I love coming home from vacation. I love seeing the pumpkins growing their tentacles out onto the lawn. I love going on a zucchini hunt with my children in my garden of weeds. I love seeing the flowers in my beds stick out over the borders, trying their damndest to make the world brighter and better. And I was so looking forward to seeing Hunter frolic in the yard, rejoicing in our return. But it is a sad day to say that he is no where to be found. Our house sitter said she saw him the whole time we were away and that it was probably just since Sunday or Monday that he vanished. My guilty heart wishes we had come home just two days earlier; we could have possibly saved him from searching for excitement somewhere else. I have to hold out some hope; although it's hard. Hunter took that NOLS course for three weeks last summer and showed up skin and bones down at the bottom of our hill. So there is a possibility that he can survive and return and rub up against my legs once again...or keep me company while I weed my garden of weeds.
This whole 'fact of farm' living is hard on me. I'm just not good at the losing of things. We "lost" an alpaca two years ago. Paul Bunyan brought the sick boy up to the garage here at the house because it was a cold January morning and it was obvious he was in distress. And as life would have it, Paul Bunyan had to go to work and I held Titan in my arms, and as the vet ran to her truck to get pain meds I watched his life (a life cut too short) slip away. I tried to hold back tears, so as not to let the vet see my weaker side; but after we slipped his body into a garbage bag and loaded him into her truck for an autopsy, the taillights of her truck got lost in all my weepiness.
I pulled slowly out of our driveway on a Friday morning, two days before we left for Minnesota. I was taking the spawn to camp and I saw Cronus lying in the pasture. It was raining a steady rain. Cronus lying in the pasture was not normal. I called Paul Bunyan as soon as I got cell coverage, but he slept through the ringing, as he had just climbed into bed five hours earlier. My message said something about how I think he looks bad, like he's dying. When I returned home after a few errands, Paul Bunyan said that when he went down there to feed them, Cronus popped up off the ground and seemed to be doing better. He did, however, call the vet to chat with her about his status. Paul Bunyan thought that maybe he had gotten beat up by the other boys in the pen, but I was wary of this because I've always seen Cronus fight back against their bullying. But, of course, PB had to go to work and gave me instructions to go check on him when I got back from retrieving the spawn at their respective camps.
When I got down there Cronus had his head under the hay feeder and was breathing laboriously. And nothing I did to get him to stand was working. I ran back up to the house to call PB, who said to just keep an eye on him and to call the vet if I can't get him up. Up and down, up and down I went. And Cronus was not doing any better. Annie, the vet, was at a dairy farm 45 minutes away and I told her we'll wait for her to arrive. The spawn, gratefully, were playing really well together, which is usually the case unless they haven't slept long enough between days. I tell them, between trips
bleep bleep bleep. Breaking News!! Breaking News!! I interrupt this program to bring you this most important announcement: HUNTER HAS JUST RETURNED TO THE HOMESTEAD...and he is acting like he never left for his 6 day vacation all rubbing and meowing and stuff. Oh, Happy Day!! And now back to your previously scheduled program.
So I'm telling the spawn, "please stay up here and be nice to each other. I have to go wait for the vet and Cronus might be dying, so please don't come down because I don't want you to have to see that."
"Okay, Mom. We'll be good."
I'm not back down at the barn for ten minutes when I see the small Indians moving slowly down the hill on the path toward the upper pasture and the gate that enters it. The Indian Princess who is leading the parade is wearing her new hand-me-down high heel shoes and she is carrying a bag full of sweatshirts and rain jackets and snacks, as if the Little Indians were going to set up camp and watch the life and fire leave one of our animal's eyes. They all wanted to "see" him and so I let them take a look but I shooed them back up to the house just as Annie pulled into the driveway. They left without howling their war cries.
Annie looked at Cronus' gums and eyes and took his temperature and listened to his heart. All did not look well. She went to the truck to get some clippers to cut a spot on his leg hair in order to give him some pain meds. As soon as the needle went into his leg, the color of his blood alarmed her. She let me know that things did not look good. I was fairly certain that Paul Bunyan would not have had her try too many other things to keep him alive. This is very upsetting to me; although I know that the cost of keeping an animal like Cronus alive far surpasses his monetary worth to us. I, however, believe that every animal deserves the right to life...especially if they are under our care. So it was a struggle for me to say the words, "I think we better put him down," because it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair, either, to see him struggle in pain. I didn't want him to go through the night barely able to breath.
Annie tried to put him to sleep with a 'normal' dosage (one she would give a heifer). Cronus baffled us both as he stood up (!) after she injected him with the Fatal Plus. She couldn't understand why that would have made him want to get up; whereas it should have made him want to go to sleep. And so it went, that I felt this horrible guilt for deciding for this animal that it should die, when all it really wanted to do was get up and live. So, Annie and I got him back down and she gave him a little more and so it ended...his pain. But my guilt, it ran wild and bucked and snorted and threw its crazy head about.
She wanted to cut him open in order to learn for herself what may have caused his death. So I went to get the tractor. We carried him to the bucket and placed him in it. I told her that I didn't think I could watch, and she completely understood, promising me she'd call with whatever she found. We decided we would leave him in the bucket until Paul Bunyan could bury him...and she would lock the other boys out of that section of the pasture.
It turns out that Cronus had something she called "Colic" and it appeared that his gut got twisted. He was always a very nervous and frantic animal and his demise could have been brought on by stress. So that night I spent hours trying to figure out if there was something we could have done. I'm still not sure if I discovered an easy cure for such a thing, or whether I tried to convince myself that there wasn't anything we could have done (which is what I think I did to make myself feel better). I'm sure there was something...if we had seen signs earlier, but we didn't.
I decided to turn the computer off and turn down the covers, but as I was laying there trying to fall asleep I heard the coyotes yowling in the near distance. They were on the next ridge. My mind started to unravel like a ball of thread- would they smell Cronus' open body? would they duck under the fence to steal the new babes born this summer? would they make my nightmare night a bloody murder morning? I couldn't bear it.
I pulled on my Carharts and slipped on a head lamp and started down the road, and not the path, to bring Cronus' body up to the house. I remember the scream of the rushing water of Johnny Brook; it had rained most of the day. I remember my breath as mist in the light of my headlamp; it was a cold July evening. And as I approached the tractor, I heard the shift of the boys in their pen. The tractor's start disrupted the silence and a field mouse scattered up the hydraulic arm of the tractor towards me. When he got close enough, I flicked him off as I would a booger off my thumb. And as I lifted the bucket high enough into the air, in order to ensure that Cronus wouldn't get dumped out on my way back up the road, I saw his white ear pop up over the edge. I took a deep breath and ran the tractor slowly up the hill...having to scoop up his parts would be more tragic to me than the day had already been. I pulled the tractor up to our wood landing and lifted the bucket as high as I could. Only the birds would have been able to get him. I turned the lights off and shut down the engine and said goodnight.
I would hear Paul Bunyan later that night burrying him at 2 a.m. when he returned home from work.
Life on a farm, any farm, comes and goes. I'll get used to it. The letting go will get easier. I do hope, however, that next time Paul Bunyan will be around to shut the eyes of the animals that have hopefully lived all their days out...full lives...here on our homestead. And have never known a happier place.