Wednesday, June 07, 2006

One Short Day and Two Long Nights

I woke earlier than my husband, which is a rare occurrence. The sky was grey, which is not rare. It is not the most overbearing of greys, however--not a filled in sky, one that holds no prospect of budging for days on end, or a petulant one that will heave down drookit, sticky rain. Just a grey that contrasts too sharply with the bright sun of yesterday. I dress in work clothes and think about going out to the cattle. I cannot justify in my mind going all around the cattle and then going to look in on the calf, and something keeps me from wanting to look at the calf.

Morris comes downstairs, looks in on me, and goes wordlessly to look at the calf. All too soon, I hear the two doors to the outside close and know that he is back and I know what he will say when the door to the office swings open, "The calf is dead." Neither one of us is surprised and we both try not to show that we are bothered. He starts looking at a newspaper article and taking his anger out on pettifogging bureaucrats. I want to walk. I pace as I listen until I can get out under the sky.

First I walk around the garden. Is the peony still there behind all those nettles? I assure myself that it is. The calf has lived one short day and two nights. He was born in the afternoon of a day we wrestled to bring his mother into the paddock where we could watch her troubled pregnancy. The calf was born in the field but was not right from the beginning. It made a weak, half hearted salute to the world and when Morris called me to go out to the field, it looked so little like a calf that only the presence of his anxious mother led me to believe that it was a calf, and then I was convinced that it was dead. When we got close to it, there was only a faint quiver of a leg to suggest life remained.

When we got it into the barn we could see some signs of life and so we began the uphill struggle. Heat lamps, milk from his mother, Lectaid--electrolytes and fluids. He got better. He looked around, he sucked, but he never stood up. Would it have been kinder to have left him in the field? Kinder to him, kinder to us? I cannot make myself think so, and as I scuff the grass with these fretful thoughts, I know exactly where I need to go.

I get a small bucket from the steading, scoop up a bit of barley and beet root, and head for Harper's Field. I want to see Wee Calfie. I want to see a calf that made it. I need to remember a success against the odds.

Down the middle road between the fields. The sterks (young cattle less than a year old) on the left follow me as I walk. Honey-blonde leads the way as always. The older cows on the right watch me but do not bother to move. The bull is quiet. The skies are getting darker but the water on the firth is calm, so I think that the day will clear. The young barley in the next field looks lusciously green and stands out against the dark brown earth of the next field where turnips are getting sowed slowly, intermittently as the weather allows.

I undo the gate to the field adjoining Harper's Field and walk over the hillock at the edge of the growing barley. The long grass on the hillock is wet even in the well worn tracks on the grass and my feet are soon soaked. I come to the gate of Harper's field and see all the cattle--mixed young ones dotted along the hillside. I see the black tub where I left beet root and barley when I tried in vain to get Wee Calfie to come to me. I know someone has eaten the grain left behind. It may have been birds or any one of the other cattle, but I like to think it was Wee Calfie.

I call her as I did when she was still fighting the odds to survive and I brought tubs to all the calves and made sure that she got her fair share. As the smallest and hand reared, she had to learn the rough and tumble world of the herd around the feed trough. I wanted her to learn that world, but of course now that she has I am sentimental about the old days. I call her and I see her looking, watching intently from the crest of the hill. She is still small, the youngest of last year's calves. I hold the little bucket high and pour the barley in a golden stream into the black tub. Perhaps she sees this and will come and enjoy it later, perhaps not.


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