Wednesday, May 5, 2010
From a Rose Petal
In class last night, the teacher asked us to close our eyes and hold out our hands. She placed a single rose petal in each person's hand, and directed us to write whatever that sensation evoked. What follows is the story one white petal called from my past. I'm 9 or 10 here.
The calf is wobbling around on legs that haven't quite found their purpose. Her mom, Stella, the prime producer of our dairy herd and Mommy's favorite cow, stands by, her head low, watching her new baby intently. Just minutes ago Stella was on the ground, straining to push a stuck baby from her body, her eyes wild with pain and confusion.
Daddy's in town on the milk route, and the boys are napping, and so it was just Mommy and me when Stella started delivering. She was in the field closest to the house because we knew her time was near. I was the one who saw her on the ground with two tiny hooves showing from her backside, and I ran for Mommy as fast as I could.
She knew right away that something wasn't right. Those were the wrong hooves showing - it should have been front ones, not back ones. "You're going to have to help me, Debbie. I can't do this alone and if we don't help, both Stella and her calf could die."
I've seen lots of calves born. Kittens and puppies, too. I know how gross and slimy it is. How scary for the moms. How much it hurts. I'm pretty sure I'm never going to have babies. I'll just adopt or something.
It seemed like things started happening awfully fast. Stella was bawling her head off, the little hooves, so soft and eraser-looking attached to legs that felt like they could snap like kindling wood, everything slick and bloody. Mommy tried to reach inside Stella to turn the baby around, but she wasn't strong enough. So that meant we had to pull the calf out fast. Mommy had one leg, I had the other, and we pulled as hard as we could when Mommy said to. But we kept losing our grip and we couldn't get that baby out.
Finally Mommy took her shirt off, so I did, too, and we wrapped them around those fragile black and white legs and I waited one more time for Mommy to say when. Then we both pulled as hard as we could, and the calf came halfway out. Mommy said we had to work faster now because the calf needed air and couldn't breathe. Stella swung her head up, trying to stand. If she made it to her feet and took off we could lose them both - the baby for sure.
"You go hold her head," Mommy said. "Help her be calm. Keep her down."
There were so many things wrong with what she was asking me to do. Stella weighed hundreds of pounds and I knew from experience you don't stop a cow from doing what a cow wants to do. If I couldn't keep her down, it would be my fault when the baby died. And I was so scared by then that calm wasn't something I had to offer.
Saying no wasn't possible, though. Mommy and I were a team and I wasn't going to let her down. If she needed me to keep Stella on the ground, that's what I would do.
So I went to Stella's head, sat on the ground as close to her as I could. I leaned forward so my mouth was close to one of her ears. While I rubbed the ear, the soft soft ear, as soft as the petals of the wild roses growing by the railroad tracks, I whispered into it. Even though I really wanted to be on the other end helping Mommy and getting to be the first one to meet the new calf, I felt so sorry for Stella. "Good mama, Stella. You're such a good brave cow. It's almost over. Shhh now."
And before we knew it, Mommy had the calf out and everything was okay.
As I watch the little heifer wobble toward me now, all black and white velvet curiosity, I feel tears want to come and I don't know why. I reach out tentatively, feel the softness of her new nose bumping my fingers in search of sustenance I can't provide. I'm aware of Stella, watchful but calm, trusting me with her baby.
Then I look up and see Mommy watching me, too. She has a smile on her face I've never seen before. Her look is as soft and tender as the calf's nose, as trusting as Stella's. "Thank you, Debbie. You were a great help, and I couldn't have done this without you. We saved this calf and most likely Stella, too."
photo from Flickr