Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Long Memory of Water

We are mopping up after a gale. The wind drove rain under shingles and through well-sealed windows and whistled and sang through it all. Windows were opened and shut again at the will of the wind as it shifted sides of the house. At one point, we could no longer stand up in the back of the house to bail the water that was running at the back door.

The part of the roof of this more than 200 year old house that had been overlooked when the rest of the roof was reshingled sprouts so many leaks that the buckets, pans, and saucers to catch them left the corridor looking like a footballer's training camp as we tread through them. With the second wave of heavy rain, the drips and drops in the plastic, glass or metal containers make a symphony of percussion to accompany the wind.

A heavy rain challenges the drain in the close behind the house, that is one of the house's idiosyncracies. When I saw water three inches deep and rising, I grabbed the heavy brush and went to clear the drain, but the drain was clear and still overwhelmed, and the water was rising fast. I went to the garage for a bucket and as I did so, the props holding the garage door in place were blown away. I leaned into the door to keep it from falling on my car and yelled for Morris. Even if I could have screamed above the wind, I could not shout through three foot thick stone walls.

I let the wind take my bucket, leave the garage door and wade through now 6 inches of water to get Morris, car keys, or a brief respite from the shrill harangue of the wind. Morris arrives. We steady the door, I move my car out of harm's way--from the door at least, and then concentrate on the water which is now up to 8 inches, swirling in the corners of the close, and running into the back door. Morris goes for a pump; I go to the inside to try to stay the flow of water.

There appears to be about an inch of water on top of the linoleum, but as I step I realize that there is at least as much water under the linoleum as on top. I use up all the newspapers left for recycling to soak up water. They become a sodden mass with no apparent abatement. I empty out an airing cupboard full of sturdy, thirsty towels and they float briefly on the surface like Aladdin's magic carpet before sinking into the water. I stomp them into place and pluck them up and wring them out again and again. At first I have a regular rotation of wet to dry ones, but soon they are all wet faster than I can wring them out. I muddle through which towel is the right one until I realize that any towel will do. I try not to think about the futility of it as I wring and re lay towels.

Morris creates a kind of dyke at the back door, and the water stops coming in. Thus, I begin to make some headway against the water. The tractor is in place and as soon as the engineer gets back from lunch, he'll rig up the pump. I sigh, stretch my back, get into dry clothes and make a bit of lunch. As I pass by the back door, I hear the sound of treachery, running water. I cock my ear and look to the ceiling, the windows, and then to the door. The dyke has given way and the water is coming in again. Now it is only a trickle, so I wade in again with mop and towels but the water is coming faster than I can even think of putting down towels, so I take my bucket to go and bail the water to get it back below the level of the dyke. I have to go through the front door because the wind is now so fierce I cannot open the back door.



Before there were drains or houses or fields, the water ran freely through here and it wants to go home again. I struggle to keep my feet in the determined water as I bail and fill anything that will hold water: a large, wheeled trash bin is quickly filled, and the water seems no less determined or full than it was. Jeffrey works with the pump. I see the glint of the spanner in his hand and the steady, serious look on his face. I find the empty mineral tubs used for the cattle. They float capriciously on the surface and threaten to fly away until one bucket full of water steadies them. I fill four tubs, about the size of half barrels and convince myself that the water is lower. I need to believe it to go to the garden and find two more tubs. I begin dumping water into the lawn beyond the close, fighting the wind and the slippery water underfoot. And then like the sorcerer's apprentice, I stand bemused. My jeans are so full of water that they are heavy against my legs. My legs are so cold that I no longer feel the wetness of the jeans, only their weight. I look at the water. It is just lapping at the edge of the dyke.

Now it is all up to the pump. The tractor kicks over, spewing diesel fumes into the air, but it is a welcome smell to me just now. Jeffrey, Ranald, driving the tractor, and I all look expectantly at the end of the hose pipe lost now in the water in the middle of the close. Nothing happens. Jeffrey pours water into a pipe jutting out of the back of the tractor. He tightens some fasteners; he and Ranald exchange some words lost on the winds, and then the pump starts. It pulls water from the close and then spits much of it back where the pipe connects. Slowly, the hose connected to drain the water down the driveway onto the farm road and out of harm's way begins to swell with the water inside it. For now, technology has prevailed over the willful water.

