Sunday, April 24, 2016

Adventures in calving: New and improved, now with more raisins!

So about Tubby and all those rainbows and unicorns...
In the middle of the storm, becoming hypothermic.
Fading fast.

Things don't always go the way you want them to. Plans seldom survive first contact with reality.

Everything looked just about perfect Sunday morning. The calves were all alive, Tubby's mom had found him in the barn, it looked like he'd nursed, the weather was clearing. Just about perfect.
A remarkable recovery.

Which set the alarm bells ringing in my mind.

By late morning Tubby's mom had left the barn but Tubby had stayed behind. He was still there in the afternoon. Every time he caught sight of me he perked up and came running.

As it turned out, he'd bonded with me, and not with his real mom. As far as he was concerned, he got born, a lot of crazy-cold-bad-scary stuff happened, and the next thing he knew he was warm, dry, safe, and the Naval Air Cowman was giving him the milk and attention he needed.

As far as 2031 -- Tubby's mom -- was concerned, something crazy-cold-bad-scary had happened to her calf. He flopped over and stopped moving, then the noisy-drivey thing appeared in a cloud of brilliant light and the person-thing stomped around in the snow, making rude noises. When the person-thing and noisy-drivey thing went away, her calf had disappeared. So she went looking, and she looked everywhere, for hours. Finally, she found something in the barn that looked like her calf, and sounded like her calf, but didn't smell like her calf. She tried and tried to figure it out, but she couldn't. And when she saw that the calf in the barn was bonded with the Naval Air Cowman, she knew it wasn't her calf. So she went looking again.

When early evening rolled around, the cow was still looking. She seemed to be more and more convinced that 617, who'd been born to 2156 a couple of hours before she had her baby, was actually her calf. Which of course agitated 2156 to no end, and probably made 617 feel like the prize in a custody battle. Or something like that.
617 and his mom, a couple of hours after he was born.

I decided to relocate Tubby from the barn to the paddock where his mom was currently causing problems. Maybe if her real calf was present her universe would once again make sense. The easiest thing to do was to pick him up and carry him to the pickup. He didn't mind -- in fact he seemed to like the experience. It wasn't the first time he'd been carried by the Naval Air Cowman, so in his world it was just business as usual. As I carried him through the ankle-deep mud of the corral he contentedly peed on me.

I don't think he was overjoyed to be left in the middle of the paddock though. He began bawling loudly and chased frantically after the pickup as I drove away, but he was intercepted by his mom and for a little while it looked like they'd work out an arrangement. In the mean time, I kicked all the yet-to-calve cows out of the paddock and back onto the range. It didn't take much kicking, because they'd all been lining the fence since the end of the storm, eyeballing all that lush green grass on the other side.

My work was done for the moment, so I sped away and left the cows and calves alone for the night, hoping that the two confused pairs would get it all sorted out on their own terms once the distraction of my presence had gone.


The next sunrise revealed that a magical transformation had not, in fact, occurred.

Tubby was by himself, a quarter-mile from the other cattle, bawling piteously. He came running when he saw me, as fast as his long little calf legs would carry him. Sigh.


Now this is a curious thing. It's very endearing when a calf bonds with you. It's a lovely feeling to see them perk up and come running, to have them nuzzle you and follow you around. It makes you feel good and needed and gives you an opportunity to pet a calf, which you simply never get to do in any other circumstance. At least not with range cattle.

It's easy to make yourself think that the calf likes you, enjoys and desires your companionship like a dog does, or even like a human child does. But it's not the same thing at all. The calf sees you as a source of milk. Period. He's hungry, and he's got a powerful instinct driving him to nurse, nurse, nurse. Period. He's not interested in being petted, in hanging out. He's not going to want his tummy scratched. He's not curious about what you are, what you're going to do, what adventures you might have together. He knows what you are. You are the source of milk. Period. And he wants milk. Period. Which is kind of a bummer, a let-down for the part of you that warms and smiles when the little shit comes running. It's a good let-down though, because it's a lesson presented by nature. A lesson that teaches humility, scale, context, and most importantly, that you are not in charge, that you, too, have a proper place in the universe.

On Saturday evening, after Tubby had come out of the lifesaving bath, all warmed up and tottering around the basement looking for milk, I watched as my niece Julia was exposed to this lesson. She was sitting on the floor, taking pictures and videos with her phone, probably periscoping the experience to the world. She was enthralled. As were we all. Every few minutes, when the calf would turn her way, she'd extend her hand and wiggle her fingers, the kind of thing that would instantly attract a puppy or a kitten.

