Late fall is easily my favorite time of year. The fading colors, the crisp air, the slow descent towards winter’s edge that consumes each sleepy day. It fills me with such gratitude that I often find myself sitting in the lowering sun, soaking up the last of the warmth, thinking back upon the previous growing season and the bounty it has provided us with. It’s quite appropriate given that it’s smack in the middle of the holiday season which always wraps up our harvest season for the year and makes me feel, well, thankful. I am always thankful for my family and friends, my home, and the wonderful town we live in among other things. But as far as farming goes, it brings me to a whole new level of respect and appreciation for new life, old life, life given, and life spared.
I think it was about this time last year when our Haflinger pony, Yak, lost an eye after it was pierced by a goat horn. Being animal farmers, we are no strangers to tragedy. Even so, this seemed especially horrific as I stood in the paddock holding Yaks heavy, tranquilized head in one hand and a flashlight in the other as the vet cut out his eye with a scalpel and sutured it shut forever. For days, Yak was on pain medicine and refused to move from where he had stood throughout the whole ordeal of losing his eye, a good portion of his sight, and undoubtedly most of his trust in the world around him. After a few days of watching him for signs of infection, I started taking him on short walks through the paddock; first around the perimeter, then slowly winding through the low-growing pinons. We did this for the remainder of the winter, eventually moving out of the paddock and onto the roads around our house. We were unsure of how this would affect Yak, how it would affect our expectations of him as a family horse for riding, packing, driving, and companionship. I’m glad, and thankful to be able to say that a year has since passed, and he spent much of his summer giving rides to the children, taking me down pinon-laced trails, sharing the driveway with loud dirt bikes, and allowing the kids to ride their bikes alongside his blind eye with just the sound of my voice to assure him that all was well. His is a new life or, rather, a new version of his previous life, and dare I say it suits him well.
We almost lost a life this year and it was very trying for us as a family and as new farmers. Our first Scottish Highland calf was born three weeks early and dropped into a late, wet May snow. Had we not rushed him in by the fireplace and tubed him on the spot, he would not have survived. We attempted to get him back on momma Goldie, but nature had other plans. We ended up with a bottle calf; a little white bull, the first to be born to the Acre. Because we had no initial intentions of running a herd, we decided that momma Goldie was destined for a place on our family table, just as the little white calf would be in the not too distant future. So we took mama Goldie on, leaving the calf in the warmth and shelter of our garage with twice daily feedings from me, his new mama. I am the one who decided Goldie’s fate, I am the one she trusted, the one she followed onto the trailer. I take that very personally and I am thankful for both her sacrifice and my own for, together, they are feeding a family. As for the white bull calf, our circumstances here on the Acre have changed just enough that we are considering running a small herd of Highlands on leased, local land. A herd which he will become the head of; a life almost lost to turn and become the sire of new life. I find immeasurable meaning in that; my adopted boy, finding a permanent place within our family.
As we immerse ourselves in the holiday season, it becomes time to process our chickens and turkeys. Some are relatively young lives that have been raised specifically for the season, some are old lives that have served their purpose and are ready to be moved along down the chain that unmistakably connects us all. This is when it hits me. I am not thankful for video games or shopping malls, for fake lips or fast cars, for cheap food or easy meals. I am thankful for the sharp blade and the neck that comes to meet it. I am thankful for the blood that courses through the veins for the last time before pulsing its way back into the earth at my feet. I am thankful for the lives that serve a purpose not just to the one who takes those lives, but also to the ones that live them. I am thankful for the second chances that life offers, and the third, and fourth, and fifth chances. For without those chances we might not have evolved into this ever-giving, ever-living circle of interconnectedness: a beauty and spectacle to behold if we choose to open our eyes to it.
Happy Holidays from our table to yours.