Rick the hay man stopped by with forty bales last week. He brought with him George, one of the elderly brothers who own the farm where Rick works. They were discussing the hay crop. It’s very poor all over this area of upstate New York.
George shrugged. His smile was missing teeth. “Rain in May makes lots of hay.” He shook his head. “No rain in May this year.”
Not a drop. Allen’s pond dried to a dusty crater. Instead we had rain in June and July, so what little hay there was could not be cut and baled. Good hay will be hard to find for winter. The price will go up.
I mentioned to Rick that it was almost time for me to wean Moxie’s calf and get a bull calf for next year. I had brought home a bull calf in April, to be a foster twin to Moxie’s calf, Skippy. Jif died five days later, killed accidentally by Moxie, during the horrible week that I think of as Hell Week. (I’ll write about it someday.) I’ve never lost a calf before and hope never to again. At any rate, life was so sad and hard at the time that I had told Melissa at the dairy that I would wait a few months before getting another.
Now, I thought, I was ready.
“What’cha gonna do,” Rick inquired, “now that the dairy has gone out of business?”
I couldn’t believe it. However the next day I wrote to Melissa and it is true. A few weeks after I spoke to her in June, my wonderful family dairy forty minutes away shut down after two generations in business. Sickness, the bad hay crop, outdated equipment, sheer weariness. They couldn’t keep up the struggle to pay the bills. The husband will raise hay and heifers, the wife will get a job off the farm. All the cows were sold.
This marks the end of an era for me, as well.
I have been raising Jersey bull calves for twelve years. I am good at it. Melissa once told me I was the only person to whom they would sell bull calves in winter — no one else could keep them alive in the cold. (They would have given me the calves, but I insisted on paying the $20 pittance: I know how tough farming is.)
Without bull calves, I cannot get my cows bred. I have planned to sell Dorrie. It appears Moxie is not bred. (I should have a definitive report soon from the lab in Oregon.) Though I will investigate options, this may be the end of my family milk cow days.
I know life moves in chapters, and chapters always end. For me there has been the chapter of being the child of my parents. The chapter of raising toddlers myself. DH and I had the young houseparent chapter, the three-year Virginia chapter, the three-year California chapter. Then the chapter of returning to the school with DH as headmaster. In 2002 I began my farming chapter. In 2003 I found Katika, my first cow. In 2008, I was laid off from my teaching job in the recession, and the Allen chapter began.
Now my parents are gone, Katika is gone, Allen is gone. My dearest friend from my young houseparent days died of cancer at 53 two years ago; her husband died of cancer this year. My closest friend and mentor from the Virginia days is dying of cancer now. My beloved toddlers have vanished — one child is grown and gone, the other is a senior in high school. I am shrinking my herd and flock severely, saying goodbye to animals I’ve raised tenderly from birth. It seems likely we will be moving out of this apartment where we have lived for sixteen years.
Chapters are closing.
I know this is natural and normal. However right now I’m feeling melancholy, crowded by endings. At the farm I find myself listening for Allen’s whistling. At the apartment I pack up my kids’ picture books, the sea glass from our beach vacations, the Laura Ashley sheets my mother gave me early in my marriage, and my throat is tight with nostalgia.
I remind myself that there will be new chapters ahead. I know the really scary time will be when there are no more pages. And that could come any day.
Two weeks ago my friend in Virginia, who barely has the strength to sit up, wrote to me, “Just remember to keep doing the things that make you happy or feel good, because life is short.”