That spring, we tried to “catch up” on many projects that had been put on “hold” for so many years. I sorted through piles of papers, magazines, manuscripts, etc. that had accumulated for 8 years (following Andrea’s burn accident, when for so long we didn’t have time for anything except the very basics). Lynn built more cabinets, shelves and drawers for the kitchen end of our house. It was nice to have that project—one we started 35 years earlier--more near completion, with shelves and cupboards for some of the things we’d stored in odd places.
In March, Michael and Carolyn sent a load of cull cows to the sale at Blackfoot. They had a lot of “shakedown” in the herd of cows they bought the previous fall—some of those cows didn’t mother their calves, turned up open (not pregnant) or had some other problem.
Since they were short on cow numbers from the heavy culling, we sold them 22 of our cows/heifers and then decided to lease them most of the others. We hauled the leased cows to Maurer’s place where Michael and Carolyn were calving the last of their cows. None of our pregnant heifers had ever been hauled before and some were reluctant to go into the trailer. One heifer ran back over the top of us, knocking me down one direction and Lynn the other. We weren’t hurt (except for a pulled muscle in Lynn’s leg), but we felt like human bowling pins!
The local butcher came out to process 2 of Michael and Carolyn’s cows--one that was too old and crippled to sell, and a big wild cow they bought last fall. She calved in January when the weather was cold. They couldn’t get her in from the field to put in the barn, so she calved out in the snow. Then she wouldn’t follow the newborn calf when they put it in the sled, so they still couldn’t get her to the barn. They dried the calf in their trailer house by the stove, fed it colostrum, and took it back out to the cow, but she wouldn’t mother it.
So they grafted it onto another cow. Later, when they tried to round up the whole herd, that cow ran off and wouldn’t come with the group. So she stayed there with the calving bunch for 2 months. When the butcher came, Michael drove out in the field on his 4-wheeler and was able to get close enough to the wild cow to shoot her in the head before she ran off.
In April, a stray dog showed up and “camped” in our driveway. We realized she’d gotten on Michael’s truck when he was hauling hay from another ranch. She didn’t belong to anyone in that neighborhood, and no one responded to our “lost and found” announcement on the radio. She was a nice old dog, well behaved, and our grandson Nick wanted to keep her (since his old dog Spud died that winter), so she found a new home.
Emily had one more hockey tournament, in Boise. Andrea brought the 3 smaller children to stay with us for several days while Andrea and Em were in Boise. The kids were fascinated with my old typewriter (which I uncovered on my cluttered “old” desk) and they enjoyed “typing” on it, delighted to hear the bell ring for the carriage return. They are familiar with computers but had never seen a typewriter. Young Dani spent a lot of time typing “stories” and one morning Charlie got up early just so he could type on it while I wrote articles on my computer.
Early April was cold, some nights down to 5 degrees, and windy. Emmy’s pet cow, Buffalo Girl, was ready to calve so we put her in the maternity pen where we could watch her at night in case we needed to put her in the barn. We were hoping our little herd (the ones still here at our place) would hold off until the weather warmed up!
Michael and Carolyn branded/vaccinated their calves. The power was off for nearly 5 hours while they were branding the first group, and they had to borrow a generator to run the electric branding iron and clippers (winter born calves need clipped, to do a good job of branding).
Weather continued cold and windy, with new snow now and then. Our little group of cows here at home started to calve. Buffalo Girl had a nice big bull calf, but the evening she calved it was so cold and windy we put her in the barn to calve. Two other cows that calved that past week had to go in the barn to calve because we were having a blizzard.
With the cold weather, the gras
s wasn’t growing much. Michael and Carolyn ran out of hay for their cows, so they rounded up one group to haul over to Maurer’s (one of the ranches they are leasing) where there was some old grass—with a little new green grass coming up in the old stubble. The next day they moved 160 pairs from our lower fields, taking them to another pasture where there’s a little more grass. The cows dispersed to graze and some of the calves didn’t know where their mothers went, and a few came through the fence and back down the road. Lynn and I “trapped” them here in the corral, so Michael could haul them back up in the trailer.
