A Year of Farming, A Year of Death


| 12/14/2012 7:30:52 AM


Tags: farm, loss, Jennifer Nyberg,

It started out hopefully enough, the slow days of January leading into a busy February lambing. Although I’m sure there must have been fair, beautiful days, in my memory now, it is mostly raining. The lambs, born into the tail end of winter storms, were protected by our sturdy shelter, but by the first of March, the lion-winds had ripped out every last grommet of the tarp and the ground beyond their pen was saturated into mire. Still, Rupert Dane didn’t mind standing in it to stare in unabashed amazement at the new woolly lives, bouncing in the deep, clean straw, little tails waggling madly as they sought nourishment underneath their mothers.

The day-old chicks arrived the weekend of the first lambs, peeping in bright springtime voices through their temporary cardboard home. With the goats near kidding, it seemed the farm was a bastion of life and newness — but it was the last I’d see of life for a while. The death of the young black lamb was the first hit, I wrote about her earlier in the year.

Days later, it was Rupert. Magnificent Rupert, Prince of Dogs, it was he who brought the farming life right inside the house, his enormous paws tracking our improved soil all around the living room, his coat spraying the coastal rain over the walls and chairs and door as he shook off after evening chores. His death ripped a hole in our lives; his omnipresence, his cheerful goofiness, his stoicism in his last hours on this earth; I cannot forget his watchfulness that last night, his look that seemed to say, “It’s OK, my friends, you’ll be all right, you’ll be all right without me.”Old Dane 

But the farm was to see more death yet.

A new fight began on the first day of May, when I found my thoroughbred Cirrus with an appallingly swollen leg. In decades of experience with horses, I’d seen my fair share of lameness, but this level of inflammation was new, frightening. His near hind leg appeared several times its normal size — I wondered if he’d broken it in a struggle to get up somehow. He stood, swaying, sweating, shaking with pain. Yellow lymphatic fluid oozed from every pore. Our horse vet, arriving at her earliest availability, diagnosed his condition as acute lymphangitis and set to work with a series of antibiotics, analgesics and diuretics. She was optimistic about his prognosis, as many horses recover well and go on to return to riding condition. And for the first few days, Cirrus did show improvement. He began to walk about a little. To eat and drink a little. To show his old brightness when the feed buckets rattled in the morning, swirling the grain around with his nose in his old ham-it-up style. He became pragmatic about the cold hosing and leg wrapping that were to define the days of his illness. When the hose appeared, he’d walk away for a few laps of his paddock to show his general disapproval, but later stand resolutely still as I proceeded to run the icy water over his ruined leg.

Cirrus was a fighter, there was no denying that.  He’d been given to me as a starving rescue by a friend who’d found him abandoned in a field. Apparently he’d spent years there, eking out a living on the sparse grass, summer and winter, forgotten and alone. He was tattooed, through which I learned that he was born in California but was sired by a British stallion. His beauty was evident even as I first saw him, listless, emaciated and dull. He was tough to keep, right from the beginning. The weight was slow to come on, his immunity poor as skin conditions surfaced and resurfaced.  But finally, a year after he had come home with me, he was the horse he’d been born to be, vivacious, strong-willed and powerful. Riding him was a revelation, especially since I soon discovered he knew far more about equitation than I did. He was undoubtedly the most sensitive, highly schooled horse I have ever ridden, and his demands from me as his partner improved me in ways I can only begin to guess. I could only be puzzled at how this well trained horse had simply been dumped in a field. I could only gratefully breathe in his intoxicating horse scent each time I brushed out the tangles in his mane.




mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!

LEARN MORE