But it didn't attract Tubby. Not at all. And I could sense Julia's disappointment. A calf is simply and unequivocally not a puppy or a kitten or a human toddler. It's fundamentally different. Cattle are mammals, and social animals, so they are similar to humans and cats and dogs. But they don't socialize with other species the way dogs and cats and humans do. They just don't do it. I suspect it's because they are prey animals, rather than predators. They are, at a very basic level, different.

It's a good lesson, a glimpse of the reality of rainbows and unicorns. A growing up lesson that not everyone gets to experience.


On Monday morning the two mamas and their babies had a problem. Tubby was still looking to me for sustenance, and the cows were pushing each other around in an effort to claim 617. And poor 617 wasn't getting enough to eat. He was laid up dejectedly near the tree line, ears drooping and beginning to shiver a bit.

This is the part where I earn my pay. I was going to have to separate the pairs in pens up by the barn. Tubby and his mom would have to be closely confined in a small pen, and depending on how things went, 617 and his mom might need the same.

But more importantly, at least in the short term, I needed to get some energy into 617. Left together in a pen and away from Tubby's mom, he might get up on his own and nurse. But he might not, and if he didn't, he'd just get weaker and weaker and eventually die. Fortunately, there's an app for that.

I picked up Tubby again and put him in the cab of the pickup. He was overjoyed to see me, so that part was easy. I took him back to the barn and shut the door to keep him inside for the moment.

Now for the tough problem (or one of the tough problems). I had to get 617 and the feuding cows into the corrals. There was no way I'd be able to "drive" them in; they were too focused on trying to claim the calf. If I couldn't drive them, I'd have to get them to follow me. That part would be, in theory, pretty easy. They both wanted to claim the calf, so wherever the calf went, they would follow.

Two problems with that from my perspective. The cows were both pretty agitated and being driven by strong maternal instincts, one of which is to protect the calf. One or both might decide they had to attack me to protect the calf. At 1,100 pounds, tough, and agitated, that's a fight they'd win hands down if it was conducted on their turf. I'd have to use my non-physical advantages of reasoning ability and experience.

The second problem wasn't really that big a deal, but it would be a challenge. The calf was laid up about a half-mile from the corrals. The path was anything but a straight line, and the ground of the paddock was saturated from the rain and snow, muddy and treacherous. A nice option would have been to put the calf in the back of the pickup and let the cows follow along as I drove to the corrals. There was simply no way to use the pickup, though. It was far too muddy, the trees were in the way, and there were too many small gates to navigate.

It was time to see if I was still fit enough to run the 880-with-60-lb-calf-through-mud.
The first half of the course, two days later. Most of the mud and all of the snow has gone.

Nothing to it but to do it.

It only took about 4-5 minutes to carry the calf that half-mile. But boy, it was a good workout! I was puffing pretty good by the time I deposited the calf in the barn with Tubby. Both cows followed right along from the tree line, through the corrals, and into the barn. It was as if they'd read the plan and were doing their best to execute it the way I'd drawn it up.

That's not what they were doing though. They were doing as nature directed them to do. The secret of my newfound success was working with nature, rather than trying to dominate and dictate terms.

I sorted 2031 out of the barn and ran her into the squeeze chute. Then I spent about five minutes reintroducing Tubby to his mom's udder. He caught on pretty quickly, which was a very good sign, but he kept abandoning the udder and turning back to me, looking for the bottle.
"You want me to do what? YGTBSM!"

I returned to the barn and put about a quart and a half of colostrum into 617 with the drenching tube. I carried him over to a pile of clean straw in sunshine where his mom began to nuzzle and lick him. As I left the barn he seemed to be perking up already.
New drenching tube with a properly attached bulb end alongside the improperly detached bulb end from the old tube. A U.S. Quarter and .40 S&W cartridge for comparison. Also for comparison, and just for fun, a handful of French Francs, Italian Lire, and Spanish Pesetas. Pocket detritus from Mediterranean bar crawling adventures long ago in a different century.

I let Tubby's mom out of the chute and kicked the pair over to the east corral. I hoped that Tubby would now begin to see the cow as his mom and go to her for sustenance when his tummy started to growl. It probably wouldn't be that easy, but I'd give it a couple of hours and see what happened.

I got on with the day, which included a half-dozen new calves being born. It was a busy day.



When I returned to the corrals in the evening 617 was dashing around the corral, crow hopping and kicking up his heels, while his mom looked on patiently. They were good to go. It's amazing what a belly full of milk and warming sunshine can do. I opened the gate and let the pair amble out to rejoin the herd.
Ready to return to the herd.