One of our neighbors called, and told us there was an injured dog lying in her barn. It was our granddaughter Heather’s old dog, Jake. He was badly mauled, with deep puncture wounds in his chest. The dog had to be shot, and Michael surmised that a large animal like a cougar must have grabbed the dog. Nick and Heather both lost their dogs but fate has a way of compensating. The stray dog that Nick adopted a few weeks earlier was pregnant—and had 6 pups!
Michael and Carolyn branded 60 more calves at the Maurer place, including calves from the cows we leased them. They planned to keep the steer calves and we’d keep the heifer calves, so they put our brand on the heifers.
One cow had a long-legged calf that can’t stand up. His legs were crooked and weak. Michael and Carolyn fed the calf with a bottle for a few days then realized it would be awhile longer before the calf could get up and around on his own, so they brought him here for us to take care of.
“Boomerang” had diarrhea when they brought him home, so we gave him a kaolin/pectin mix to slow and soothe his gut. He had a good appetite and was always eager to eat, even though his legs weren’t strong enough to stand up for more than a few minutes and he had to nurse his bottle lying down.
I treated Boomerang for diarrhea for more than a week; he was never sick—just had loose feces. I gave him doses of probiotic paste (to replenish proper “gut bugs”) for several days, and that seemed to help his digestion. He was getting a lot stronger and by the time he was a week old he was able to get up without help, and nurse his bottle standing up. He even tried to buck and play, so we hoped his legs would strengthen and straighten more with exercise.
In late April Lynn and I went to town to watch the high school track meet. Both Nick and Heather were running in several events. Nick had been shaving more seconds off his running times, in the short races as well as the long ones (800 meter, 1600 and 3200 meter runs). He was looking forward to the international track meets in Australia and Hawaii in July; several students from Salmon had been invited to attend.
April 26, 2008 was the first anniversary of my father’s passing. I was missing my dad a lot, but felt he was still very close to me. A friend in Kansas (one of the ranch families that came into our lives, helping us with encouragement and prayers when Andrea was burned, and whom we’ve corresponded with ever since) sent me a bit of wisdom in a letter (a saying she keeps above her desk): “Life is eternal. Love is immortal and death is only a horizon—and a horizon is nothing save the limits of our sight.” Indeed, that’s a wonderful way to put it. The horizon is only the limit of what we can see—not an actual boundary at all.
That spring, my Mom was actually stronger than she was a few months earlier and using a walker again (with help) instead of a wheel chair. My sister and I took her out to the cemetery on the anniversary of Dad’s death (which was also their wedding anniversary), and we had a very pleasant time of remembrances.
In late April I received a very special letter from my friend Liz (whose son Ty was severely burned the same summer Andrea was burned), and she sent me a copy of an article “My daughters are fine but I’ll never be the same”, written by Harriet Brown. The author expressed our feelings very well.
As I mentioned to Liz in the letter I wrote back to her, we are NEVER the same after nearly losing a child. We’ve changed in good ways and bad ways. It makes us appreciate LIFE and savor each day. We are thankful that we still have the relationship, the family member that we almost lost. And yes, we are intensely grateful for the help we received (from doctors, other people who emerged out of the woodwork to help us) and we have a HUGE well of gratitude for the many important things and acts of kindness we can never pay back and can only accept with grace. It puts things into a whole new perspective and gives us better priorities. Knowing what’s REALLY important, we are better able to shake off and not be as caught up in small things that don’t really count or matter.
Yet at the same time, we also have this primordial fear that is always there in the bottom of our soul—the fear of something else happening to that child or loved one—since the cushion of false securities has been jerked away. The buffering illusions we might have once been satisfied with (or the thought that these things only happen to other people) have all been swept away. We have looked directly into the stark reality of death of our child and we know that never again will that child or anyone else we love be “safe”. This knowledge is always there, in the back of the mind, in the hidden recesses of the heart, and it can eat away at us and destroy us. It crops up and stares us in the face at odd times or whenever some little (or big) thing reminds us of the frailty of life—especially the life of our snatched-from-death child.