Down the road, one of our neighbors has recently erected a mighty fence, a security fence. With the hubris and short memories of man, this fence was installed at the end of a road. Before it was a road, it was a mill course, and in the rain it remembered the old path and ran over the tilled fields picking up stubble and straw and ran through the fence. And then over it.

Sometime in the night as we huddled in the warmest room by candlelight waiting for the power to return, we felt the wind ease. In the first light of day, the wind had the soft harsh tone of a voice made harsh by shrieking. "The storm is settling," Morris says. I imagine the stormscape like a bedsheet unfurled over a bed in that instant before it then settles amicably around the contours of the bed.

There is a hole in the dyke that runs along the field closest to the sea. When I walk the farm road, I can tell the mood of the sea by the height of the spray through that hole. The hole was created during a gale some years ago when the sea remembered that it had once owned that field. It sent a tongue of water through the dyke. "It didn't push the stones out of the way, " Morris explained, which would be remarkable enough considering the number and size of stones in even a small piece of dyking, "It exploded right through them as if they were not there." The little assault at the back door was a comparatively gentle reminder of the long memory of water and its willingness to reclaim what it considers its own.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Collectables/birds of Prey and the Northernmost (Mainland) StitchnBitch

The good thing about living in an outpost is that the characters who choose to live here are very likely interesting people. I had been past the signs for Simply Unique a couple times on our way to John o Groats (named for Jan de Groot and only claims to fame are that it is the most northeasternly point of mainland Britain and twice now Lonely Planet has described it as boring.) Simply Unique is somewhere between Dunnet and John o Groats, about 25 miles from Thurso, and so about 35 miles from the farm. Each time I passed I had been curious about what a craft shop and cafe was doing so very far from everything.

Now I am in a car with a new acquaintance and we are going to meet two other women at Simply Unique for the inaugural session of a knitting group based loosely on an American book, Stitch and Bitch and all our desires to have other women to talk with about and over some kind of crafty thing. We decided informally (as we did pretty much everything else) that any kind of stitch would do.

As we looked for the way in, both my new friend and I were struck by the bottom line of the sign, which read "Collectables/birds of prey." "Collectables/birds of prey"? I marveled out loud. "That doesn't make sense, does it?" my new friend replies. Both of us are still new enough to each other that we are making extra effort to sidestep any controversial topics, but both of us too curious to keep from wondering out loud. "Maybe it is ceramic birds of prey," I offer as a conversation bridge, but as we drive past a cage of parakeets and other chicken-like birds, the mystery deepens. My imagination skips into overdrive with a story about killer budgies.

Linda, the proprietress, meets us with a big smile and her knitting in her hand. I like her already. She and Helen and I quickly move through introductions to conversations about yarn and needles and gauge and coffee and tea and temporarily the birds of prey are pushed out of mind. We set up our bags of yarn and needles and books and props for storytelling in the cafe, which is a newly built add on room with a sliding glass door that gives lots of light--or it would if the day were not unremittingly grey--but also keeps the room cool.

The craft shop is adjacent to the cafe. Angela and her cousin Allison show up, and now the 5 of us are wandering through crafts, doing crafts, ordering coffee, and comparing notes. It is a typical women's conversation: multi-threaded, overlapping, designed to build relationships. I come into the cafe just as I hear Linda explain, "The rest room is in the corner just past the rheas." No one drops a stitch at the description, but Helen asks cautiously, "Aren't they dangerous?" Perhaps she is actually afraid or maybe she is just looking for the birds of prey listed on the sign. Linda reassures her about these rheas, and the conversation moves on to other topics of more immediate concern, like how to crochet a ruffled scarf like the one in the craft shop, and doing hats like the one Helen has.

I have forgotten about the birds of prey and the rheas until I set out to find the bathroom. Sure enough, on my right, are a trio of large, blue eyed birds looking at me through a screen door. I stop and say hello because I am in the habit now of talking to animals when I pass by. They did not talk back, but on my way back to my women friends I eavesdropped briefly on a conversation among the rheas that sounded like a steam kettle just past boiling.

