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Long Time No Write

But now I have something exciting to share! We were featured in our hometown newspaper, the Taos News. Here is the link: http://www.taosnews.com/news/business/article_87160406-9109-11e4-bc57-9f94cf94aded.html.

And I have a new website for purchasing our newest product – Organic, Sea Salted Goat Milk Caramel Love Bites: http://www.lovebitecaramels.com. A better website will be coming over the next month, but this one is getting the word out and getting the orders in!

I am in the process of deciding whether to combine the two websites, or continue with both. Many changes coming down the pike for 2015.

Happy New Year farm fans!!

Papa and Isla work on Fred, our Jack-O-Lantern.

Papa and Isla work on Fred, our Jack-O-Lantern.

Ahhhhh….. the season of the honey harvest has arrived! Beeswax candles are solidifying in their forms on the counter. Golden honey drips from crushed comb in the colander. Pit pat, pit pat in the pot. The pints and half pints full of liquid gold continue to collect. And I spend the day following my child and husband around the house with sponge in hand. EVERYTHING is sticky! And what is not sticky is embedded with bees wax.

Randy cuts comb from a frame to crush and drain. In the foreground is the bowl of drained comb. We take this back out to the bees and they do the first stage of honey clean up for us.

Randy cuts comb from a frame to crush and drain. In the foreground is the bowl of drained comb. We take this out to the bees and they do the first stage of wax clean up for us by removing the remaining honey to add to their winter stash. We are left with dry, clean wax!

I actually had to go buy a putty knife just for cleaning up in the wake of chewing, slurping family and friends. But is there anything better than crushing a freshly harvested honey comb between your teeth and letting the burst of sweetness flow slowly around your tongue? This comb crushing has such a satisfying feel as the perfect architecture of the hexagonal cells collapse under the pressure of your jaws. The wax warms with your body’s heat, slowly releasing it’s exquisite stash, which mixes with your saliva, and trickles thickly down your throat. The wax that is left behind congregates into a malleable wad as your chewing continues and every last drop of goodness has been swallowed.

A small bowl sits next to the stack of honey frames that are waiting their turn with the colander and potato masher. This sacred bowl slowly fills higher with teeth imprinted hunks of chewed wax. Next begins the task of melting all the chewed or crushed comb, all the scrapings from the hive boxes and frames, last year’s collection and perhaps even the year’s before. In the process, propolis is scraped off and set aside. This year I melted and cleaned 3 years worth of diligently collected bees wax. It amounted to an impressive quantity for only 1 hive.

Heating water to melt the wax in. There are several containers of collected wax scrapings in this picture as well as the bowl of chewed wax wads. This shows about a quarter of what we have melted.

Heating water to melt the wax in. There are several containers of collected wax scrapings in this picture as well as the bowl of chewed wax wads. This shows about a quarter of what we have melted so far this fall, as well as the disk of clean wax from 3 years ago.

We have also been collecting used pint sized 1/2 & 1/2 cartons for months. Today, Halloween morning, at our daughter’s Waldorf school, with 31 children aged 2 1/2 – 6 years watching attentively, I poured that cleaned and remelted wax into six 1/2 & 1/2 cartons. This hot wax included the chewed wax wads from every child who had sampled the comb that morning, while smearing sticky, happy hands across their Halloween costumes. One pillar candle remained behind for each of the Early Childhood classes. The remaining ones we took home to burn throughout the cold, dark winter on our dining room table.

The beekeeper smokes a worker bee at the Waldorf school to encourage her to gorge on honey.

The beekeeper smokes a worker bee at the Waldorf school to encourage her to gorge on honey in case of a fire evacuation from the hive.

Said worker begin begins the gorging process. This will make her docile and her abdomen too full to bend. She needs to bend in order to sting.

Said worker bee begins the gorging process. This will make her docile and her abdomen too full to bend. She needs to bend in order to sting.

A brave knight and a quiet king wait in anticipation for their turns to gorge.

