Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Depth of Grief

In continuing with my last post about my beloved Sparkle, I came upon a post on Facebook this morning about grieving animals.  It said:

 "It is the depth of love that determines the depth of grief, NOT whether the loved one was human or animal."

I could not agree more.  While I am certain there will be those who disagree, those of us who truly love animals and hold them dear to us, absolutely understand.  I have said several times about different animals that I have loved that I thought more of them than most people I know.  And nothing could be more true.

Animals are pure.  They may not love in the same sense we humans do, but their love is absolutely pure.  Think of how happy a dog is to see their family after they have been gone....about their pure joy just in seeing their people!  Think about that family friend who has comforted a sick or hurting family member.  There is nothing more pure than that....except for maybe the laughter of a baby.

I have often compared children and animals.  The innocence and the purity in their thoughts and actions.  No malice, almost always trusting.  Regardless .....pure is always that thought that returns to my head.  And who couldn't love that purity?

I understand animals much better than I understand people, although in recent years I have come to the realization that both run on instinct.  I have never held anything an animal did against it because I have always understood that everything an animal does is out of self preservation....and I have come to realize that is the same with humans.  People do what they think they need to to survive also.  So what does all this have to do with grief?

Well, I believe that when we choose to love (and love is a choice)..... whoever or WHATEVER we choose to love....really love, give our heart and soul it a spouse, a child, a friend, an animal, or some inanimate object like money......We give a piece of our heart to that....person, animal, whatever....and when they are gone, they take that little piece of our heart with them.....and replace it with a little piece of them.  So whatever it is that we love, a small part of that becomes a small part of us.  They never completely leave us.  So grief is just part of that love that we have.  And it's good to hang on to that love.  Yes, after a time, it becomes easier to deal with, but if we love, the grief remains, because it is a part of us now.  And eventually, our hearts are made up of all the things we truly love and very little of us.....

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Life and Times of a Cow Named Sparkle

I don't think I've ever written about my little old cow named Sparkle.  But since she just recently passed away and she meant so much to me, I feel inclined to write about her today.  This will probably be a pretty long if you're short on time, you might want to come back to this one on a rainy day.

Sparkle was a little Red Angus cow born in the Spring of 1996, the same year my first husband and I moved into the new trailer house in my folk's yard.  I well remember the afternoon I found her over on the West Heavy pasture.  Dad and I were horseback, headed over to the Hansen place to do something.  As we got close to the well on the West Heavy, there was a little blind heifer running in circles.  Dad said it wasn't uncommon for a blind calf to run in circles like that, but I went over to check it out anyway.  The little blind heifer was running circles around a new born heifer calf, curled up, sleeping peacefully.  At first glance, everything appeared to be fine.  A calf won't lay sleeping and curled up like that if it hasn't nursed, but it was a little odd that mama wasn't in sight of her baby.  A cow generally doesn't leave a calf until it's a couple days old.  But we rode on anyway.  Just over a little ways from the well was a black cow with another red heifer calf that was sleeping peacefully.  This calf looked identical to the other said me.  Dad couldn't tell one from the other, he said.  I was sure I had the whole deal figured out.  The cow had given birth to the first little heifer, nursed it and when she started having pains for the second, she walked away and had the second baby.  So they were twins.  And mama was wanting nothing to do with that first little one she'd had.  So I guess she would be mine to raise.  After we finished whatever we were going to do on the Hansen place, we came back to the barn, unsaddled our horses and loaded up in the pickup to get the calf.

I rode in the back of the pickup with the little red calf.  She happily sucked on my fingers, a good sign if you've ever picked up an orphan..that means they'll usually go right to nursing once you get a bottle for them.  We unloaded the little calf and I went to the Folk's house to mix up a little colostrum for the calf.  I have had quite a number of bottle calves before and since and I have never had a calf gulp down the bottle so quickly on the first try.  I declared that she was "a soak"....a term we used in college to describe someone who drank a lot.....and she was like a paper towel she "soaked up" so much.  So I thought she should have a name that described her.  Paper towel brands like "Bounty" and "Brawny" were the ones that came to mind, but this was a little heifer.  She needed a girl name.  Then I remembered the brand of paper towel called "Sparkle" and that was to be her name.