Over lunch we learned a bit more about each other, and Linda explained that her husband had always liked having unusual animals. We also learned that she and her husband had moved up here after spending several months in intensive care after a head on automobile collision. Angela, Allison, Helen, and Linda are all current or former nurses, so lunch conversation was a pastiche of medical stories, stories from life on the wards, and the requisite "how is it you came to be here" stories because, other than Allison and Angela, we are "incomers," and Angela has an English accent despite her roots here. It is the latter day equivalent of those long speeches in the Odyssey where the characters tell their stories and so talk themselves into the current landscape. Not epic, but then I think of Odysseus showing up naked on the shore where Nausicaa is doing laundry. It is hard to be epic all the time, especially with nothing but a bush for cover.

In the course of our own epic narratives, we also managed a bit of official business. We tentatively agreed on the name of Caithness StitchnBitch. As I thought about it, I liked the idea of the "Northernmost Mainland stitchnbitch," but it is unwieldy. In concluding our inaugural session, we agreed that we will meet about monthly, and we will meet at Linda's. I have been on many committees that have accomplished a lot less and didn't have the benefit of knitting, coffee, or birds of prey.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

La Folle in the Byre

In talking about lost calves and sick cattle, I am breaking a taboo. Whether it is unique to Morris or is the farming equivalent of not whistling in the dressing room, I don't know. But I think they deserve some recognition and so I share some space here to remember them in their travail. The dun coloured heifer that I recognized as one of my calves as the vet was ministering to her is still alive. I have asked Morris about her a couple times and his responses have been noncommital statements that she is alive but "still has a long way to go."

I pulled on wellies today and went out to the steading to look at her. I was not concerned about her. We had a blank spot in the database--a number for an animal with no weights associated with it--so I went to check the number of her ear tag. I came around the corner of her byre and approached singing so that I would not startle her. She seemed at first to recognize the song and eased visibly as I approached, but the look in her eyes startled me.

One eye seems not to be seeing properly. This lop-sided vision may cause her confusion and terror, or the malady that afflicted her may have affected her brain. At first she moved gently away from me and then turned abruptly and attempted to charge me. I was in no real danger with the heavy steel gate between her and me, but I realized in that instant that she was not the same heifer that I had fed just a few months ago. She had gone somewhere beyond my reach. No barley or song or kindness could reach her now. Perhaps some element of those would make its way through her scattered mind and give her a way back home, but we cannot know that. I look at her and can see only that she is somewhere out of reach.


Morris's "long way to go" is that infinity between the people or the animals that get lost in the land of the middle distance stare. No matter how close, they have a long way to go and some cannot make the long way back to us. There have been two funerals within the last month of young men who could not find their way back from the place where the dun coloured heifer has gone. One survived life in the battle zones of the Middle East only to come home and take his own life. Another, only 19 years old, inhaled the exhaust from his own car in his father's garage and was buried today.

Morrs told me it was a large funeral and the police had their hands full managing the traffic. "What can someone say at the funeral of someone so young to give some consolation, "I ask Morris. He just shakes his head and says, "Nothing." Probably true, but I need something to hold onto. Having lived enough years to have lost many people--and had a few come back--I cling to the wisdom of a dear friend who reminded me that just because someone is lost to us does not necessarily mean that they are lost. With that wisdom, I stitch together hopefulness enough to keep singing to heifers gone mad.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Long Plump of Rain

It rains in Scotland and so there are many words for rain--mist, mizzle, drizzle, drooky, and one of my favorites, a plump of rain. Most of the words are onomatopoetic: mizzle is rain that is soft but peristent enough that you need your windhsield wipers, but only on a slow, intermittent setting. Drizzle is a bi-continental term for a rain steady but light and forgiveable. You could walk a block in a drizzle and do no more than hunch up your shoulders and complain about it to the first person you met once you reached shelter.

A drooky rain is a different matter. It is hard to forgive a drooky rain. It is a rain that sticks and each drop seems to hold more water than you would think possible. I walked with rain coat and hat for the equivalent of a city block in my first drooky rain and in that short time, a camera in its case in the pocket of my jacket got wet. Drooky rain is sticky, sneaky, and persistent. The result of being in a drooky rain is, you guessed it, to become drookit.