For a long time I was plunged into adrenaline-surging worry every time Andrea got pneumonia again, or even a bad cold, or scraped/poked her delicate grafted skin and it took forever to heal, or her blood sugar got too high, or whatever… the list goes on and on. What a riptide of gratitude/joy and heart-stopping worry! No wonder we mothers become nut cases! It’s truly a roller coaster of extreme highs and terrible black-hole lows. The only way I could deal with it sanely was to give her future into God’s hands, and back off in my own fussing. This helped and still helps, but I have to still remind myself to do this sometimes when new crises occur—whether health-wise or other.
After time went on after her burn accident and we were all well along in the “recovery” journey--and life regained some “normalcy” (a nebulous, wispy idea of normal)--the gut-wrenching worries eased somewhat, and life continued along on a more even keel. But we still are intimately tied to our once-injured children in a way that some parents cannot understand. Once wounded, once they are nearly lost forever, we can’t “let go” of them, like other mothers can. We have definitely lost that “illusion of safety” as Harriet Brown called it. We do seek out, and feel more connected with, other parents who have gone through similar journeys, and I know that I am helped and calmed and uplifted by this fellowship with others who truly understand.
And life doesn’t suddenly get easier or simpler just because our loved one survived. As Liz said in her letter to me, it’s an unpredictable rodeo-bull ride. One minute we are hanging on and keeping our balance and doing pretty well, and the next moment we are about to lose it—and maybe even in danger of being trampled and gored. And sometimes we just have to pick ourselves up out of the dirt and get on again.
The trauma we were all going through that year with Andrea’s divorce (and not knowing how that would end up, with Mark still trying to hurt her as much as he could) was something we didn’t expect—or tried not to expect, because there were early warning signs. Andrea didn’t realize what she was getting into, not knowing the extent of his alcohol problem, and then she tried for so long to still make it work, before she finally hit bottom and realized she had to get out, to save herself and her kids. She commented to me that spring that there “sure aren’t any happy endings where everybody lived happily ever after”.
But we go on, and do our best. As I told Liz in my letter, “she WILL survive this. She knows, and we know, that even though this is horribly devastating (mentally, emotionally, financially), it still pales in comparison with the epic journey through the burn center. Having come through the unimaginable and survived, we can put all other things into perspective and know that we can, by the grace and love of God, come through them. There are always setbacks and challenges and I guess it’s a good thing we don’t know what’s around the next corner or how this old bull we’re riding is going to move next. We just pray that God will give us the strength to deal with it, and to handle it with grace.”
I have been very grateful for my “support” group—other mothers of burned children—because we’ve all tried to help each other through the toughest times. Life is a roller-coaster of trying to cope with the plunges into dark trauma and juggling those with the everyday tasks of life—which we need to be more grateful for, since they keep us walking a refreshingly “normal” path.
In early May Lynn and Michael cleaned several ditches with backhoe and tractor, and got most of the irrigation water started. The weather was still cold and there were no leaves on the trees yet, but the grass was starting to grow.
Lynn cleaned out the calving barn with tractor and blade before it got too wet in there; once the irrigation water starts, the ground beneath the barn subs and gets wet and it’s impossible to use a tractor without getting stuck. Even though we had one cow left to calve (Rosie), we hoped it would be nice weather, or if necessary we’d put her in the other barn, in the stall next to Boomerang.
Rosie finally calved at 1 a.m. May 7, in a rainstorm. We named her heifer Rosie’s Raindrop. The calf was up and nursing quickly, so we didn’t put them in the barn. Later that morning we were starting to cook an early lunch, when the power went off. We had the wood stove going, so we finished cooking on that stove. The power was off until late evening, so it was nice to have wood heat and a way to warm up food for supper! I warmed water on the wood stove to mix up the mid-day bottle for Boomerang. We were feeding him 3 times a day; he was always hungry, and growing fast.
We finally had a few days of warm weather. Michael and Carolyn turned their cows out on the range in mid-May and rode around the range fence to shut all the gates. They got sunburned; it’s been so cold this spring that we were always wearing coats—no chance to gradually get used to the sunshine!
My publisher (Storey) sent me the copy-edited version of my next book (Cattle Health Handbook) to check over. It would be a companion book to my Essential Guide to Calving, which came out that spring.
I was hoping my publisher and editors wouldn’t keep me too busy that summer; I wanted to have a chance to ride range a few times to help Michael and Carolyn move cattle.