Updated: Jun 29
It's been one of those weeks I like to call "circular". On a farm the circle of life is everywhere. For every end, there is a beginning, for every stop, there is start, for every death, there is life.
As I've mentioned before, I have a rowdy flock of geese and ducks that routinely patrol the perimeter of the castle. They're loud enough I can hear them at a distance and they've been pretty good about letting me know that someone is near the house and barns. Two Saturdays ago, I received a call from our human security guard (He works closely with the avian militia) telling me he hadn't seen the birds while on patrol. I had noticed they'd been spending more and more time near the river that runs through this area of our farm. I suggested he check there and to let me know what he found. A few minutes later, he sent a text letting me know the birds were nested behind the big barn and near the river.
I'd been trying all summer long to guide the birds toward that area of the farm yard. They've destroyed the grass around my office/studio and can really be mean when someone they don't know approaches the house. When it's an actual stranger, I don't mind, but my husband and children really should be able to enter the building without being under attack. The geese and ducks simply were never interested in staying near the river. I don't know if they couldn't see the water. I don't know if something near the river's edge bothered them, but they were perfectly content to stay near the house and dig holes in the lawn.
This time of year wildlife is on the move. The weather is changing and autumnal migrations begin. We've had a large herd of elk in the corn fields behind the house and I can see deer tracks and signs of other critters in the dirt. With the movement come the predators. The coyotes had been fairly quiet in the heat of July and August, but now that there is a chill in the air, I can hear their yipping and yowling in the early morning and later in the dusk of the day. I'm not a big fan of coyotes. While others tell me they are mystical magical beings, they tend to give me the creeps. Plus they eat my chickens. That's irritating to say the least.
Anyway, as the week went on I heard less and less of the geese and the ducks. And then...nothing. I couldn't find them. My heart sank. The coyotes must have managed to get them all. I told my husband they were gone and I was sad.
The other day I was out for my walk and something told me to look one more time. Sure enough -- there they were. In the river. They were clearly happy and content. They were swimming, diving and playing in the water under a bridge.
They looked at me as if I was crazy to never tell them the river was there. I reminded them that I had and they wouldn't listen. They went back to swimming and I continued on my way. The water will freeze soon enough and I suspect they'll show up back in the yard and go on patrol again. For now, I can't begrudge them the last few delightful days on the water in the warm September sun.
This summer has been a good one for cats, apparently. They're everywhere. People drop unwanted cats off here, I suspect. They drive by and see the dairy and assume since there's obviously milk, the cats would at least be fed. I had one cat here for 10 years. She died a year ago. For the next several months people would bring me cats and one by one, they would disappear. Victims, I figure, of the local coyotes. The kids found a darling kitten over on the dairy and brought her home. We named her Eire and she has a joy-filled personality. But down in my barn there are at least six cats and another 3-4 have been hanging around the main house. I have no problem being the crazy cat lady, but my husband is not a fan of pets in general. When he comes home to find 4 cats on the deck that are not ours, he gets cranky. Last Friday, I went outside and heard a horribly pathetic cry coming from the front yard. It was the most forlorn thing I'd ever heard. I didn't have my glasses on so it took me a while to find it; a tiny white and gray kitten. It's eyes were swollen shut and it was... well, pathetic. I picked it up and brought it into the house. After my husband's head spun around three times and he muttered something about "too damned many cats', he went out to work and I proceeded to try to get the little thing cleaned up.
I took a wet washcloth and tried to muck the goop out of its eyes. For a while I wasn't even sure it had eyes.There was no sign they were going to open. I finally gave up and warmed up a bowl of milk and put the cat down in front of the milk. The hungry little bugger gulped it all down. A few minutes later, I came back to find her eyes opened. While she was a bit dazed, a full tummy must have helped. She was scrawny and clearly week. Her "meow" sounded broken. I knew her chances of making it were pretty slim. I figured she might as well live out a few days in warmth and love.
Here's the thing: I think the Universe assumes that because I'm friends with a lot of veterinarians, I have picked up some expertise on how to help a sick kitten. First of all, my buddies are large animal vets and for the most part don't have much patience for kittens. Secondly, their medical degree hasn't traveled to me via osmosis. I have no idea what to do with a sick kitten. It's all I can do to keep a houseplant alive... hell, sometimes I am surprised my children have survived.
Regardless, I put the kitten in a box with some food and a bit more milk and went about my day. I got home to find her napping in the sun on the deck. The other cats were ignoring her and she seemed to be making some progress toward recovery. My cat didn't mind the kitten while she was just hanging around the deck, but the minute I picked her up, things changed. My normally playful cat turned into a violent predator. She growled, hissed and swiped at the baby.... and at me. This didn't go well for either of us. Throughout the weekend the kitten seemed to be getting stronger, so she stayed on the deck and I figured if she made it past the holiday, I'd take her to the vet. I could tell she was still quite sick. She latched onto me and didn't like it when I put her down.
She curled up on my neck and would stay as long as I let her. But her voice was still weak and she was obviously pretty fragile.
Sunday morning I walked out to feed her and found her stretched out on the deck, her head draped over the side. She was gone. Her body wasn't quite rigid yet, but she was ice-cold. I picked her up by her back feet to take her out to the garden for burial. Two steps across the deck and I heard a horrid cry. She was alive. But barely.
The poor, poor thing. I wrapped her up in a towel and put her back in her box with a heating pad and figured she wouldn't make it much longer, but at least she would be comfy and protected for her last few minutes of life. By noon she had crawled out of the box and was playing around the deck again. I was feeling pretty impressed with myself and decided she might have a chance after all. My cat was still hostile toward the kitten, so that night, I put the baby in a box with a lid. There were holes for fresh air, but no way for the other cats to bother the little one. The next morning, she was dead. For sure this time. My heart broke. She seemed to be such a fighter. I berated myself for not doing more. Maybe I should have found her medicine? Called a friend for help? I should have done more for her. I didn't and now this little life was gone.
I was pretty bummed out. I know there are dozens of cats around here, but that little thing had worked her way into my heart. I wonder too if my cat's hostility toward her might have been a warning to me. Maybe Eire was telling me she knew more than I did. That maybe this little kitten wasn't going to make it and Eire didn't want her around. Maybe I read too much into my cat's actions. I try to be this tough ol' farm girl, but I'm not. I'm a marshmallow. My heart is big and I just want all of these little critters to be as happy as the army of geese and ducks are floating on the water in the riverbed.
That's just not a reality in life. Little lives end when you wish they wouldn't. Creatures you've raised and cared for since birth move on and move out of your world and into their own.
So for this week, I'll just be thankful for the luxury of life here on this farm and enjoy the moments when unhappy endings become tremendous beginnings.