I was surprised when I came here to discover that people don't use umbrellas until I began to appreciate the perversity of rain here. It may be raining in town, 10 miles away, but not here. It may even be raining on one side of one of our fields and not on the other. That quixotic nature of rain makes it easier to ignore or outmaneuver or outwait it. Unfortunately it can also mean that a rain may be too slight to give the garden a good soak. I remember reading a scant line or two contrasting north east Scotland with the west coast. The west gets more rain, it explained; the east gets wind. The wind can dry out the little bit of moisture left by a dainty rain before it has reached even the top of the roots of tender plants.

The thunderstorms that were the bread and butter of weather in Indiana are rare here. There was recently a tornado down south in England. Tornadoes are even more rare than thunderstorms. A plump of rain is the Scottish counterpart of a thunderstorm without the thunder and lighting. Thunderstorms and plumps have in common the prelude of a filled in sky and heavy air and a postlude of clear, light air after the downpour. To a transplanted Hoosier, it feels like a thunderstorm, it just doesn't look or sound like one.

Plumps, as with thunderstorms, usually pass quickly. They dump their rain in a sullen outpouring and then brighten up again. After several days without any rain, however, we had a plump that just kept on plumping. The rain came faster than the drain in the patio behind the house could accommodate. When Morris discovered it, the accumulated puddle was just on the edge of the door sill. More importantly, one of the low lying fields was so wet that the cattle were in danger of getting mired or drowned. Our stockman was working and worrying to get the cattle out of harm's way.

The burn, which is the traditional boundary of Isauld, is what Morris describes as a "spate" river. It is influenced by these plumps of rain. The volume and the flow both take their character from the weather. The burn moves now like the music in Vivaldi's Four Seasons that represents snow melt in spring or like the music that is its namesake. Spey is Gaelic for spate. The next time you hear Vivaldi or a good strathspey, think of a burn in spate with peat-colored water carving its way down a heathered hill after a plump of rain.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

For No Good Reason At All

Yesterday I seemed to breathe in melancholy with my first waking breath and did not manage to dissipate it altogether until late in the evening some time between "Beat the Tiger" and "Descending Palms."

At first I blamed the melancholy on waking up to find morning had not dawned. It is charming to be able to see Orion's belt and the stars below it so clearly except when the clock says 7am. My biological clock does not reset without the sun. I did some chi qong stretches which usually restore my spirits but without the sun my effort was lackluster and any chi that might otherwise have been awakened slept on. The house was cold--not the desperate cold that makes the tips of your fingers and toes itch and go red and get tiny cuts like paper cuts (my personal description of a word I thought an anachronism until I found "chillblains remedy" in the chemist's shop today)--just a nagging chill in the air compounded by my dread at the prospect of more cold and dark before the return of the light.

Many years ago in Indianapolis I experienced a full eclipse of the sun at high noon. Even though modern civilized man knew exactly what was happening, and CNN told everyone how to make pinhole cameras, nonetheless it made everyone a bit edgy. Imagine that kind of darkness for about two months. Last year Morris took me to the southern hemisphere to avoid it. This year I want very much to be with my daughter and grandson at Christmas. Chicago in winter is not exactly a prime holiday spot, but the weather there does not seem as cold as here. In Chicago, the cold can be stymied or held at bay with enough layers. In Caithness, there is no contest. The cold is unchallengeable. No amount of layering can defeat it.


Perhaps I have overspent myself struggling to write a post about homesickness. I went to a recently discovered blog, http://secondeffort.blogspot.com, and found a post about the drive from Chicago to Indianapolis. The recollection of that familiar territory started the melancholy twitching like a dousing stick getting closer to water. Nostalgia is a particular flavor of melancholy or a kind of amnesia, according to Milan Kundera. I think nostalgia is more like selective memory. It allows me to imagine Indiana in July or on a gorgeous Indian Summer afternoon. More likely, it is 50 degrees and raining, there are construction delays on 65, and at least 4 fender benders or bumper to bumper traffic on the interstate.