We didn't have any other bovine around the barn that spring.  Odd.  So Sparkle followed my two or three dogs around when I was doing horse chores.  I am convinced until she was weaned that she in fact, thought she was a dog.  I set out to teach her all the things that bovine need to know.  First things first, how to play.  Bovines head butt to play, so I taught her to head butt.  Looking back, this was probably not the best thing I could have done.  I'm not so sure she didn't go through a stage where she thought she might be a goat.  She head-butted everything that moved....or didn't....whichever the appropriate case.  I also taught her to suck grain off my fingers...something she would do until the day she went to greener pastures.  But what she really loved was CAKE.  I'm pretty sure I've mentioned cottonseed cake before.  Sparkle loved it.  But pretty much any food was ok with her.

When it came time to brand the other late calves that summer, we gathered them at the barn.  Sparkle was scared to death of the bovines!  She ran and hid behind me.  Dad thought we should brand her with the others, but I didn't want to "offend" her.  So instead, I made an eartag with her name and my brand on it for her.  When I went to tag her (the first time) she pulled away and I split her left ear.  I felt terrible because it bled and bled.  Years later, she frostbit the split and it peeled and bled and looked horrible.  Eventually, it became tough and didn't cause her any problems.  But she carried an eartag in her right ear most of her life.  I had to replace it a time or two because she lost them once in a while.

Eventually, that first summer, I let Sparkle run around loose on the ranch.  She was an absolute pest.  She ate clothes off the clothes line....and she pooped on my mom's sidewalk and yard and flower beds.  Mom didn't like that very much.  Sparkle also managed to find her way into the quonset where we stored corn.  How we managed to keep her from foundering is beyond me.  Apparently, she had an internal alarm clock also.  If I didn't have her bottle mixed and ready to go at 6 am and 6pm, she was on my back step (halfway up the steps, mind you) bellering at me for breakfast or supper.  And she knew whether I was home or not....If I didn't appear at my house, she would take herself down the trail to my folk's house.  She'd look in the screen door at my mom and beller until I showed up.

She also ended up across the highway one time.  I tried driving her across the road on foot, but she wasn't having any of that.  After quite a few bad words, I ended up getting a rope and making a halter and "teaching" her to lead.  I will use that term "teaching" pretty loosely there.  It wasn't pretty, but I got her back.  Dad thought maybe I should put her out in a pasture so she didn't get back on the highway after that.

As far as Sparkle was concerned, I was her MOM.  When it came time to wean her, she was pretty put out with me.  I put her with the other calves, which at first, scared the be-jiggers out of her.  But she got over that pretty quickly.  Whenever I would go out where she was, she would find me and suck on my pant legs or my coat or my shoes or whatever of me she could get ahold of.  I finally started taking a little cake out to her so she didn't molest me.  That just opened up a whole new can of that never ended.

She bred up with the rest of the heifers that year, except she was a little late.  Her first calf came on branding day morning.  She'd gotten out in Dad's windbreak trees the night before and I'd had a bugger of a time getting her into the pen in front of the calving barn.  I knew she was trying to go out there to calve and I was afraid she'd have trouble since she was a little bit smaller than the other heifers we'd kept.  I still remember going to check on her that morning before I saddled my horse for branding.  It was pretty cold for May and the steam was just rolling off her...I could see it way before I got to her.  I was afraid she was dead.  But she had just had a really nice little bull calf who was fighting to get up.  She sat up and looked at him and jumped up and went to mooing and licking.  I was beyond proud!!

Sparkle was a great mama.  Over the years, she raised 16 calves, 15 of them were hers.  She was sixteen years old when she lost her first calf.  I count that as my fault because she had the calf during a storm.  She came into the barn yard on her own and did everything she could have possibly done.  I think she was getting as close as she could to me for help, but I didn't get there soon enough to save her little heifer calf.  I was pretty upset as I had seen her get bred that summer and I thought the cross would be a really good one.  I wasn't wrong.  It was a real nice heifer calf that she lost in that storm.  Sparkle stayed with that little heifer for 5 days.  Most cows, three is tops.  I was sick for her.  It took about two weeks, but I found a baby for her.  She kicking at it.  I could stop her by scolding her.....usually, you have to put a cow in stanchions or at least tie them up.  Not Sparkle....I just put her in a pen and stood there and scolded her when she didn't let little "Minnie" nurse.  It took three or four days, but Sparkle was just as good a mama to Minnie as she was to all the calves that she birthed.