Tubby, on the other hand, hadn't quite figured it all out. He scampered up to the gate where I stood on the other side, bawling for his supper. Sigh.

I put the cow back in the chute and gave Tubby another lesson. It was clear that I'd have to put the pair in a small pen and let proximity work its magic. The east corral was just too big for proper re-bonding. Tubby was considerably more persistent in nursing than he'd been in the morning, which was a good sign. And two meals of his real mom's milk would begin to change his scent to something she would more easily accept.

When he finished I put the pair into the small pen and left them alone.

When I checked in the morning the re-bonding seemed to be taking place. I let the pair out of the small pen and watched them for a while. Tubby seemed to be a bit indecisive, looking at me, then his mom, than back at me, seemingly trying to figure out the solution to his dilemma. Finally he turned to his real mom and began nursing. Bingo.

I opened the gates but left the pair to their own devices in the corral. When they were ready they'd find the open gates and make their way back to the herd.

I spent the balance of the morning tagging new baby calves. When I finished several hours later I noticed that Tubby and his mom had rejoined the herd.
Back home, home on the range.

Just another day of wonder on the EJE Ranch.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Adventures in calving: the wrong side of the energy curve

Holy moley frickazoley.

Thursday was beautiful. Sunny, calm, warm. The perfect day for a calf to be born on the EJE.

Saturday -- not so much.

The temperature hovered in the mid-30's all day and a stinging cold rain was being driven by a chill north wind. The forecast called for worse. It was supposed to be snowing.

The weather guessers had prompted me to bring the cows in to a little 10 acre fenced paddock up close to the barn. The north margin of the paddock is lined with sturdy junipers, providing an excellent windbreak and some pretty good shelter from rain and snow.

The decision to bring the cows in to the paddock was a little iffy. Or perhaps I should say that the situation didn't provide a clear-cut best solution.

On the one hand, our cows are range cows, bred to live and prosper in the particular environment of our ranch. They are well equipped to calve in the outdoors and to care for and nurture their new babies in all weathers. Most of the time the open range is the best place for calving. There's lots of room and nearly limitless options for the cow to choose the best place to have her baby. Most of the time the cow is far better equipped than I to choose her place and to do her nurturing. Most of the time 10 acres is too small and confined.

On the other hand, most of the time...

Sometimes the weather is bad enough that the cow and calf might need help. Most of the time they won't, even when the wind is driving a stinging cold rain. The calf will be born, get up and nurse, get its metabolism going, and do quite well. It'll look miserable and awful, and it would be for a human, but it's par for the course for a cow and calf.

But sometimes, for some reason, the calf gets on the backside of the energy curve. Even in fine weather it's a bit touch and go at the very start. They're born with almost zero energy reserve. Basically just enough to get up and nurse and to start metabolizing their first meal of colostrum. Colostrum is loaded with energy, and that first meal is almost always enough to light them off properly.

When it's cold and wet out the margin is razor thin. If the calf starts losing body heat faster than it can generate it, it's on the wrong side of the energy curve. Body heat is obviously harder to maintain the colder the air temperature. Calves are born wet, and saturated fur provides almost no insulation to maintain body heat. A belly full of colostrum will almost always provide the energy margin needed to quickly dry the fur (at least the inner hair coat, where most of the insulating happens), and the cow's tongue is a remarkably effective towel. But when there's a stinging cold rain driven by the wind, heat can easily flee the calf's body faster than it can be generated.

Calf 616 was born at 3 p.m. He was a lively bull calf and was up and nursing within minutes. When I checked him at 4 p.m. he was fine.

At 6 p.m. he wasn't. For some reason the cow had taken him out of the lee of the junipers and into the middle of the paddock.

The wind was howling a gale and the rain was turning to snow. The calf was sprawled flat out in the snow, all but unresponsive. The inside of his mouth was cold as ice. He was on the wrong side of the energy curve, hypothermic, and not long for this world.

Calf 617 had been born at 1 p.m. His mom elected to take him out into the storm as well. It sucked to be him, but he was up and about, shivering, and had a toasty warm mouth.

The situation 616 was in is the reason I'd brought the herd into the confines of the paddock. Just in case a cold, wet calf found itself on the wrong side of the energy curve.

I scooped him up and put him in the back of the pickup. I got wet and grimy in the process; an eighty pound calf is small in cattle terms but still weighs 80 pounds, and this one was soaked and unresponsive. Like a bag of jello wrapped in waterlogged carpet. Did I mention the wind driven rain turning to snow and the cold air temperature? Getting soaked in those conditions is the same miserable experience for a human. Squishy. Gritty. Slippery. Wet. Cold.

