Some days I really hate John Denver. Today is one of those days. I hate it when he so glibly sings about life on the farm being “laid back”. I wonder what farm he was visiting. He certainly couldn’t have lived and worked on one. Not a real one anyway.
I come from a long, pretty much unbroken line of farmers stretching all the way back before the American Revolution. There’s a teacher here and there, a couple of soldiers, and a preacher or two, but mostly farmers. Certainly my extended family in the Cherokee Strip were farmers, although my Father’s siblings, and cousins were beginning to head to town to find other things to do. I suppose they’d had all the “laid back” life they could handle.
This morning, for example, was a far cry from that laid back fantasy of Denver’s. My day started before coffee with the digging of a grave. That’s not an easy task when the land you live on produces primarily rocks. But with the help of my son we managed to dig deep enough to lay our good friend to rest.
He was the Sergeant Major’s friend really. Her very best one. He was her constant companion both on the farm, and when we’d go camping. You couldn’t ask for a better friend. Big. Friendly. Loved people. Loved being with his “Mom”. And now he was gone. We don’t really know why he died, but Great Dane’s are prone to a variety of problems I’m told. We always expected to outlive him, but we never expected that he would be gone today. I hurt for the Sergeant Major. It’s difficult watching her heart break.
It’s not the first time of course. And I’m well aware that it won’t be the last. Sometimes the causes are plain and easy to understand. A mountain lion, which the game warden claimed didn’t exist, killed a llama, two sheep, and almost got a miniature horse. The horse was a young foal and thanks to some good luck we reached her in time. I cradled her in my lap and hung on for my own dear life while the Sergeant Major raced the truck back to the barn where we had medical supplies. We saved her, and I took pictures to show the warden the claw marks on her neck. It would be years before they’d finally admit the cats were there.
The tough ones are when you don’t know what is happening. A young foal was normal one day, then died in my arms the next. I helped the Vet do the autopsy. Her blood wasn’t liquid; it was crystals—blood crystals clogging her vessels. He didn’t understand it either and sent samples to the State University. If they figured it out they never told us.
I’ve honestly forgotten how many good friends are no longer with us. Some, like the Sergeant Major’s buddies, Zeus and Harley, left us all too soon and all too mysteriously. Some, like Sheba Dog, and Sheba Horse, lived to a ripe old age. It still hurt, of course, but there was comfort in knowing that the Circle of Life was complete.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not whining. Yes, I’m sad, and just a tad bit angry. But I chose this life and am much the better for it. It keeps me mindful that forces bigger than me are in control. But there is work to it. It requires a certain resilience. There is life and death, and joy and pain.
“Laid back” it isn’t. If we’re going to let singers tell us how life goes, then I’m going with Adele on this one, “Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead”. Sometimes our dear friends last with us for a long time, but sometimes they’re gone without warning—and the hurt is what lasts instead.
So goodbye Zeus, and Harley, and DiNozzo, and Jethro. Goodbye Sheba Dog, and Sheba Horse, and Ragtime, and Sister. Tell Maggie and Tigger and Limkey and Annie we all said “Hi”.
For now, we’ll continue on much as our people have always done. We’ll feed the chickens, and the rabbits. We’ll grain and water the horses. We’ll put hay in the barn, spray the weeds, and try to keep up with the thousand and one things that have to get done before supper.