By Kate Miller
An older cow of ours is showing signs of age, as time slows for no man or beast. Recently, she stood cleaning the new bull calf at her side. Moved by the act of tender compassion compelled by the instinct of mother nature, I just sat and watched her awhile. This will be her last season. I know this, as I survey her health and the implications time is having on her skeleton. But the calf at her side is robust and healthy, even though she is now just a shadow of what she was before. Still, she keeps doing what she was born to do, faithfully providing for this, her last calf.
She bears the brand of my grandfather, meaning she was born here and his hands some years ago chose her to stay. She was born before I left home. She was born before I myself was grown. She was born before my grandfather died. The brand on her hip tugs at my heartstrings. She is one of the last living beings connecting my late grandfathers’ life to this piece of ground. As I watch her, I wonder what he saw in her years ago. I wonder how many seasons of our life she witnessed?
She survived the drought. A sign that when we sold everything but the best few, a desperate act to ease the burden on the ground and to give those that remained the best chance at a comfortable life, she was again chosen to stay. How many years has she wandered this land with a calf at her side?
Sentimentality is hard in this business. So often we are painted as soulless vendors of life for consumption. Yet as I watch her lick this calf on a warm fall afternoon, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for her life and for his—and simultaneously my heart aches for what will come. It is my responsibility to care for her, to make her comfortable where I can and keep her as healthy as modern medicine and mother nature will allow. And this winter we will ease them through. Through to one last spring, when the fields turn green and the weather turns warm and the bull calf at her side no longer seeks her out for comfort and shelter. We will help her in this last season.
The brand she wears on her hip is a symbol of our common legacy and the history we share together. There will be a truck that leaves this spring, but she will not be on it. She will once again be chosen to stay. She was born here, and this land has been the only home she has known. For us as her earthly companions, the burden falls to us to make these arrangements. Yet, is it not the core of our calling to keep empathy for the life within our care? We are not just the keepers of life, but it is also our responsibility, when necessary to be a hand of mercy. To us it falls to bring comfort to the sick, to bring healing when we can and then to bring relief to suffering when healing fails. To gently touch the lives entrusted to us and to never lose our capability for compassion, even when the road grows dim.
So raise this last baby momma. Let us help you to the finish line. Let us walk with you to the end and we will honor the work you did and the life you gave to us. Raise this last baby and then you can rest. You can rest here on the land that raised you and the land you sustained, and when the veil of this life is lifted, perhaps with the spirit of the cattleman whose weathered hands first chose you, you can continue to roam these hallowed hills.
This last baby, this last season, the last of his chosen cattle. In this winter of your life sweet momma, we will honor you and the legacy you represent.
Kate Miller, current Fort Worth resident, keeps her roots planted in Mena on the 3rd generation family farm. This column is a reflection of lessons learned on the farm, the adventure of selling beef in the big city and the reminder that there really is no place like home. Follow her on Twitter: @the_meat_lady and Facebook: Kathryn Miller.