I took him to the house and marched through the kitchen, interrupting the nice supper Mom and Dad were sharing with my brother, his wife, and my sixteener niece Julia, and headed for the stairs to the basement.

I started a tub of warm water running and checked the calf's core temperature. It was 94 degrees. Bad, but in a good way. It should have been about 101-102, so it was very low, but 94 isn't that bad. If there was nothing else wrong with him we'd be okay. Otherwise he was still breathing but nearly unresponsive. He really was a bag of rapidly cooling jello; flat out and limp, hardly moving on his own volition. He wasn't even shivering. Bad sign.

When hypothermia begins to set in, one of the first responses is shivering. Shivering is muscle activity, and muscle activity produces heat. It's a good response. It's not always a perfect response. Shivering produces heat but also gets blood flowing near the skin where, if the the hair is soaked and the body is exposed to wind, warmth is wicked instantly away. When the core temperature begins to drop the body begins to shut down peripheral circulation, shunting blood flow to the core in a last, valiant effort to stay alive. But out in the open, cold and wet, with a sharp wind blowing...

I got him in the tub of 110 degree water and he started to come around pretty quickly. Within a few minutes he began shivering. Good sign. I mixed up a couple of quarts of freeze dried colostrum and got a pint or so into the calf's belly via a stomach tube.

That in itself was an adventure. The "stomach tube," more properly a drenching kit, is a big, two quart flexible plastic bottle with an 18 inch, screw on plastic tube. The tube is supple and flexible and has a plastic bulb attached to the end to help it slide down the esophagus (aesophagus in the Queen's English). To administer colostrum directly to the stomach, you just hyperextend the calf's neck and slide the tube over the tongue and down the throat. It's a bit of a trick but not hard to do, and experience makes it dead simple and easy. So that's what I attempted, but the calf clamped down on the tube (not uncommon) and pulled the bulb off the end of it (uncommon!!!).

So there I was, with a slippery, wet, nearly unresponsive calf up to his chin in a tub of warm water, holding his head above the surface with one hand and a now-useless stomach tube in the other, and the calf now had a choking hazard floating around somewhere in his mouth. If that bulb had entered the trachea it would have killed the little feller deader than a hammer. It didn't, though, and I quickly fished it out. "Thanks, God, I needed the assist."

The calf still needed to get some colostrum into his belly though. I carefully inspected the tube and decided that while it was now bulbless, it wasn't entirely useless. If I was careful...

Need is the mother of invention, and it worked fine. I got about a pint and a half into him and set to massaging some warmth back into his young bones.

Within about 20-30 minutes his core temperature came up to normal, and as his gut began to digest the colostrum all that lovely energy began to flow. I took him out of the tub and started to towel him off. To my delight he immediately struggled to his feet, instinctively searching for an udder and sustenance.

I had a calf bottle filled with warm colostrum, and that was close enough. In a remarkably short time he polished off the balance, tail wagging like mad, and was ready to get on with the rest of his life.

Everyone was amazed. "That calf was dead when you brought it in!," said niece Julia. Well, he'd been heading in the wrong direction, but hadn't gone too far down that path, so the warming and colostrum had seemed to work miracles.

Make no mistake, he was crashing when I decided to intervene. But all he needed was a little externally applied energy, a belly full of internally applied energy, and about 45 minutes. None of that was available in the paddock though. It was a narrow escape.

I took him out to the barn and put him down. I turned on the lights and left the door open to the corral, and the gate of the corral open to the paddock. With any luck his mom would find him in the night and all would be rainbows and unicorns.

I was a little bit concerned about the possibility of breaking the cow's maternal bond though. You just never know how they'll react. From her perspective he'd flopped over and stopped behaving like she expected him to, then he just disappeared. In warming him in a tub of water, I'd also washed away a lot of his scent -- scent that cows use in part to identify their calves. Would she find him? Would she recognize him? Would she continue to nurture him? Only time would tell. In the meantime, he was warm and dry and out of the snow.

It was dark by then, and I took another tour of the paddock. Calf 617 and his mom were still out in the middle of the storm, away from the shelter of the junipers. The calf was on his feet, but hunched up and shivering. Shit! Here we go again!

But 617 was in far better shape than 616 had been. He was dry on his underside and his mouth was toasty warm. Still, I'd had enough of this "middle of the paddock away from shelter bullshit." I snatched him up and relocated him to a nice pile of millet hay in a sheltered spot near the trees. The cow followed, and although I'm anthropomorphizing (anthropormorphising in the Queen's English) here, she seemed to be grateful.

