by Laura Parker Roerden
We’re still patiently awaiting the arrival of Mezzie’s first calf, which has felt just minutes away for five long days. My own first baby was born during a snowstorm in late January, when everything is quiet and suspended and nature gives us the blank slate on which to write a new beginning.
Last night a group of about ten farm campers were here to do our normal routines. But nothing about the evening felt routine. Mezzie showed signs of pre-labor, leaving puddles of thick, yellow colostrum on the floor of the barn. Yvette, a nurse, noticed the baby moving inside the cow’s ballooned abdomen and the stream of mucous extending from her tail to the ground. The plug that keeps bacteria from entering and threatening the calf was making its inevitable retreat in preparation for the birth.
The kids were hushed and stood for long periods of time, just watching Mezzie. She watched back. We cleaned her stall and replaced her bedding. The kids hauled buckets of fresh water for her. Someone mentioned boiling hot water when we ran out of things to do and we laughed, though I had done that in the morning to melt the layer of ice formed on her water from the extreme cold. We stood together as a group in silence in a way I haven’t felt before. As the darkness of night descended the one, tiny spiral of LED light in the barn reminded me of candles in the window, as if a single flame curled upwards.
Once we were back in the farmhouse, we googled the stages of labor in a cow. Though I had witnessed dozens of calves being born in my childhood, I never had before shared the responsibility for tending. How would we know if she was in trouble? What was normal? We needed to work on procuring backup should something go wrong. My father had pulled cows out with chains and the tractor or turned them if they were breach himself. He rarely had to call a vet for assistance. But so much of that on-site knowledge had died, among other things, with my brother. Fortunately, my nephew Ed already had secured a local farmer at the ready if we should need help and was also monitoring the situation when not at work.
Through our research, the farm campers and I learned that the mucous and colostrom letdown meant that Mezzie was in pre-labor, which can last up to two weeks or be a sign of imminent birth. We also learned that once the sack presents, she is considered in active labor. A heifer (a first time mom) should take no less than a hour and no more than three and a half hours to calve from that point. It was suggested that “a dairy farmer who had a cow in pre-labor should check her every three hours.” My shoulders dropped, even as I laughed at the irony of the daughter of a dairy farmer googling such a thing. I can do that, I thought. The farm campers were nearing the time to head home and made me promise to contact them if anything changed. They wanted to be sure to witness the calf’s birth.
So last night I set my alarm and got up to make a frigid, moonlit walk to the barn, the only sound being the exaggerated THUMP of my boots on the frozen ground. I pulled on my boots feeling heroic like James Herriot, but by the time I got to the barn I was back to being just a half asleep version of myself. Mezzie was laying down in the fresh bedding we had provided, presumably sleeping when I arrived. It was so dark in the barn even with the light on that I half expected to step on a hoe and end up passed out cold on the ground.
I had neglected to bring a flashlight, but had my cellphone. By the time I finished taking off my gloves and fumbling with the phone to find the flighlight app, Mezzie had stood up, as if to say, “WHAT is wrong with you?” I needed to see her hind quarters, so I walked behind her. She turned around. We did this for a full two rotations, until I laughed, realizing that we were both chasing our tails.
Yet even in a manger where the water is frozen by morning and poop needs to be scraped off the ground daily, there can be sacred moments that feed us. And we might find signposts to our winding way home to ourselves in a love, a friendship, or a rescue—
I sat down for a minute and gave her a moment to settle. I talked to her softly. I calmed myself down. Mezzie just then turned to walk away from me, with a swish of her tail, giving off a sense of utter dismissal and I got the look at her I needed. Nothing had changed. There would be no baby tonight. These things always look so much more romantic in the movies, I thought to myself, as I walked back to the farmhouse.
This morning, a friend from college Andy Parker (no blood relation, but I do think of him as a spiritual brother) posted a lovely piece by Parker Palmer (again with that name) about his relationship with Thomas Merton through his books entitled A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue. In this essay Palmer talks about following our own calling back to the true homes of ourselves. Among other wisdom, he offers this nugget:
There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity.
I so often have thought of that long journey back to our true selves that is the real work of living to be a solitary job—more resembling moments from my childhood when I skipped on stones down a fast moving brook, occasionally falling into eddies from which my only rescue was self-reliance and a willingness to walk home in water logged boots.
But the calf that is rolling around in Mezzie’s belly, turning over like a worry stone, has me thinking more about how who we are on the inside is tended by who we are with on the outside and about the quality of that time we spend together. There are so few moments that have that sacred hush to them as that moment of standing before Mezzie with a group of five 15-year olds did. I’m sure you’ve had those moments, too: when time is suspended and the air crackles noticeably, when the “invisible fecundity” to life is visible. Why am I only now noticing that those moments most often happen when I am in the face of some true mystery with others in companion?
Sometimes moments like that we miss because they are in window dressing that is less desirable than we might have hoped. Or they arrive when we are out of cash and time or inspiration. Yet even in a manger where the water is frozen by morning and poop needs to be scraped off the ground daily, there can be sacred moments that feed us. And we might find signposts to our winding way home to ourselves in a love, a friendship, or a rescue—whether or not we deserve it. As Andy Parker points out to me and Mezzie is testament to, “It’s as Dr. Who describes his ship, the TARDIS: ‘We’re all bigger on the inside.'”
It’s as Dr. Who describes his ship, the T.A.R.D.I.S.: ‘We’re all bigger on the inside.’ — Andy Parker
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