Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A different perspective

Rather than centering on cosplay, this week's blog post is going to focus on farm life. As I've mentioned before, I was born and raised on a farm, and I'm an only child to boot. Normally "only child" means spoiled rotten, but when raised on a farm, "only child" means "only free labor." In light of that and in light of recent events in my own life and on the farm, I present to you the following lessons gleaned from my time on the farm.

A child raised on a farm learns most lessons the hard way. There's often not time to teach the child gently why she should or shouldn't do something. If she doesn't listen, she encounters the consequences. She learns that sometimes, there really is just one right way to do something. And if she decides to be stubborn and not do what she's supposed to, often her parents sit back and watch her run headlong into whatever results, only swooping in to rescue her if it goes terribly wrong. Lessons learned the hard way stick well, though, and the child remembers them for years to come. (Why do I rarely wear shorts? Chiggers. Evil blighters. Lesson learned the very hard, itchy way.)

A child raised on a farm learns to be tough. If you're sick or weak and there's no way out of the situation, you don't wimp out and leave the people depending on you with the short end of the stick. You tough it out. This happened to me on Friday night, when I was miserably sick and in a fog. I was stuck in a closing section, and the manager couldn't find anyone to move up and close for me. It didn't matter how rotten I felt at that point. I had to stay, and I had to tough it out. Honestly, unless I'd been throwing up or unable to move, I would not have insisted upon going home. I couldn't. It's both a matter of pride and a matter of something beyond pride, something that ties to the core of a person's being. You cannot let your partners down, and in that job, the entire staff are your partners. Even if they let you down, you cannot fail them. It's hard to explain this mentality completely, as it's something that is so deeply ingrained I don't fully understand it myself. It's the reason that if I upset a friend or feel I've let him or her down, I will fight to redeem myself while believing myself to be a despicable creature. You have to be tough, and you have to support the team. 

Anyone who spends more than a year on a farm learns that each season comes with its own trials and tribulations. There is no ideal season, full of beauty and ease, just as there is no such season in life. Spring comes with rains that can wash out roads and clog ditches with leaves. Summer brings variable weather, from droughts to flood warnings, and is the season of shuffling livestock and trying to cut and harvest hay crops as well as various fruits, berries, and vegetables. Fall carries with it a second cutting of hay and harvest time for various fruits and vegetables, especially at its junction with summer. It's also the time in which the farmer prepares for winter, checking fences, clearing ditches again, repairing barns and buildings, making sure water sources are in proper condition, and so on. Winter brings the threat of snow and ice which can send tree branches crashing down onto fences, not to mention the potential of frozen pipes bursting and cutting off water supply to thirsty animals. In the winter, animals must be fed hay. This means every few days, come rain or shine or snow or sleet, someone's taking a tractor out and putting a round bale in the feeder or scattering hay across the field. Then depending on what season the farmer has chosen, some time in the year calves are being born, so you're on a pretty constant baby watch. Calves are counted and accounted for to ensure predators haven't killed one, a calf hasn't wandered away from its mother and can't figure out how to get back, or even that all the cows are taking to their calves and letting them nurse. If one of the calves isn't getting the milk it needs, it may need to be bottlefed, and that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. 

Just as each season comes with its own difficulties, each season is also breathtakingly beautiful. Sometimes it strikes me as I'm walking out to do my chores for the day just how gorgeous the world around me is. I've had my breath taken away on a winter morning by the icicles hanging on pine branches, glistening in the sunlight. In fall, I stare in wonder at the trees as the leaves change colors, and at the fallen leaves carpeting the ground. In the summer I have to smile at the abundance of beauty in the shades of green in the trees, grass, ivy, clover, everything. I'll walk through the woods by the stream and see life, verdant and bright, displayed all around. In the spring, the flowers bloom in waves and their sweet scent fills the air. The beauty of each season is displayed so clearly if you just take a walk, and the beauty of a sunset and a sunrise are eternal. Even rain is beautiful. (I actually adore rain. It's a thing. And when I need to relax, I listen to this.) All you really have to do to see the beauty of the seasons is walk outside, stop, close your eyes, take a moment, then open them and really look. Even in the middle of the hardest work, I can take a moment to admire the carefully crafted miracles on every side. 

A child raised on a farm loses many animals. You can't save every animal. A farm is a business, and in that business, you take losses. Those aren't just animals lost to disease, or accident, or old age, but animals slaughtered for food and sold because you just don't have enough pasture for them all. I lost my first cat when I was four or five and my first dog in elementary school. Since then I've lost many more cats, several more dogs, plenty of cattle and chickens, several peachicks, a goat, and rabbits. I've helped haul a half-decayed calf out of a cow because she couldn't have it on her own and it had died inside her. A child raised on a farm learns swiftly that animals die, and animals are lost, and sometimes you never get closure. It hurts, and it's a hard lesson, but you learn about loss, and you learn to deal with it. Due to all the loss, however.....

A child raised on a farm understands the fragility of life. She learns to value the lives she's able to touch when she's able to touch them, and she learns that life can be lost in the blink of an eye. She learns that just because something is here today doesn't mean it will be tomorrow. She learns that a horse can colic and before the vet can arrive, the horse can pass. She learns that a single complication in the birth of a calf can lead to the death of the calf or the cow, maybe both. She learns that a baby bird can fall out of its nest and, just because of that one mishap, perish. She learns life is precious in its fragility. She learns to treasure the moments she has with the creatures and people she has, and that there is no room for regrets when moving forward, so she shouldn't give them an opportunity to take root. Life is beautiful, tragic, and miraculous. And it is so, so precious. Every life is precious in its own way.

You might ask what sparked all this. I write now with more hope and optimism than I had when I started this post. My gelding Stinger has battled cancer - skin cancer, but still a nasty beast - three times now. It was knocked back substantially the first time by me performing chemotherapy treatments on him, the second time removed by surgery and frozen, and the third time knocked back again with chemo. His cancer has returned again (which we've known for a while but it's a slow-growing cancer) along with added complications that left him barely able to walk. The vet was out this (Tuesday) morning to take a look at him (and band some calves, but that's not part of this little story), and told me I had three options: take him to Virginia Tech and tell them to find out what was wrong at all costs, treat him and take the whole thing day by day, or put him down. The first option meant they would find out what was wrong, yes, but there was no guarantee it would be treatable and  it very well might leave us with a several thousand dollar bill and a horse who died from complications within a few days. The second would be treating the symptoms without knowing the disease, which might only buy him time, and might not do much good at all. The third of course would be a last resort. I had been expecting to be told the cancer had spread too far, and that our only course of action would be to put him down. Knowing my animal and loving him as I do, I chose the second option to give him his best chance. He is, at the time of my writing this, feeling much better, moving better, and eating more avidly. His swelling has gone down, and he was feeling well enough this evening to throw a tantrum as I tried to give the brat his pain medication. I don't know what the future holds for he and I, but I know I will treasure even the fights with him, even his most stubborn, mad moments, until he is with me no longer. I will value what I have, knowing it could be gone far too soon.

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