I worried about 617 all night. I'd done all I could for 616, and his fate was now in nature's hands. But what about 617? Had I done the right thing? Should I have warmed him? Would I find him dead and frozen solid when the sun came up?

The sun finally came up on a nasty morning. Thirty degrees, wind still howling, snow still snowing. Snow and slush and ice everywhere. Interstate closed. Visibility about a quarter-mile.

Calf 617 was still alive. In fact, he was fine.

I wasn't really surprised, but I was very happy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had gone the other way. You just never know for sure.

The rest of the cows and calves seemed to be surviving the weather just fine.

Tubby (the calf formerly known as 616)? He was fine.

And his mom had found him.

Was he still her baby? Look at the milk froth on his chin.

Just another day on the ranch. The ugly days are wonderful too.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Maybe the term is overused, especially when it comes to describing human affairs. Or maybe not, I don't know.

Definition of miracle, according to Merriam-Webster dot com:
:  an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs
:  an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment
3 :  a divinely natural phenomenon experienced humanly as the fulfillment of spiritual law

So, a couple of things that I'm willing to call miraculous. The first two videos are of the same cow-calf pair; a freshly born calf up and about circa 30 minutes after being born. I kind of rainbow-duded the long video, sorry 'bout that. The spirit of the miracle was upon me.

The third video is, imo, waaaaayyyy cool. Without question a miracle in my book. This is the first time I've ever seen a long-tailed weasel on the ranch. I've known, theoretically, that they could be present, but I've never before seen one, or seen signs of one. I really don't have the words or the skills to tell you how lovely it was to see this creature. Nor how wonderful it was that it let me take pics and video. Just pretty darn cool, and for my purposes, meets definition two above. A sub-miracle, perhaps, is that I was able to keep my yap shut while filming the weasel.

Hope for me yet? Perhaps.


Sunday, April 10, 2016


The cows are keeping me hopping. There are four calving as I write this near sundown, and it's supposed to snow tonight.

Here are a few pictures and a couple of videos.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

To every thing there is a season

On Monday we started calving.

It's a joyous time, a time of birth and rebirth just as the High Plains prairie is awakening, all around, from its long winter slumber.

I shall write about calving next time.


Spring is not all rainbows and unicorns. Spring in the real world exists in reality, and not in fantasy. It doesn't live in a book or a television show or on the internet. Those things can describe spring tangentially, but they are not spring.

In the real world rebirth demands death. In the real world birth and death walk hand in hand. Not every calf survives, not every seed germinates, not every egg hatches. The richness of the soil comes from the decomposition of once living organisms; plants, animals, bacteria, fungi. They sprang from those things that lived and died before them, and in death they ensure that those things to come will be able to be born. This is the reality of spring.


On Tuesday Monk died.


Monk was a Welsh Corgi who came to the ranch when he was a puppy. I'm not certain, but I think that was 2005. On the day Dad brought him home there was a winter storm into which he disappeared. Dad was crushed, though of course he was stoic about it.

A week later the neighbors called. "Do you have any idea who this dog might belong to?"

Fifteen minutes later Monk scampered back into the house and dashed into the living room to see Dad. "Monk! How are you, buddy?" If I heard a catch in his voice or saw the glimmer of a tear in his eye I didn't notice it.

Monk had a pretty good deal until Jeter, Dad's "working" Border Collie, got big enough to challenge for alpha status. It was a heck of a fight. It wasn't to the death, but it involved some serious bloodshed. Monk gimped down into the windbreak after it was over and stayed there for three days while he healed up. When he came back out of the trees he was no longer top dog, and his personality had changed a bit, but he was still Monk.

He loved to chase rabbits, and even more he seemed to love trying to dig them out from under wood piles. He didn't catch many, but he always threw himself completely into the task.

He was an outdoors dog who wouldn't think of coming inside on even the coldest night. He knew where all the best cold weather sleeping places were. In many ways he seemed to relish the cold.

As much as he seemed to like winter's cold, he also seemed to love soaking up the winter sunshine. He'd find a place that was sheltered from the wind and lay there for hours, blissfully letting the sun bathe him in radiant warmth.

Monk seemed to take a lot of enjoyment from life. Somehow, and this seems paradoxical, he seemed to approach relaxation and frisking about with the same zest. When laying up in the sun or in the shade he seemed to radiate a profound sense of comfort and satisfaction. From this state of semi-somnolent bliss, he would periodically erupt into action; to chase the small songbirds flitting around in the lilacs or to launch himself after a cottontail that no one else had seen.

