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.


  1. You are a fortunate man. 21 years is a long, long life foe a dog. When Lazarus, my Norwegian Forest Cat died,at age 20, the vet said the same basic thing to me, and said he looked really good for a cat who was 140 cat years old. To have the uncompromising love of an animal is a wonderous thing, and your family was blessed with Monk.

    Your mentioning Monk chasing and catching snowflakes reminded me of one of my dogs, Goobs. He looked like a 1/2 scale Irish Setter. My Dad claimed he was a Norwegian Red Dog. When deep snow would fall, Goobs would wade into it, lower his snout into it, and take off, a small red V plow. flying of to the sides. An odd little dog. He has been gone for 30 some years, but I like the memories that I have of him.

    The thunder made me think of Tristan, my 27 pound Siamese. I was home from college in the winter of '80-81, and my younger sister, Martha, came up to my bedroom in the attic, having just come home from her bartending job at the Red Dot. She asked, "which hand ". and when I said "right", she dropped a tiny Siamese kitten on me, as I lay in bed. He was small enough to ride in my shirt pocket. Martha went and got him a packet of tender vittles, of which he inhaled all of. She had seen someone toss a box in the dumpster behind the Red Dot, went to see what was in it, and found him. The bed in my room, since that was the first place anyone had held him, fed him, and cared about him, became a place of safety for him.

    I was home late the next fall, when the first snow came. Tris, who had been sitting on the back of the couch, looing out the window, watching the world go by, was suddenly confronted with the fact that the sky was falling. Clearly, it was time to go and jump on Scott's bed, in order to survive!. He tore off the couch, flew up the stairs, and shot across the library. Martha, who had just come out of her room, was in front of my bedroom door, so he bit her, and fled up the stairs, as she leapt out of the way. The sanctuary of my bed must have worked, as he lasted another 15 years.

    I know Ecclesiastes 3:3 is in you mind and heart now, but remember the whole verse, it is time to mourn, now, but I am sure the silliness of the new calves as they grow, with bring laughter. You are a loucky man, to live the life you do. You have my Badger Envy!

    1. Thanks for sharing those memories Scott. We are truly blessed in this life.

  2. Sorry, make that V 4, not three. Three is NOT applicable in these circumstances.

    1. The whole chapter is a comfort, and just now in particular v 18-22.

    2. But as the same fate awaits both, that sort of endorses the Rainbow Bridge, with a shared fate in the afterlife as well. "Who knows if the human spirit rises, and the animals spirit goes into the earth." Maybe BOTH rise to a better place. I like to think so.

  3. When Lazarus died in my arms, I cried all afternoon. I wiped my eyes in sympathy with your tale.

    1. Thanks again. Tears let the grief poison out. And I'm still vain enough (verse 19!) to only do it in private.

  4. It sure is dusty in here today...

    They don't really ask for much, what they give in return is priceless.

    Prayers for Monk (and his extended family).

    1. Thanks Sarge. Funny about the dust, with the wind blowing yesterday it really WAS dusty, and the dust of course collected in my leaky eyes and gummed up the works. Took an hour to get all the grit out this morning.

      Priceless is exactly right.

      We all appreciate the prayers. Thanks.

    2. Chris knows about critter loss, too. He's a Good Man.

  5. I'm so glad that I came by tonight. What you have dealt with today is a reminder that our families include more than just humans. Our pets, even working ones, keep us humble when we lose them. My prayers are with you and your family tonight.

  6. We appreciate that. Thanks very much.

    As someone said today, they're just dogs, but that doesn't mean they're just dogs.

  7. So sorry for the loss of Monk, even though I'm sure he had a wonderful life, it's hard to see them go.
    When Maxwell the wonder cowdog died, after so many years of loyal service we had him cremated. Then the Cowman died. He and Max are together on a hillside in Oregon over looking their favorite valley. I know they are in a better place, but oh I miss them.

  8. Thanks Brighid. Seems like loss and missing are the price of the dance.

    When I put Monk in the ground I was careful to position him so he could "see" the sun come up year round, as greeting sunrise was the first thing he did every day. Profoundly silly, but we'll be able to watch the sun come up together every once in a while. I wonder what an alien would make of such behavior?

    1. Shaun,
      I don't think it's silly,
      it is that we are blessed with the ability to treasure a life beyond our own.