Here is the school building earlier this week, with snow on the mountain. Since then we have had rain, more snow, and wind, and half the leaves are gone from the trees. When I walk the dogs in the sugarbush my footsteps rustle in drifts of papery maple and beech leaves.
This morning it is 17° F and the first day of hunting season. Fall is here. Back in 1992 Queen Elizabeth famously referred to her “annus horribilis,” literally year of horrors, most often translated as horrible year. This has been my aestas horribilis, horrible summer, and I’m grateful to finally see it in my rear-view mirror.
For me the summer was a perfect storm of problems.
- An ongoing family emergency that sapped my fortitude.
- Crippling pain in my knee, soon augmented by crippling pain in my right arm — severe tendonitis that is called tennis elbow, but in my case is probably pitchfork elbow.
- The drought which burned up all my grazing, forcing me to bring my sheep home from Betty’s pasture after only six weeks rather than the usual six months, and feed expensive hay. My hay man did not come. I tried another hay dealer and was faced with ninety bales of over-mature stalks that the animals would not touch. The sheep bawled at me piteously; I could feel the ewes’ backbones beneath their wool and the lambs remained undersized.
- My old cow Katika who calved and went down in a coma with milk fever. I gave her bottles of sub-cutaneous calcium gluconate and saved her, only to have her fall ill with ketosis, another potentially deadly illness, due to the lack of grass. I poured maple syrup down her throat (all I had in the house), then daily bottles of corn syrup, got in a new load of hay, and beat the ketosis — only to have her develop mastitis in her compromised udder. I treated the mastitis.
- My little rescue cow Moxie who calved, only for me to discover that her hind teats were so short I could barely grasp one between forefinger and thumb. For a few frantic days I attempted to massage the milk out of her udder, and then I put a foster bull calf on her. Luckily, or unluckily, Moxie is a very low producer and two newborn calves kept her completely milked out.
When I look back on this summer I will remember the heat, the burned land, the empty crater of the pond, milking Katika’s impossible udder at 9 PM with hot needles from biting flies piercing the sweaty shirt plastered to my back.
I will remember fencing frantically to create new rough pasture, with my barn cat Freddie keeping me company.
I’ll remember my friend D giving up his one day off to help me catch and trailer the sheep to bring them home. My friend Gary who visited to go climbing, saw my exhaustion and the bull getting out, and spent six hours weedwhacking my fence lines to restore the charge. My friend Larry who found me a great deal on half-priced pine shavings, and teenaged Alex who helped me get the two hundred bags up into the hayloft. My internet friend Kirby who sent me boxes of fly masks for the cows, rescuing them from rampant pink-eye.
Mostly I will remember being tired and sad. Near the end of August, my dear cat Freddie disappeared, the probable victim of a coyote. This was such a blow I refused to believe it for a long time.
The events of my aestas horribilis are forcing changes on my farm. With the drought, the skyrocketing cost of hay and grain, and ongoing medical bills, I need to downsize in all directions.
Most of these decisions are sad, too. But I am facing them one day at a time.