A brave knight and a quiet king wait in anticipation for their turns to gorge.

Most of 3 year's of wax accumulation now in the form of 6 pillar candles. I plan to stretch out the remaining wax with goat tallow and see how that works for candles.

Most of 3 year’s worth of wax accumulation now in the form of 6 pillar candles. I plan to stretch out the remaining wax with goat tallow and see how that works as a back up.

I love pillar candles. I love the smell of burning bees wax. I am told that bees wax candles purify the air, and it’s easy to believe while watching a small puddle form around the wick like a moat around a castle. The smell alone has a calming effect on all present. Perhaps this is why the Waldorf school uses only bees wax candles – they too must be in on the secret.

And now, as my stuffy, hoarse 4 yr old heads out with Papa for trick or treating on the Plaza, I relax at home, gratefully alone and quiet. My legitimate excuse to bow out was that my bee costume had lost it’s buzz. My stripes were falling off from the 3 hours of beekeeping presentation that morning. After all, an hour with scissors and safety pins is not meant to create a family heirloom.

So I look out the frosty window at what is still left of this morning’s wet snowfall, and type. A small pot on the stove warms a pint of our honey, with 6 of our onions – diced, 6 of our garlic cloves – pressed, the juice of 7 lemons, the zest of 2 lemons, a palm sized hunk of fresh ginger – grated, 3 shakes of our XXX cayenne, 2 tsps of ground cinnamon, and about a cup of our recently harvested propolis. I call this concoction “MacMama’s Miracle Cold Syrup”. As spicy as it is, Little Isla always asks for more. Once strained and jarred, this batch should last us through the year. And hopefully it will get our wee lassie back on her fairy princess feet before the tea candle in Fred the Jack-o-lantern burns out.

A pot of MacMama's Miracle Cold Syrup is brewing.

A pot of MacMama’s Miracle Cold Syrup is brewing.

As a get-well compliment to the cold syrup, a second, larger pot boils up one of our recently harvested meat roosters for bone broth and chicken veggie soup. Soon I will add some of our carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, kale, boletus mushrooms from this year’s harvest, and fresh spices. I feel that cooking with food we grow on our farm, or food we harvest from Nature, gives a certain healing magic to our meals. There is a discernible life force in our farm meals that I do not detect from store bought food. With one family member down with the Halloween crud, I am doing my best to get my Nugget well while keeping the rest of us healthy.

I tear off the form of one of the fresh pillar candles. The glow of the white wick and the scent of sweet honey that this candle emits, brings me peace and tranquility. As Father Sun dips closer to the snowy horizon, Little Willie and Nico crow, Thomas gobbles and Molly barks. A hot bath is running. All is well.

The first candle is released from it's form and lit.

The first candle is released from it’s form and lit. Heavenly!

(Continued from PartI)

The next morning was all about packing gear, food, personal belongings and loading it into truck and trailer. Packing for a group, multi-day raft trip is never a simple task, especially when a pack of kids will be part of the crew. But we were rolling down the highway by noonish, bound for the Rio Chama put-in below El Vado dam. The sky grew more ominous the closer we got to our destination. Although we had told our friends to go ahead without us, they were still on the bank waiting patiently. I liked thinking they loved us too much to leave but also realized we were the only ones who knew the river. In any case, we were grateful for the help rigging the raft and loading our gear as we raced the fast approaching electrical storm.

As Randy and I like to say – If you want it to rain, head out on a 3-day Chama trip!

Jagged bolts of lightning streaked the grey clouds and booms of thunder rumbled above us. Isla huddled on the porch of the BLM cabin, whimpering in her river clothes and rain suit as I simultaneously sung cheerful songs to her while swinging gear down the bank to Randy. But the pelting rain eventually drove us all under cover. It was the first rain we had seen in a long, long time and we sucked in deep breaths filled with the pungent smell of wet sage and damp earth. I was sure I could hear choirs of angels singing all the way from our garden in Taos!