One of my most striking memories of Monk is the way he used to chase snowflakes. When the big, fat snowflakes would fall straight down from the gift of a calm winter sky, he would dash about, snapping them from mid air, seemingly trying to catch as many as possible before they hit the ground.

Another memory is the morning he turned up with a face full of porcupine quills. He seemed to be more embarrassed than anything, and somehow maintained an air of dignity. He also seemed to have absolute trust and certainty that his master would put it right.

He didn't like loud noises, and seemed to be terrified of lightning and thunder. A thunderstorm was the only thing that would induce him to enter the house, where he would dash to the back bedroom and cower underneath the bed.

Monk liked people. Not in the frantic, tail-wagging, "oh please pet me" fashion of many dogs, but in a somehow more dignified way. He was always on hand to greet the arrival of family and visitors, and was always happy to receive a petting or an ear scratching, but it was more as if he was making himself available than seeking attention.

In 2012 my nephew Tyler wrote this about the farm dogs:

My grandparents have the sweetest most loving dogs in the world. Monk and Jeter. Jeter loves to play; he might jump on you but he still is the sweetest dog. Monk is a small dog that is calm and can't run because of his small legs and you could beat him in a race. They are the best dogs ever. They are loving, kind and sweet and if you walk up to Monk you can tell he’s calm.

There’s smile on my face. We stop at the end of the lane. Then we say our goodbyes and head home. On the way we see Monk and Jeter trying to catch up to us. We stop and start petting them, then we go home.


On Tuesday evening, after I'd checked cows, Mom met me at the back door with a tear stained face.

"Did you see Monk out there? He just died."

He'd been up and about in the morning, making his usual rounds. At around lunchtime he'd stretched out on his side in a favorite sunny location. When he hadn't moved from the spot by 5 p.m., Mom went to check on him.

"He was breathing funny and I asked him if he was okay. I put his head in my lap and petted him and he opened his eyes and looked at me. Then he took some shallow breaths, quivered a little bit, and he died. It was like he was waiting for someone to tell him it was okay to go."

Mom had a hip replaced just seven weeks ago. Imagine that, her on her knees in the ranch yard on a blustery spring day, holding Monk as he slipped away.

"Then I couldn't get up. I had to crawl to the fence to pull myself up."

What is it about a dog that can elicit that kind of love and devotion?


I dug a deep grave out in the graveyard where River and Ria lie. The springtime soil made for easy digging. I wrapped Monk in a ratty old lined jean jacket that he'd adopted as a sleeping cushion. His body was still warm, and superficially he seemed only to be in a deep sleep. It was more than sleep though. He was gone.

As I covered him up, out in the peaceful graveyard among the elms and junipers, surrounded by the soft green of an awakening prairie, out where no one could see, I let the tears flow. When the grave was filled and smoothed over, I placed a dead-fall log on top. It seemed appropriate; Monk loved to try to dig rabbits out from beneath those things.

Goodbye, Monk I'll miss you. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A-gang agley

Saturday afternoon I stopped by the local dollar store. I needed a bedside lamp, and though I'd purchased one elsewhere on Thursday (see below) It wasn't exactly what I wanted. It was too big, and too bright, and too fluorescent. Perfect, it turns out, for my gun-tinkering table, but not for the bedside.

As I was perusing the available selection of lamps, each one of a certainty produced in a Bangladeshi sweatshop, I couldn't help but notice a little kid shopping.

She was probably nine years old and cute as a bug with long brown hair and flashing blue eyes. The thing that caught my attention, though, was her shopping technique. She had a little pocketbook filled to the brim with change and a couple of grubby bills, and after carefully scrutinizing each potential purchase she referred back to the pocketbook to reassess funds. At least that's what I think she was doing. It gave me a big smile in my heart, for I remember doing something similar when I was her age. Being a young lad back then I had a pocket rather than a pocketbook. Also, we had Five & Dimes back then, with a rather different selection of merchandise, and where pennies went a lot farther than they do in a 2016. Nevertheless, once you've moved the decimal point there's no difference. It's the same thing. I remember how enjoyable the process was, weighing desire against available funds against the possibility of something better at some far-off point in the future against immediate gratification. I remember how grown up I felt, working through the options on my own, sometimes choosing wisely and well, more often not, but doing it myself and living with the consequences.

As it happened, by the time I'd selected my lamp, lampshade, and light-bulbs, I found myself in line behind the young shopper. All was well until the clerk totaled her purchases and she'd come up some thirty-odd cents short. "There's tax, y'know," sneered the tweaker clerk. I caught just the hint of a chin-quiver from the girl. That did it. I fished a dollar from my pocket and let it fall to the floor behind her.