Sparkle was pretty well known by about anybody who came to our branding.  She would snoop around to anybody on the ground, hoping somebody might have a bite of cake in their pockets.  The vets who came to preg check cows knew her well too.  She'd been through the working chute a lot of times.

In the Spring of 2012, we got a big snow storm, 18 inches of heavy, drifting snow.  Most of the bunches of cows got in behind the hills and didn't get drifted in, but the bunch that Sparkle was with, got in behind a hill that had a fence right next to it.  The snow drifted all around them and they were pretty much stuck there.  When Matt and I went to try to get them out with the front wheel assist tractor, it was just too slick and too much of a hill to get to them.  We decided to scoop and walk the cows out.  But it was waist deep to Matt and my short little legs could barely walk through the deep snow, let alone the cows.  So we kept scooping  and tromped the snow until we had a path.  We thought the cows would follow the tractor, but they still didn't know they could get out.  I couldn't see Sparkle in the bunch...she was smart and in the middle....but I knew she was there.  So I started calling to her.  Pretty soon, she came to me and I started out through the path we'd made.  She followed, and the other cows, seeing her go, started following her out.  Old Sparkle saved the day!!

Her last couple of years that she calved, I kept her with the replacement heifers so I could keep an eye on her.  I was really afraid if I left her out in the hills that she might get down and not be able to get back up.  You see, that isn't terribly uncommon with an old cow that's been around too long.  I knew Sparkle was on borrowed time, especially for having calves.  Her last calf was born on a nice afternoon in the west end of Dad's heifer lot.  That calf probably didn't weigh over 40 pounds and Dad said he didn't think it took Sparkle more than about five minutes to have him.  I think Matt gave him the name "Twinkle".....since it was so tiny, we just assumed it was a heifer calf.  He was several days old before we realized Twinkle was a little bull calf.  Sparkle's blood line ended there.  I don't think I ever kept a heifer out of her.  I wish I had.

I had made up my mind years ago, that Sparkle would not go to the sale barn like most cows when she came up open.  That happened last year, so I didn't let her go out in the pasture, except for a very short time.  She was hurting in her hips, she squeaked when she walked and I couldn't keep her toenails from growing way too long.  I tried cutting them off, but couldn't get them short enough.  So I was afraid she'd take herself out somewhere and not be able to get back for a drink.  We kept good alfalfa in front of her and I made sure she had cake.  The soft stuff we feed the calves, since most of her teeth were gone too. When we started feeding our calves and fat steers, it happened that Twinkle was one of the fats, so he ended up back in the same pen with his mama....and she got to spend her last months eating ground hay and distillers and licking on a lick tub with a good wind break and plenty of bovine company.

I would take the time, once in a while, to go love on Sparkle.  I had always called her "the most beautiful cow in the world" and I scratched her head and she would put it down almost on the ground for me to squat down beside her and love on her.  I would scratch her back, right in front of her tail, and she would act like a cat sometimes does, licking something "cause it just feels so darned good"....Her old eyes would get all soft and I would say, "I love you, Old Cow"...and I'd go about my day.  Most mornings though, she would say her soft little moo to me and I would say "Cler, Cler" (short for Sparkle) and sometimes she'd walk over to the fence, but usually we just spoke to each other and went on about our day.  Day before yesterday when I got to the barn to do chores, it took just a second to see that I wouldn't get to do that anymore.....Sparkle was gone to greener pastures.  She didn't appear to have had a struggle, for which I am so grateful.

I cannot express the love I felt for this little cow.  For many years I prayed for God to keep her safe whilst she was out in the hills.  I worried about her until I knew she'd had each calf safely.  She had the sweetest, kindest spirit of any animal I have ever known.  No one will make me believe that she didn't have a soul and that she isn't right now grazing in green pastures in heaven.  I hope no one leaves Heaven's gate open a crack, because she will surely find it and be "across the highway" , grazing somewhere that she isn't supposed to be.  I hope that my friends and relatives who have gone on before me, who take care of such critters as her, will be patient.  She has been spoiled all her earthly life....and I will certainly miss her for a very long time.