July is not my favorite month. It just became even less favorite.
July 14, 1999, I lost my only son in a tragic car accident. For the past 23 years, the dreaded feeling of the upcoming date sets in sometime in June. It’s something I’ve learned to “manage”. For those of us who’ve been touched by the “off time loss” of a child, a sibling, a grandchild, a niece, a parent, nephew, cousin, friend, you know what I mean. Actually, the “secret society” of those of us who live with this, is what keeps me sane. To know you are not alone in this grief is oddly comforting.
July just took on a whole level of nightmare for me. In the past 2 weeks, I’ve lost 2 animals. Heat was a factor in both. For Maine, 90 degrees is hard. For farmers trying to keep animals safe, it’s a daily challenge. I’ve now lost that challenge twice and I’m devastated by it.
My new crop of goat kids this year included triplets and a set of twins. Once they were weaned, I introduced them to the pasture and fencing. It’s been our normal routine for 11 years. The past 4 weeks, all 5 spent days with the rest of the herd relaxing outside, munching on hay supplements 3x a day, sipping cool water from buckets. I monitor them through the day as I tend to the farm stand, the property, chores.
But, on a day when I ran to town for supplies and a haircut, I returned and found my oldest triplet lifeless on the ground, the top of the fence wrapped around his neck. That was July 7th, 4 days after his 3rd month anniversary. My guess is he tried going over it for a bite of something on the outside, something he hadn’t done before. That’s always what we’re left with in times like these, guesses.
The relentless heat has continued over these past weeks, drying the pastures further, stressing everyone, including myself, who are working tirelessly to keep everybody hydrated and comfortable. Sadly, those efforts have ended in yet another tragedy, this time in the barn. I put extra fans in for more circulation to keep the heat factor down. After everyone was milked and fed, tanked up with water, hay racks, stuffed, I strained and put up milk. I then went to the Port Clyde General Store for a cup of coffee before opening the farm stand.
I returned 30 minutes later and found Misty, Mother to the triplets, dead in the stall. She was laying with her head out in the alley way, a favorite position of hers. I also found the cord to one of the extra fans, lying against the milking stand, fan running, with a tiny slice in it. I can only conclude she had stretched over, nibbled the cord and was shocked, which stopped her heart. I’m still trying to get my mind wrapped around it as she was a healthy 3 year old and one of my head milkers.
When you make a choice to farm, you also make a choice to incorporate your life with the land, animals if you are raising them and a lifestyle driven by nature. It’s a huge responsibility, one no person takes lightly. When things go wrong, you desperately search for answers as to why. Sometimes, there are no answers. But, you still question why. It’s part of our nature.
I am feeling this loss on an excruciatingly deep level. No matter the sense to it, I feel I failed both these animals. I am their caregiver. They rely on me to keep them safe and when they’re not, I search for reasons. I put the fan next to the milking stand to keep them cool but I could have put it further away. Bring the kids in the barn, even if it’s hot as hell in the barn, if I can’t be outside with them.
The farming occupation is full of danger. Accidents happen, sometimes lives are lost, both animal and human. Next to fishing and logging, it is the most dangerous occupation in the world. Living in a fishing community, I understand that feeling in the gut every time the boats go out.
As my hay supplier says, if you want something to go wrong, just leave the farm, even for 15/30 minutes, or, just turn your back. That said, both these things could have happened with me right here. If I was working in the milk room, where I hear nothing from the outside, the outcome could have been the same. If I was running the vacuum, the outcome could have been the same. If I was taking a shower, the outcome could have been the same.
Right now, none of that matters to me. The only thing that matters is that I’ve lost 2 animals that were a part of my life. Misty came from Seabreeze Farm as a 6 week old, still on bottle. She was my Sable girl, a genetic mutation in the Saanen lines that brings out the black and white coloring. I waited 11 years to have one.
Gusty Jr. at 3 months was the first triplet born. I assisted with his birth, having to push him back into his Mother’s womb in order to bring his legs up so he could greet the world with face forward and limbs long and straight. He was named for his Father, a sweet buck at Seabreeze Farm.
The barn is changed without each of their sweet, individual lives as a part of it.
Just as in my son’s untimely death, the cycle of grief starts all over. There are no answers, there’s only acceptance. For me, it’s a reminder, again, of how each day is a gift. I take nothing and no one for granted. I focus on the precious lives that have been entrusted to me and put one foot in front of the other, every day. I am surrounded by loving, good friends, who care as much about my well being and the well being of my charges as I do. It’s how this works. I may be doing the daily work, but I know I have a community who supports me. It matters. It’s the only thing that does. And, I’m grateful for it.