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#1 Posted : Tuesday, February 10, 2009 1:46:30 PM
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Test results? Heidi A.
D A Jaquish
#2 Posted : Friday, June 11, 2010 3:41:19 AM
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REMEMBERING THE DEAD:  A Memorial Day I won't forget.     --D.A. Jaquish

Our good friend, Cindy, phoned Memorial Day after lunch to tell me two of their yearling steers died Saturday night under suspicious circumstances, possibly done in by a vindictive, redneck rancher.  She was sending her two teenage boys, Isaac and Chuck, to deal with the problem.  The pasture where the steers were kept was fifteen miles from where she lived and the carcasses would have to be hauled home because the property owner didn’t want them buried anywhere near his house.  He had, however, offered use of his loader to put them in the trailer.

In talking with Cindy, I realized the boys were in for a major ordeal.  Their trailer is a small, home-made cattle hauler, enclosed by a steel cage and hardly accessible with a loader because of the roof bars.  Had I seen the loader she described somewhat vaguely over the phone, I would have been even more concerned, but I'll get to that in a minute.  Even if the boys managed to get those two 400-pound carcasses in the trailer they would have to somehow pull them off again when they reached home, hand dig a mammoth hole in the back yard, and bury them.  Obviously Cindy had no idea what she was asking.  The boys are able-bodied and commendably willing, but the nastiness of that task would make a grown man queasy enough to sit down and think it over for a good while.
So, without pausing to reflect, I volunteered to take my truck and trailer, pick up the steer carcasses and haul them back to our ranch for a proper burial down by the creek.  As it turned out I had no idea what I was getting into either.
I picked up the boys in late afternoon and we drove out to the site.  Before we were even close to the pasture lot, the stench was overpowering.  The animals had been dead two days, slowly baking under a Texas sun by day and marinating in their own juices by night.  They were ripe--in fact one of them had burst open.  When we walked up to the first carcass, trying to appear objectively detached and manly while our stomachs were churning in rhythm, we could see that it was wedged in a gap between two stems of the cedar tree where it had gotten stuck.  The hum of flies was so loud the ground vibrated, and a whirring black cloud shaded the carcass like some kind of alien energy field.  Big, black beetles--thousands of them--were scurrying over the dead steer with the jovial alacrity of politicians at a State dinner.  As I lifted the head to loop a chain around it they scuttled out in all directions from beneath the oozing flesh.   Maggots completely filled the eye sockets as well as forming clusters along rips in the hide where body juices were seeping out.  I didn't gag but I sure wanted to run away, leaving the problem for nature to solve.
The tractor loader would have been a humorous sight if the situation hadn't been so serious.  It was an oversized garden tractor with a small bucket on the front and a lawnmower under the belly.  It didn't have enough lifting mass or height to do the job, so after we pulled the carcass free of the tree I had to take the chain off the head and re-loop it around the four legs so we could get a closer purchase on the animal to lift it high enough to clear the trailer deck.   Fortunately, by now the feet were the least objectionable part of the creature and I had a strange feeling bordering on gratitude that a cow's legs are so long, keeping me a precious few inches farther from the teeming mass of festering decay.  We let it gently down on the trailer, and I gingerly released the chain so we could go after the second one.
Loading the next carcass wasn't any easier than the first but also no harder.  The stench was the same and the maggots, beetles, and flies all looked identical, but this one's gut had burst so a lot more gangrenous goo ran out when we lifted it.  I thought of those poor souls who work for the highway department, whose job is to collect road-kill every day from the nation's thoroughfares.   They ought to be awarded the Medal of Freedom for bravery (or the medal of idiocy for not getting a better job).  I told the boys that for the first time I wished I was like my aunt Carolyn who has no sense of smell.
Once the carcasses were on the trailer, the stench surrounded and followed us, a foul cloud we couldn't escape.  We had 20 miles of highway to traverse to get home and the tired, old pickup doesn't go very fast anymore.  But once we got moving, shut the truck windows and turned on the air, the only odor we dragged with us was what was still lodged in our noses.  I pulled up to the first stop sign and waited for traffic to pass.  A silver pickup pulled up behind me.   We waited.  He waited.  Our air conditioner was going full bore, pulling in clean air ahead of us.  His grille was almost on top of the trailer.  I hoped he might be related to Aunt Carolyn. 

When we pulled away, the guy behind us just sat there for a while, perhaps trying to make his lungs work again.  He finally pulled out but hung back a good way and at the first opportunity, turned off.  I think it was a dead-end road but I doubt that would have bothered him.  He was just looking for air.
As we picked up speed along highway 175 I thought about clouds.  Not cumulonimbus like the ones I saw overhead, but clouds produced by dead skunks along the thoroughfares.  Even speeding through one of those skunkulo-nimbus masses that you encounter on a country road will fill the interior of a car in seconds with that sweetish, sickening, dark odor.  I began to wonder what would happen if you put a dead skunk on a trailer and hauled it down the highway.   Not that we had a skunk handy to work with, but we did have something on the trailer that could accomplish the same thing, albeit a bigger torso, times two, and exponentially more volatile. We couldn't smell a thing, of course, because we were now staying ahead of the cloud except at stop signs, but I began to notice an effect on the normally-frenzied Memorial Day traffic: a calming, no-longer-in-a-hurry kind of feeling. Although we were only going 55 in a 65 zone and I would have anticipated a long queue of frustrated drivers tail-gating me, revving their engines, and careening around us at the first opportunity to pass, that didn't happen.  Oh, they did zoom up to the trailer for a minute but then they seemed to calm down, dropping back to a polite distance, sometimes as far as half a mile.  Traffic behind them was still tailgating and revving their engines but something seemed to warn those drivers too not to pass.  So the drive home was pretty tranquil, the way Memorial Day ought to be.  My only anxiety was that the truck might break down and we'd coast to a stop.  In that case I would have removed the plates, VIN tag and all personal identifying papers, and walked away in happy anonymity.

Thankfully I had pre-dug the hole at the ranch before embarking on this adventure.  Now, as it was getting on toward dark and the 20-mile journey had done nothing to air out the carcasses, I was in no mind to dilly-dally.  I dropped the trailer next to the hole, hooked the loader to its tongue, then hoisted and shook it until the carcasses slid off into the pit.  While Isaac and Chuck hooked the trailer to the truck again, I used the loader to push dirt over the site as quickly as I could, backing the tractor away every few seconds to get a gulp of air, then holding my breath while I dumped a bucketful of dirt:  backup, breathe, hold, advance, dump, backup, breathe. . .

In a few minutes the task was done.  The world came back into focus as my sense of smell unblocked itself; we headed for the house, hosed off the trailer and went inside for dinner.  Too bad it was beef stew.  But we were hungry, so after I had taken a quick shower and scrubbed out my nose I came to dinner feeling like a new man.  And I love beef stew:  juices running, tender pieces of marinated beef, a rich gravy and oh, the aroma!  One can learn to focus.

Heidi Hunt
#3 Posted : Friday, June 11, 2010 3:41:19 AM
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Posts: 134,494
HI! This is just a functionality test.
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