Finally I had to conclude that I felt blue for no particular reason at all. This conclusion was vaguely reassuring except the melancholy just nodded sullenly and hung around. So I carted this melancholy into tai chi class with me. Because it is a school holiday, there were only 5 of the North Shore Internal Arts club there. On a full class night, there are probably about a dozen of us. For Caithness that is a pretty good turnout. Population density is 8 people per square kilometer. the teacher and at least one other student come all the way from Betty Hill, about thirty miles away, where they have crofts (small farms that have charm but rarely are economical to operate).

With so few of us in the room even the enthusiasm of all the folks there just barely lifted my spirit. We did our stretches, then our chi qong and still my mood puddled around my ankles. The music reminded me of distant friends and dinners in a favorite Chinese restaurant. I pulled my mood up and tucked it into my belt to keep it out of the way as we moved into the new exercises. "Beat the Tiger" is a Jackie Chan photo opportunity kinda pose--you have one fist atop the other and legs in a modified horse stance, I think. At any rate, I began to lose myself in what I was doing, which is the idea of it. The next move was Swirling Hands. I could imagine Jackie Chan in a waiter's uniform using those large trays to fend off the bad guys with all the panache of that classic scene in which he performs with a fan and is rumored to have done it 400 times before he finally decided it was good enough.

After the warm up exercises, we did the 24 moves of the modified Beijing style, which is the style of my current instructor. I am the newest one in the class and so struggle with the last few moves. It took me a year to learn the form I studied in the States and starting over again with tai chi was just symbolic of the whole move--I could find a tai chi class but it was different. Everything was pretty much like life through a looking glass--driving on the left, light switches upside down, and tai chi form sort of like the one I knew but sort of not.

I negotiated Golden Coquerel stands on one leg with steady balance and managed a fair stretch for Snake Creeps Down. Both poses familiar to me from the old form. By the time we finished I was smiling on the inside. And then mostly just for me although the others didn't mind, we did the 24 moves to music. It was a graduation party for me. By the time we sat down to conclude the class session with a meditation he called either "Loop the Loop" or "Heavenly Circuit," I was imagining first a carnival ride and then a Felix the Cat cartoon. In other words, I was back to normal.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Four Lessons from a River Walk

Four Lessons from A River Walk
1. You cannot be in two places at once.

2. When you are in One Place, the Other does not stop.

3. There are infinitely many Other Places.

4. We need Other Places to define the One Place, sometimes known as Home.


Walking in circles often helps me think straight. These 4 rules settled out in my head as I was walking around the river in Thurso. Many philosophers and writers have said it much better, including Milan Kundera, whose novel, Ignorance, I finally finished after renewing it 3 times at the library. Because it has to do with nostalgia and ex patriates and returning to their original countries and sharing reminisces with friends, I needed to read it, but I had to read it in small doses.
Books, like cats, find us when we need them.

Xuan (pronounced something like Shou- Ahn) was born in Shanghai and had traveled widely by the time I met her in Indianapolis. She talked to me about double homesickness: a feeling of loss when she went home to discover that it was not as she remembered it and then coming back to her newly chosen home and discovering that it was not quite as she remembered it either. I like to think I listened sympathetically but at that time I could only appreciate it intellectually. I may have quoted Aldous Huxley's description of "hole cutters"--people who for whatever reason can rise above the fabric that holds them to be able to observe it as a fabric. If I recall, he argued that was a unique gift but that once out of the fabric, these hole cutters could never be returned completely within it. As a rebellious adolescent when I first read that description, being outside a fabric had more appeal than it does now.

