The Facts of Life
Maybe it’s bad luck or just a numbers game, the odds being that where life swarms the way it does on a farm – so does death. Whatever it is, the odds or luck have not worked in our favor over the past year. And again, yesterday, I returned home from a day in the office (the blasted office), to discover that little Leo the lion, Betty’s pup we were going to keep – was dying. In the morning before work I did my usual rounds, fed the goats, fed the dogs, and patted each puppy head before leaving. Leo was nursing and playing like the others. When I came home he was lethargic, short of breath, and unsteady. The nearest vet stayed open for me, and I threw him into the car, speeding 7 miles into our little town. Although weak when I came home, he was awake and walking. 15 minutes later when I arrived at the vet, he was gasping for air, barely conscious. Immediately, they gave him oxygen and told me he could not be saved as he was showing signs of internal bleeding. We decided to have him euthanized and conduct an autopsy, which showed bruising and bleeding from a liver that looked poorly formed to begin with. Did he play too rough with a sibling yesterday and sustain an injury his already weak liver couldn’t handle? We don’t know. The vet told me it is quite common for one animal in a litter to have a defect, one that presents itself early or later. And the fact that he was always the calmest and quietest of the pups was probably an early sign of the weak organ. I don’t know. Maybe it was just his personality. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Last night I spent a good long time wandering between the pastures feeling for lumps and bumps on the cows, on the goats, picked up each puppy and inspected it carefully. Hugged all of the adult dogs before kicking a few rocks down the driveway. I did not take this one gracefully, not because I was so attached to little Leo, but because all of the loss builds over time until it’s necessary to slump over the steering wheel in a veterinary parking lot for a five minute sob. Helpful? Not really. Cathartic? A little.
Last night Jer listened to me wail about the fact that all this death is unnatural, and it’s probably my fault. Even the two elderly dogs who died of old age. It’s not as if I can reverse the effects of aging, he reminded me. But self-doubt usually clouds reason and last night, every single loss was because of me. If only I had been here the day Willy was stolen…if only I had paced the pasture the night Atlas was killed…if only I had chased after LuLu when the neighbor’s gunshots sent her flying down the road in panic…if only I’d been home yesterday to catch Leo if he did, in fact, fall.
I know none of that’s true. I also know there is much, much more of this coming. So I have to ask myself, are you in or are you out?
The goats curled up in the barn last night, groaning up at me and rolling their eyes, annoyed with the weather which is – in their opinion – always my fault. I sat down next to Pearl and Jolene who barely tolerated excessive ear scratches, tried to imagine this place empty of irritated goats, empty of the cackling, prancing chickens, empty of the barn cat Simon who prowls for mice, empty of growling dogs that fight over a mysterious bone found deep in the woods, empty of the cows who stare from the fence with liquid doe-eyes mooing for hay, despite the bale resting beside them. From that perspective, the answer is obvious. An emptiness without them is harder to bear then a fear of losing them. Period. I’m in.