Lars helps Randy with the loading of our raft.

Lars helps Randy with the loading of our raft.

Despite the storm, by 3:10pm the 3 families and 3 rafts were finally launched and drifting downstream under a bruised sky and light drizzle. We waved to the ever present geese, and oggled at the mud swallow’s nests, hanging incredulously from beneath the rock cliff ledges. A mother mallard tucked herself and her 10 ducklings into the overhanging grass of the river bank as we drifted quietly past. In no time at all we had arrived at the hot springs, across from the ruins of the old Ward Ranch. This historic ranch had been vandalized and burned to the ground the previous year. It had always been one of our favorite stops and left a heaviness in my heart as we cruised past the twisted pile of tin roofing. We tied up and lowered our chilly toes into the hot spring, which immediately surrounded us with it’s stench of sulphur. Happy smiles lined the grassy edge of the steaming pool. 6 yr old Nils and his 8 yr old sister Ella slipped further and further into the stinking, grey muck that was hiding our feet, eventually floating happily on their backs. I gave Randy, who was holding Isla between his legs, a stare that could level a city. My message was clear,”If you even THINK about letting our child into this reeking pool past her knees, the two of you will be sleeping out in the rain!” He got the hint without losing his warm, dry tent space.

Our ever present companions.

Our ever present companions.

Toasty toes for all!!

Toasty toes for all!!

I could smell the sulphur on them 48 yrs later - I jest not! But Ella and Nils sure enjoyed it.

I could smell the sulphur on these kiddos 48 yrs later – I jest not! But Ella and Nils sure enjoyed it.

Wet and chilled, we pulled our flotilla ashore at the next available campsite on river left. Boats were secured onto stout juniper trunks, gear hauled up the bank, and river wing (massive tarp) set up with the group kitchen beneath. Then each family found their own tent spots and changed into warm, dry, evening clothes. In the process 2 perfect snake skins were found, compared and admired by kids and parents alike. Then blessed Amber made all the adults G&Ts, winning our hearts and devotion for the remainder of the trip. Dinner was cooked while Lars serenaded us with his ukelele, the rushing river contributing subtle harmonies. More accurately, a few dinners were cooked. Like I said, we weren’t going to starve on this trip! As we sat in folding camp chairs, laughing and eating hearty platefuls of Mediterranean pasta and brats, the setting sun illuminated thousands of cedar moths that were alighting from the trunks of the massive junipers surrounding our camp site. They fluttered in an enchanted, back lit aura around each tree like millions of tiny fairies come to bid Father Sun adieu. As dishes clunked in the wash basins and dusk began to fall, Brian pulled out his banjo and began to accompany Lars. I was itching for an instrument and could not believe we had left our guitar behind!  However, I donned my headlamp and helped a bit in the vocal department until the insistant cedar moths drove us all to our warm, cozy nests. When Lars pulled out his music book in the morning, dozens of moths had been perfectly pressed and preserved between it’s pages.

2, 4, 6, 8! Who do we appreciate!? Orrin (2), Isla (4), Nils (6) and Ella (8).

2, 4, 6, 8! Who do we appreciate!? Orrin (2), Isla (4), Nils (6) and Ella (8).

Serving up dinner.

Serving up dinner.

Lars serenades 2 year old Orrin.

Lars entertains 2 year old Orrin.

