in those weeks just before we started calving, I corresponded with several of our very special friends that we encountered in the Burn ICU. Laurel wondered how I managed to write so many letters, and I told her: “The letters I write in my "spare" time are accomplished only because I neglect other things. You said you were amazed that I want to write in my "spare" time, but I accomplish it only because I feel it's one way I CAN connect with other people (and I do so in gratitude for the help other people have given me in my own journey) and also because I let other things slide. I have energy for extra writing only because some things in my life (like housekeeping) have very low priority. I "cheat" by channeling whatever energy I have into writing (whether articles, books, or letters to people I care about) and leaving none for keeping the house in order or even clean--and Lynn, bless him, is very understanding and doesn't mind the chaos we live in. There, you know my nasty little secret! World's worst housekeeper. In fact, I won a messy desk contest years ago (sponsored by a regional newspaper). All it took was photos of what used to be our living room, totally buried in an avalanche of papers that had overflowed from my desk. The desk was so buried you could hardly see it.”
In early February 2007 our granddaughter Heather (age 15) had surgery on her knee. She tore some ligaments playing basketball that winter. She had her leg in a brace for several weeks and was on crutches for while. Lynn drove to town daily to take her from school to physical therapy and home again, since Michael and Carolyn were busy calving.
Andrea's kids were keeping her busy; Emily and Charlie had been ice-skating since December and Em was on the grade school hockey team. Lynn and I went to one of their tournaments and it was great to how well Em was skating, being so new to this sport. It's fun watching our grandkids grow up. ]

Andrea's youngest (Danielle, 2 years old) gave us a scare Feb 19 when she tumbled out the door of their pickup. They'd stopped at a friend's place in town and the kids were getting out, and little Dani fell out the door onto the sidewalk, on her head. She lost consciousness, and Andrea rushed her to the emergency room at the hospital, where they did a CT scan. She had a concussion, and cracked the bone over her eyebrow, but there was no bleeding on the brain, so they let her go home. She seemed ok, so we were very thankful. Even though she fell several feet (from a tall, 4-wheel-drive pickup), her fall may have been broken a little by the blanket she was holding, and a can of pop (in her other hand) that was totally flattened underneath her. Life can certainly change in a heartbeat, so we were thankful that she was ok.
By late February Michael and Carolyn had less than 50 cows left to calve (out of 280). But they were wearing out, after more than a month of being up nights and taking care of all the calving and feeding chores. They camped here in an old trailer house during calving. The bull they bred their heifers to was supposed to sire small, easy-born calves, but his calves were all big and they had to pull most of them (and lost a couple that were malpresented because they were too big to fit easily through the birth canal).

One Sunday Lynn and I helped them move some of the cows and calves to a different field. The cows readily followed Michael’s tractor and bale of hay, but the young calves were running around, confused. With 4 of us in the field herding them, to help funnel the calves through the gate, we finally got them out on the road. One calf kept running back and forth along the fence, trying to go back. Nick finally tackled the calf just as it was about to crash through the fence, and held onto it while Carolyn made a halter from baling twine. Three of us dragged and pushed the calf back up the bank to the road. By that time the herd was gone, up around the corner—following the tractor and hay. Carolyn put the calf across her lap on the 4-wheeler and hauled him up the road a mile to catch up with the herd as the cattle were going into the next field.

Lynn and I brought our little herd into the "maternity ward" March 5. Even though they were not officially due to start calving that spring until March 14, a few cows always calve ahead of their due dates. We wanted them close to the house so we could check on them easier at nights (with spotlight and binoculars from our window). We never want them calving up in the fields, or we'd risk losing the newborn calves to coyotes or wolves.