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.


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