Our second day dawned with promising sunshine and we made comfortable time eating, packing and launching. The morning was spent teaching Ella and Nils to row, watching the flight of osprey and heron, and being escorted downriver by a small flock of Western Tanagers. Their vivid yellows, oranges and reds blew the dull brown dipper birds right off their rocks! Then, in the late morning, we began to smell smoke. We speculated without concern that perhaps the wind had shifted, pushing smoke from any of the many neighboring wildfires into the river valley. Then we heard, and soon saw, a spotting plane… and in another 1/4 mile could clearly make out a dark plume rising over the ridge. It was looking like we had our very own wildfire! The 3 families eddied out to discuss the situation and decided to head on down regardless. Afterall, what else could we do? And we would not truly know the location of the fire until we got further along. Within 30 minutes we were there. And I mean THERE. The fire was RIGHT THERE, already over the ridge and descending into the river valley. Randy used to fight wildfires, so this was not terribly new to him. But it was the closest I had ever been to a wildfire! We drifted past, looking high on the slope, searching for flames. I guiltily hoped to see a tree explode or something equally impressive. Although the smoke rising from the other side of the ridgeline told a tale of hungry flames and fully consumed trees, our side was out of the wind and merely moldering it’s way quietly downhill toward the banks of the river and Leaning Tree campsite, leaving tall, charred skeletons behind it.

Nils was up early for some dawn fishing.

Nils was up early for some dawn fishing.

Ready to load the sunlit rafts!

Ready to load the sunlit rafts!

OK, that is DEFINITELY a plume of smoke downstream!

OK, that is DEFINITELY a plume of smoke downstream!

Passing the Aragon Wildfire as it molders it's way down to the banks of the Chama.

Passing the Aragon Wildfire as it molders it’s way down to the banks of the Chama. Note the helicopter about to fly into the plume.

We pulled over at the Tiger Wall campsite for lunch, crashing the lunch party of another group and a solo BML ranger. The 3 groups stood chewing, eyes glued to the fire and the helicopter with it’s massive water bucket trailing beneath. Repeatedly the chopper would dive down to the river, out of our view, then rise slowly back up, laden with it’s brimming bucket of river water. It would maneuver itself over the worst of the fire, all but hidden in smoke, dump it’s load, then zoom out of the grey-brown plume, it’s empty bucket trailing almost horizontally behind it. We could have watched for hours, but the thunderheads were building and the wind had shifted. It was time to find a campsite.

Isla and Ella watch mesmerized as the fire chopper does it's job.

Isla and Ella watch mesmerized as the fire chopper does it’s job.

Thunder rumbled between the canyon walls as we neared the high, yellow, sandstone cliffs of Chama Wall. Pit pat pit pat came the rain in big heavy drops. I scrambled to get Isla into her rain gear, which is no easy feat, saying a silent prayer that the fire would be extinguished by the storm. It had obviously been ignited by the lightning of the storm the day before – the epitome of a catch 22. We got a bit ahead of the group and pulled over to scout a campsite. It was not ideal – only 1 flat tent site, the rest off camber. So we continued downstream as the group reconvened. Site after site was taken by other groups and the rain continued to drench us. Randy, Isla and I sang rain songs at the top of our lungs to pass the wet miles: Raindrops keep falling on my head… If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops…. Singing in the rain… you name it, but we could not find an available camp site. A commercial group caught up with us and together, we discussed the remaining sites ahead. It was decided we would try for the second site in Huckbay, and they the 3rd. It would be a hard grab (if no one was there already), as the eddy was tiny, the current swift, and we had 3 rafts – one a 16fter.

We were first in line. I perched precariously on the bow, flaked bow line in hand. My heart was beating loudly. “Now!” I yelled, and Randy punched the oars forward, pushing our nose expertly in just behind the grassy point. Rocks groped at the raft bottom, knocking us off course, and we were coming in fast at the bank. The bow smacked shore with a thud and I launch onto the wet grass, landing hard on my knees. I jumped to my feet and leaned back against the taut rope. There are times when my hands feel quite handicapped from my Lyme inflamation, and I was feeling it then as the rope cut hard into my palms. Could I hold it? My feet were slipping in the mud as I caught sight of Sheryl and Lars’ 16fter coming around the point fast. It was all I could do to hold my ground, my hands screaming in pain, but I knew this was our last camp site option for many, many miles. If I let go, our raft would be swept away by the swift current and this site would be lost to us. The two rafts lurched together as Sheryl leapt for the shore, arms outstretched like wings. Then we were leaning back side by side, sliding further into the willows as Brian and Amber burst around the corner, rope at the ready. I grabbed Sheryl’s line and she ran to catch Amber’s. All was chaos as boats slammed together, bouncing off rocks like pinballs! “I can’t hold this much longer! Can some one help me? PLEASE!” I don’t remember who came to my aid, but all 3 boats were finally secured to tree trunks and the 4 kids handed safely ashore.

