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.