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Monday, January 6, 2014


the other side of waterfall road

It's not very often I have what I call a hell day. It's one of those days when you know even going back to bed won't prevent anything. Besides, once you're up, it's too late, hell day is on. This morning I forced myself out of bed at 8 to walk into the meadow to cut the strings on a new round-bale of hay and peel the outer layer of hay soggy and rotten from the weather and the ground. Made it to bed around three. I did not want to get up. It was cold, below 30. Yet I have this stronger force within that sat my mortal frame straight up and started forcing on outdoor clothes; sweat-pants, sweater, thick socks, shoes, hat, gloves. Though I felt like all my joints were fused such that I was about the same as a day-old corpse, I stepped out the door into the wind. It was cold, but not worrisome. I've lived with mountain winters 37 years. Kinda used to it. This was the morning before the day the forecasters predicted a drop in temperature all afternoon unto minus seven by morning. I walked out the meadow to the round-bale, a hundred yards, thereabouts. The wind was at my back and I was glad, dreading already the walk back to the house with face into the wind. No big thang, I told myself. If I cant stand five minutes of cold wind in my face, I need help desperately. I walked over the meadow covered with tiny white pellets that fell in the night, a kind of granular snow. It wasn't even ground cover. It gathered in the bowls of last year's leaves on the ground and on the blades of grass lying down drained of chlorophyll. It looked like the Green Bay stadium during yesterday's game with San Francisco. The view of the stadium from the blimp showed a pastel ochre rectangle in an oval and snow all over the cityscape outside the stadium.

jenny and jack
Jesse brought a new round-bale yesterday to replace the other one that was eaten down. He chose to put it the other side of the creek, wanting the calves and donkeys to cross the creek, which they don't like to do. I wanted to walk out there as soon as I woke to peel the bad hay off the good. I wanted them to have some nourishment as quickly as possible after a cold night. The curious thing about myself is I am having a good time going out early in the morning, whatever the weather, to feed my dependent friends. It's visitation time. They had watched me walking over the meadow the other side of the creek. They gathered in a line of four, two donkeys, two calves, watching from the bank the other side of the creek. They wanted to cross, but it was the worst place to cross. A few donkey lengths either direction would have been easy to cross. Calf 23 stepped into the creek and started up a bank that was maybe three feet high and a steep grade. 23 got sprawled on the bank, front forelegs folded under, stuck, unable to move, on knees in front and knees in back. I was looking at it while pulling chunks of hay off the bale, wondering what I could do to help it. I couldn't find anything I could do that would matter, given that the calf is around 400 pounds and I know my own limit. It never gamboled and played as a baby calf. It's legs are sadly uncoordinated to the point I've seen the calf walking and the front legs suddenly folded, dropping the calf to its knees, and then it unable to get up. I was hoping it would stand up on the back legs and step backwards. That, however, is approaching it rationally, remembering cow has no capacity for reason. This is human projection. The calf did what a bovine would do. It tried to stand up with its front legs and fell over backwards into the trough of the creek.
No time to think about it, jump down there and get the calf at least off its back. Tom Pruitt told me in my first years, working the farm, when a cow rolls onto its back, it cannot get up on its own. They have to be turned upright fast or they die. I found one that had rolled onto its back and its spine fell into the trough of the cow path that ran through the meadow. I attempted to roll it with its back legs, and might have but for the trough its back was in. I drove over to Tom's house, told him what I'd found. He was up and out the door almost in one move. One of us took the back feet and the other the front. We rocked the cow back and forth for the momentum to roll it beyond the hump of its belly on either side. We made it. Cow stood up and walked away to join the herd. What a time I had with the calf. All four legs trying to swim in the air. I couldn't get near the back legs that were going like a windmill. Front legs were in motion, but they're not as powerful as the back legs. I was able to take ahold of them. The calf was upside down on its back, head back. I pulled the legs and pulled. It was like the legs belonged to a water-logged sack of grain, head dangling, eyes rolled back showing whites. Nose never went underwater. I pulled the front half of the calf out of the creek onto the soft bank. The creek under the front of the calf was two or three inches deep. The back half of the calf, the giant basketball belly, fell into a hole a foot and a half deep. Its rear end completely underwater. I pulled until I realized that if I kept at this I'd be giving myself a heart attack. No point having two dead cows in the creek.


I somehow managed to pull the calf more or less onto its side and headed for the house just short of a run, reminding myself that if I fall down dead, the calf will die for sure. I walked steadily and went to the phone. Justin's phone did not get a response. I called Crystal's number and Justin was with her. I told him the situation, saying that it will be dead by the time anybody can get here. I stayed in the house unable to do anything outside. The calf was in place. I figured the water was warmer than the air, though the water probably felt colder than the air. I was stumped. I called Carole and voiced my frustration being unable to help the calf. I looked out the window from time to time to see if a truck had arrived yet. When I saw the truck, I left the phone and went out the door. Jesse had pulled the calf out of the hole in the creek and packed a mound of hay over it. When I arrived at the scene I saw a small haystack with the calf's head sticking out. I would not have thought to do that. Maybe, eventually, after puzzling over it awhile. I saw that if I'd got the calf out of the water, the wind would have probably given it pneumonia immediately. Jesse's little girl was with him, around eleven or twelve, watching everything. Jesse put a five-gallon bucket to the calf's face with grain in it, letting the calf eat as much as it could. The calf was dazed. Jesse put his hand on the calf's side under the hay and said it was like ice. Justin arrived in his truck, his little girl with him, Cheyanne. School was out today due to the weather forecast. Both guys are good daddies. Their little girls adore them. It was fun to see the kids so happy to be with daddy, showing it in their self-confidence. Both had about them an air of feeling completely safe.


Jesse and Justin dragged the calf to another place about ten feet away, a bit less damp, where the ground was frozen, propped it kind of upright and covered it with hay again. He said he was going to go back to the house, pick up a trailer he has that is low to the ground to make getting the calf in and out easier. He would take it to the barn, put a heat lamp on it and a space heater, and give it a shot of some antibiotics. Jesse went off with the trailer. Justin and I took five square-bales of hay in the back of his truck from the barn to the place I stack them under a tarp by the gate for the morning deliveries. I've not yet heard about the calf. Will find out some time tomorrow. My feeling is that it will be all right. Jesse is one of the reasons I am grateful I took an interest in understanding mountain people, in appreciating them from inside their culture instead of from outside. Jesse and Justin, in my estimation, are as "brilliant" by the standard of their culture as I believe Rachel Maddow is brilliant by the standard of her culture. Jesse's and Justin's experiential knowledge impresses me. Jesse and Justin are the new generation of mountain people. Both appreciate where they live. I have stressed it to Justin since his childhood that his culture is valid, it is good. Never  be ashamed of being a hillbilly. Hillbilly is a good thing to be. They are thirty this year. Both did their wild thing for a few years after school. In the mountains, wild is the real deal. Some survive it, some don't. About the time Justin was starting his Wildman time, I made only one request, that he survive it. Both found super-fine women to marry them, Natasha and Crystal, who were and continue to be attracted to the Wildman in them. These are women who feel safe with their men, whose reputations are known all over the county. And when it comes to true human beings, I respect Jesse and Justin like I respected their grandparent's generation and their parent's generation. I feel good among them, knowing mountain culture lives in them.


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