As I slowly turned the bend, my eyes caught the gleam of a silky slick wet pile of black fur in the brown grasses that a mama was pushing her big black nose towards. Oh my goodness, someone had JUST given birth, in the last minutes… and on Valentine’s Day! I pulled over, opened my window and watched…mesmerized. There was a decrepit hogwire fence with a lazy barbed wire strand on top between us, and she probably only 4o feet away. I watched the mama cow lick and lick and lick that little bundle of fur, while the calf tried again and again to rise…tumbling down over and over. I was amazed at how fervent it’s desire to stand was…being less than 15 minutes old! As the mama licked and maneuvered around this little being, she held her tail out from her body. Three times over 10 minutes, a gush and then a stream of mauve and maroon colored liquid flowed out of her. And still she avidly…devotedly, tended this little one…there was much she needed to clean off of this calf and then ingest. Innately she knew that these birth fluids held messages and direction for her as the mother, and that this licking would help to dry her baby quickly.
Once more the baby tried mightily to rise…spreading her legs wide and slowly this time, finally tentatively, she rose. Looking a bit like a three legged stool with her legs splayed out, though she clearly had four legs, she balanced for nearly 20 seconds and then leaned and sank again to earth. The rest of the herd paid little attention…but for one calf standing just 20 feet away, watching intently.
I was so touched by this mama’s dedication to her child…was it Love? In some unfathomable way linked into surreal pink twilight skies and miraculous budding Springs returning, it spoke as Love to me. How does one weigh such an immense force as Love?…and on such a day as this where our culture tends to trivialize love by equating it to how many red wrapped gifts you received or if you gave chocolate and roses to someone you love.
Before I drove on, I thought of the bitter cold nights of the previous weeks, along with the deep snow that greeted some of these young calves. Imagine being squeezed out of a warm safe moist womb where everything is provided, into below freezing temperatures and ice!! I asked a neighboring rancher about this. Why, I asked, did ranchers arrange the mating to occur at a time that would cause births to happen in the cold of mid-winter? Of course it had to do with money…sadly. They want these babies born as early as possible so they weigh as much as possible when sold in the fall. I sighed at the reality of that equation. I went on to ask him about keeping these tiny creatures alive when it can be so intensely cold outside. He told me that sometimes when the calves are literally freezing, he has to bring them in and put them in a bathtub. He said, without a lick of emotion, that he had to make sure that the water does not register warm or cold to his finger, for if it is too hot, an almost frozen calf's legs will fall right off.
I winced and he went on talking in the same monotone voice.
Later I thought about the harrowing feat of being born….even being born anew into new chapters in our lives…the kind of metaphoric rebirthing we are so often called to whether by new homes, new jobs, new relationships or the death of a loved one. Entering a new life is not easy. It too can be bitter and cold, and feel absolutely foreign in every direction and sensation…and sometimes, sadly, we simply do not make it if conditions are too harsh. When life offers us a new life and we are lucky, something in us is so spirited..so passionate…so in love with life and wanting of the food it can offer that we try over and over and over to stand on our own, sometimes too quickly. We balance as best we can even as we tumble repeatedly and then finally, amazingly, our legs strengthen and find their way towards sustenance and security on our own. . . . IF we are lucky.
As I drove back down my road towards home two hours later, there lay the mama chewing her seemingly empty mouth and watching the other cows feeding on the newly thrown hay, with baby pulled into a tight ball next to her… dozing in the last rays of sunshine.
“Oh what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling. This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars.
Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from it’s stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep blooming in our civilized vase on the table.” -D.H. Lawrence