"Did you drop some of your money?" I asked.

Her eyes got big and she carefully picked up the bill. She thought for a moment, then sighed. "But it's not mine. I had three dollars and 22 quarters and a dime. It's not mine."

Holy crap! I'd forgotten about honesty. And I'd been busted. I was being a bit sneaky and too clever by far, and more focused on making myself feel good about my wonderfulness than on offering a kindness. Now I was student, and the young shopper Master. Life's funny that way.

"Well, you taught me a lesson," I said, "how about I give you the dollar as a reward?"

Her eyes lit up again. "Really?"

And that was a much better deal all around.


A couple of days ago...

I rolled out of bed Thursday morning feeling pretty chipper. It was 5 a.m. and the sun had yet to rise on what was to be an interesting day.

On Wednesday we had a winter storm. Not a bad one, just a typical one. A half-inch of rain followed by four inches of snow, gusty north winds, low viz, drifts and ice. All was well with the cows at sunset.

My world is revolving pretty much around the cows these days. They're always important, of course, but they're due to start calving on Tuesday. April 5 is precisely 283 days after bull turnout, which happened on June 27 of last year. Generally, one or two come early. Or three or five. And there are at least a dozen cows who look very, very close.

But none of them looked closer than very, very close on Wednesday evening. I've done this a few times before and I felt okay about not doing any night checks Wednesday. The fact that it would have sucked to get out in the nasty weather in the middle of the night had nothing to do with it. Well, not much anyway.

So on Thursday at 5 a.m. I was ready to jump into the day. The first order of business was to feed myself some bacon and eggs. I don't do this very often, but sometimes I get a powerful hankering for a traditional breakfast. I could get one at a local establishment, but I'd rather do it myself than pay for a mediocre meal with crap service.

I lined out all the ingredients, plugged in the electric skillet, and put the coffee on. By the time I poured my first cup I was ready to rock and roll with the bacon. The skillet, however, was not ready. Stone cold. I fiddled with it for a few minutes but finally concluded that it was dead. Sigh. Oh well. It had been a good skillet for a lot of years. Unless I misremember, I bought it in 1994.

I put the ingredients away and headed on over to the local bakery, where they make an excellent doughnut. The baker is in fact one of my oldest friends. Went to school together, K-12. Played sports, wrenched on cars, chased women, drank beer. Almost joined the navy together, but the recruiter told him that with a name like John Paul Jones, he'd better be really motivated to be a sailor. He wasn't, and his path lay in a different direction. On reflection, I think that recruiter was one of the good ones. Maybe the good one. But I digress.

As the sun peeked over the horizon on the last morning of March, Nona the wonder dog and I navigated the frosty wonderland of this year's calving pasture. It was blowy and frosty outside, but Nona and I were snug and warm in the Ranger as we ate our doughnuts and looked at cows. I had a glazed and a plain cake doughnut, Nona had a pair of frosted raised donuts with raspberry filling. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

The cows were fine, and no new babies were on the ground or in the chute. The cows had sheltered in a tree line through the windy, snowy night. As unpleasant as the storm was for myself and my fellow humans, it was nothing for the cows. As I walked through them they were simply waiting patiently for the wind to abate. A few of them peered closely at me, wondering whether I would feed them hay.
"Well," said 757 while her sisters looked on expectantly, "I see you and the dog have had your doughnuts."

I fired up the hydrabed and rolled out a couple of bales of alfalfa. The cows trailed out of shelter and into the wind, and tucked in to the hay with gusto, seemingly immune to the bite of wintry cold and wind. As I cut away the bale netting the north wind was gusting at 40 mph. It was a cold and miserable wind, having blown across hundreds of miles of snow and ice. As I shivered and cursed I remembered my Grandpa describing such winds as lazy. Can't be bothered to go around, so it just blows right through you.

I got to wondering how much I really wanted to fight the wind and cold. I'd planned to tear into the tractor to fix a leaky hydraulic valve -- had all the parts and tools ready to go -- but I had second thoughts. A vision of bacon and eggs flashed back into my mind, and it occurred to me that I could stop by the junior wally world and pick up a new skillet. There's no law saying the breakfast foods must only be consumed before sunrise. Bacon and eggs for lunch. The very thing!

Back home, I placed a large, colorful box containing a brand new electric skillet on the kitchen counter and prepared to dig in and commence assembly. The picture on the box reminded me of a fellow I knew in the navy. He hailed from far up-holler in West-By-God Virginia, and had once informed me that this type of appliance is properly called an "electric fryin'-pan skillet."