Now having slipped out of the fabric of Indiana to the highlands of Scotland, I have made my own description for double barreled homesickness: first the loss of the familiar and then the realization that the familiar is not a commodity that can be retrieved at will.
Losing the 'familiar', the first barrel of the shotgun, meant that simple things that we normally can take for granted required conscious effort. I had to learn how the digits in a phone number are arranged, how light switches work, how to use sinks that do not mix hot and cold water through a tap in the middle, even how to cross a street "Up is off, and down is on. " "Drive on the left. " "The coin that looks like a dime is 5 pence; the one that looks like a fat quarter is a pound."
The second barrel of the shotgun was the realization that the covert knowledge of nativeness wouldn't be lying someplace near the airport where I could pick it up again, pull it on and slip back into the American I was. I will recognize a dime as a dime again, but the things that mark us as belonging change imperceptibly moment by moment. Even if I had stashed them carefully behind and slipped them on at the airport, they would be odd and slightly out of step--somehow not quite right to the eye or the ear.
James Baldwin wrote about walking down the gangplank of the ship that brought him back to his native America after having lived in France and learning in an instant that he had lost something in the way of saying 'hello' that marked him as an outsider. As a Black man, this made him particularly vulnerable. Although I will not face the kind of threat Baldwin did nor have I ever planned a Great Return as Kundera's characters did after a long exile, nonetheless I have to accept that my native country will have moved on without having noticed that I am no longer there.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Shifting Vowels and Star-filled Morning Sky

I woke because my nose had grown so cold as it peeked outside the bed clothes that it demanded attention. I pulled the rest of me out from under the cover and went to pull the window closer--not altogether shut because the air is delicious even now with the tingle of autumn. I noticed a constellation framed in one of the window panes as I looked out over the grass below. Big Dipper? Orion's belt with the sword actually visible?

"What like a day?" Morris asks in his sleepy still voice from under the covers.

"It's not morning. The stars are bright, the wind is mostly quiet, and the moon is bright."

Because we are both awake, we start talking. I tell him about the dream I had been experiencing just before I woke in which he was calling me for breakfast. I put my arm out to see if he were there, in which case the dream was a dream. Very logical. The logic unit was working better than the coordination. My arm landed with a soft thunk followed by an "Oooh," or something like that. So that's why he was awake. I guess you could say my dream woke us both.


Somehow in that early morning mind fog I realized that I was actually starting to think in British vowel sounds. I used to go into howls of laughter when Morris did his mock American accent and pronounced "laughing" as "laffing". To get the right effect, he had to stretch his mouth wide almost as if in a grimace. Of course I countered with an intercontintental ballistic mock pronunciation of the plumby tones that make Americans chuckle: "loffing." I had to open my mouth nearly as wide as a hyena in a National Geographic photo to get the desired effect. But today in my head I actually heard my voice saying more "loffing" than "laffing." I wasn't sure then or now for that matter quite how I feel about losing my native vowels.

We met a woman last night at Forss House Hotel, our posh local pub. More like we startled her. She was from Wyoming and hadn't expected to see any other Americans this far north this time of year. She said that she had listened for years to Harry Lauder records (kind of uber-Scottish, I think) and she was determined to get a Scottish accent before she went back to Wyoming. Without thinking about it at all, I said "Och aye," which she didn't even recognize as a word. Hmm. In case you find yourself over here, I'll tell you what to listen for so you'll recognize "och aye" for what it is. You don't really say it. More like you breathe it in like the indrawn note on a harmonica which is just barely there while doing half a nod.

Now although I am equivocal about shifting vowel sounds, I wholeheartedly endorse the use of "och aye." It is an all purpose phrase. For example, when someone says something rather daffy, "och aye" can be an understated "you don't say" or it can mean "Oh, you don't know what you're talking about and as soon as you are out of earshot I am going to have a proper laugh about it."

I think it has a role as well in domestic harmony. It can be a less deferential equivalent of "yes dear" or an appointment for a private discussion later all carried out with perfect decorum. You have to admit that is a lot to pack into two syllables.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"More Later"

I have at least a dozen proper essays in my head, but my friend Amy who gently reminds me of the obvious things that everyone else overlooks told me that the most common phrase in my emails to her over the last year had been "More later." By the time she got here to ask me what the more later was, it had been lost or, more like, overwritten. So I'll talk a bit here about some of those essay ideas in just a little conversation.

First, imagine a rainbow by moonlight. I'll help. We have big sky up here and lots of moisture, so we often see great arches of rainbow from horizon to horizon in all their ROYGBIV. I had never really noticed the violet on the bottom end of the rainbow. It is startlingly beautiful. The most vulnerable of the hues. It does often appear to waver while the others hold firm.

