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!

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