Lunch was still some hours away and I had writing to do, so I quickly unboxed the new device, washed it, and set it in the drainer to dry. When I finished I noticed that the mud Nona had tracked onto the carpet was dry and ready for the carpet sweeper, which is what West-By-God Virginians call a vacuum cleaner.

So I dug out the old Hoover upright, plugged it in, and fired it up. It immediately gave off a loud snap, clank, and unusual hum, as well as a rapidly growing cloud of smoke. I snapped off the power switch, which changed nothing at all. The smoking got worse and the hum got louder as I flipped the switch back and forth, achieving nothing at all. Finally I yanked the plug and the devilish hum stopped. Firetruck.

I opened a couple of windows to let the breeze clear the house of smoke, then dragged the vacuum carcass outside to cool. Scratch one vacuum. Sigh. Oh well. It had been a good vacuum for a lot of years. Unless I misremember, I bought it in 1994.

The clerk at the junior wally world said, "Weren't you just in here?" Ten minutes later I walked out with another large, colorful box. This one contained a shiny new upright vacuum cleaner. Er, carpet sweeper. Whatever. I had opted for cheap and light, and the new one had a "dust cup" rather than an internal bag. Which I was rather pleased with as I really hate changing bags. It also had, according to the box, "Tornado Action." That's got to be as good as "cyclonic action," right? And rather more northern hemisphere, if you take my meaning.

Back home, assembly was quick and easy and I gave the new device a good trial. It not only made short work of the Nona-mud, but picked up a lot more dirt than I'd expected. Dirt that the old Hoover had left behind. Eew!

I wrote a bit, then prepared lunch. There was, of course, a learning curve with the new skillet. Though larger than the old one -- it's 15 by 12 inches rather than 12 by 12 -- it's lighter, so it doesn't hold the heat as well, which is a bit irritating. It actually does a better job on bacon, or at least makes it harder for me to burn it. Takes a few minutes longer, though, which threw off my timing. As I slid the eggs out of the treasured non-electric, range-top skillet, the bacon wasn't yet appropriately crisped, let alone drained. Ah, well. It's a process.

After lunch, with the winds still howling outside, I got tucked into some spring cleaning. My main goal was to relocate the hard backed books and their beautiful book cases out of the office and into the living room. Once upon a time I wanted the books to be close to hand in the office. "For research purposes," I told myself. In practice, though, I don't do nearly as much book-in-hand research as I once did. These days most of what I need is only a few key strokes and mouse clicks away. And when I do need a book, the trek to the living room is not insurmountable.

As for general reading, I'm afraid I've transitioned almost entirely to the Kindle. I used to tell myself I was a dead tree snob, and that the heft and feel and smell of the thing was important to my reading experience. Once I got the Kindle, however, I found that my snobbishness didn't hold up. There are times when I enjoy perusing a physical book, and it'll be some years (if ever) before electronic formats can equal paper when it comes to images, charts, and maps, but by and large I've come to rely on the Kindle. Particularly the Voyage, which has a lighted screen and 3G capability. When the power went out during a recent storm I could still read, and what's more, could still purchase content if I felt the need. But I digress.

I got the heavy part of the chore done by 4 p.m. or so. Dang, but those bookshelves are heavy. So are the books. But now they've gained a decorative value to go along with their intrinsic bookish/bookshelfish value.

I rolled on out to check cows, pleasantly tired from a good lift-carry-drag workout. The clouds had cleared, and while it was still cold and windy, the promise of a nicer morrow was in the air. No babies, no signs of impending birth, water supply good, everything in order.

Back home I showered and prepared for bed. It was early yet but I was tired. Weary but clean, I wandered into the bedroom with my Kindle and snapped on the bedside light. Well, I snapped the switch, anyway. It worked fine with the exception of a complete lack of photon emission. I fiddled with it, changed the bulb, tried different outlets. No go. Dead as a hammer.

Sigh. Oh well. It had been a good lamp for a lot of years. I distinctly remember buying it at the old Five & Dime at their going out of business sale. In, you guessed it, 1994.

Shaking my head and grumbling a bit, I dressed and headed on over to the junior wally world. I could have waited, but I didn't want to. I'd rather get the thing done than have an unfinished chore echoing around my head while trying to read myself to sleep.

What's that? Yes, the Kindle does have a lighted screen, and it would have worked fine. It's just that there's a difference between "have to" and "don't have to." Doesn't make a lot of sense, perhaps, but there you are. Story of my life. I've learned to live with it.

It's spring. It's busy. It's gonna get busier. Feels good.