Now I leave it to philosophers to decide if there is a rainbow in the sky if no one sees it. We were driving back to the farm after visiting friends last week and I noticed what looked at first like a darkish line against the sky. It was evening and the sun had set but the moon was nearly full. I looked again and realized that there was a rainbow arcing over the road in front of us. "A rainbow!? "

"Ah, a moonbow." Morris commented sagely. Now the minister who married us said Morris would bring wisdom to the relationship. Sometimes he does; sometimes he takes the Mickey with a wry straight face. In the car I can't see how much his eyes are twinkling, so at least for now I accept the term and his additional comment that they do occur but are rare.

Because you are not likely to see a moonbow, I'll give you a description. It is a little like looking at a negative. The arc appears darker against the grey sky until you look closely. The BIV looks like a monochromatic grey but the solidity gives it a luster against the scuttering clouds. The red orange bands at the top look like the embers of a dying fire.

By the time we got to the farm road, the moonbow had disappeared into the evening sky.

Not a proper essay but a little down payment on More Later. Just now I've put on my royal blue boiler suit and pulled wool socks on over my trousers to make it easier to pull on my Wellies. I'll be working with the cattle this morning. I haven't done that for awhile so I am sure they wil lgive us some stories to share.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Another Case of Staggers

"I need you," he says in even tones in a register I recognize as trouble, so I put down my porridge and ask simply, "Wellies or will walking shoes do?"
"Wellies. The grass is wet."
I nod. We've been together long enough now that I know information will come as needed.
"We have a sterk with possible staggers. You have time to finish your porridge. David has gone for Jeffrey's cattle box."

Between bites I ask where and what we have to do. As we drive down the road to the distant field, Duncan, a grandson shows up and is recruited into the effort. I am relieved because an extra pair of hands is always welcome and Duncan has an easy way with cattle.


Before we get to the field I see an animal that I think is probably the one. She is apart from the herd, head down but not feeding. As we walk through the herd, it becomes more apparent. The herd moves more or less as one animal with many legs. She wants to join them but she cannot. Her will and her legs have stopped communicating with each other.

David, Duncan, Morris and I urge her to the fence and toward the waiting box at the end of the field. She struggles as hard as her wobbling, stiff legs allow. She no longer has an eye reflex. Only fear and instinct run through her frame, but these can be formidable adversaries. She is moved fairly easily with the four of us along the fence to the edge of the box on the trailer but she is willing to use up all her reserves to keep from getting on the trailer. She bursts through a fence and twists and turns and crashes along the short ramp into the box. Finally, she is in and a call is made to the vet to come quickly. It looks like staggers but not quite like it. At any rate something is seriously wrong. The vet comes quickly. With staggers and related illnesses, the time between life and death is very brief.

I stand just outside a circle of people around the vet and the sterk. I have no useful purpose but for some reason I want to stay. The vet asks how old the calf is and in that instant I look closely and realize that this is one of the 8 calves that I brought beet root and barley and hay to along with my hand reared calf. I recognize the same patch of curly hair in the middle of the forehead. The recognition reduces the objective distance I was struggling to maintain. I blurt out,

"She was born two months before my calf."

David smiles at the words and tries to conceal it by lowering his head. I have gone past the point of worrying aout being thought sentimental, so I am only a bit embarrassed.

The vet takes blood samples to confirm a tentative diagnosis of a malady akin to staggers resulting from a combination of mineral and vitamin deficiencies. The red blood oozing from the vein stands out against the dun colored coat of the calf. The vet drips minerals into another vein and vitamins into the rump of the calf. I watch hopefully for signs of the immediate reconnection of the communication channels between muscle and brain--an irreverent twitching of the muscles, but there is no such dramatic effect. I see the calf blink and put great store on that fact, but when she fails to rise on her own, my heart sinks again.

The vet says to leave her quiet for awhile. The calf's breathing as she lies on the straw covered floor sounds labored but regular. She blinks again. One by one the circle around her drifts away. I stay behind, and as the others disappear around the corner I sing a few words from the song I used to sing to the calves as I fed them in some vain hope that she might remember and take some comfort in it.