Isla, staying obediently away from the river under threat of death and dismemberment, stretched full length in the mud, lifejacket and rain suit squelching beneath her, to help Nils excavate a new set of bank steps with sticks and fingernails. I sighed, shook out my cramped hands and stretched my back, and turned to the river to help Randy unload. It was a nice campsite that I had been to before and I was relieved to be here, although I did not remember quite so much docking drama on the first visit. The group kitchen was quickly set up with so many willing hands, the chores heavily lubricated with bottles of Mike’s Hard Limes. The rain lightened, and then stopped, the uke came out, and personal tent setup began. Once our tent was erected and Isla’s dry bag unearthed, I hauled my mudcaked offspring to the river’s edge and dunked her unwilling body into the chilly river on wash cycle. Then I rinsed her lifejacket, rain coat, rain bibs, and rubber boots, all inside as well as out, and carried her shivering form up to the tent. “I want my skirt AND my dress!” Someone needed a snack – FAST! “Not THAT shirt Mom-eye!” Oh dear, where did I put my Mike’s? Finally dry and dressed in the many layered gypsy outfit of her choice, Isla ran off to play with the kids who were careening down the dirt bank one at a time, over and over – even 2 yr old Orrin.

And now – MY turn to change. Ahhh…. dry cotton feels divine after a day in poly rashguards and neoprene. With my attitude completely re-adjusted, I walked happily toward the music and singing under the group tarp, reaching unconsciously to my throat for my neckless.

MY NECKLESS!!! It was gone!

You may be thinking, what’s with all the drama? But this was no ordinary neckless! It was a simple black leather thong, threaded through a green serpentine stone. This stone was ground from a chip left over from the carving of our son Rowan’s gravestone. And inside the stone, was a wee bit of his ashes. I had a lapidary friend shape 6 of these stones and drill out a cavity in each. Then I filled the cavities with a pinch of Rowan’s ashes, and plugged the holes with matching plugs my friend had made, gluing the plugs into place. Then this lapidary ground the plugs flush with the stones’ faces and polished each with loving hands. He refused to let me pay him for his beautiful, tedious work. I gave a stone to each of the people present at our son’s birth, and death: our two midwives, our friend Joanne, one to Randy’s parents, and Randy and myself. Then I had hung my platinum and diamond wedding ring on the cord beside the stone, for with my Lyme inflammation, I could no longer wear it.

I was aghast.

I remembered putting it around my neck before leaving the last campsite, so it was either here, in the raft, or in the river. I searched the ground around the tent, inside the tent, and inside all the river clothes I had just wriggled out of. I searched the ground beneath where each article of river clothing hung drying from tree branches. Randy searched the bottom of the raft, hoping it may have been caught before the self-bailing action flushed it into the stream. In the end, there was nothing more I could do. I filled my travel mug with red wine, took a deep breath, and turned back towards the beautiful gathering of old friends, new friends, and adventurous children that made up our perfect group. The neckless would always be here, most probably on the river bottom, and somehow that seemed appropriate. With this trip being my 10th Chama trip, and marking 10 years that Randy and I had been together, a little bit of Rowan, and the symbol of our marriage, would be forever embraced my the arms of this rushing river.

That, I could deal with.

I distracted myself by learning chords on the banjo and then the uke. And then ate a delicious red Thai curry cooked by Lars. Isla was losing cabin pressure fast, so I excused myself and my whining child and headed to the tent. With teeth brushed, PJs on and dusk settling over our tent, I knew I was not going to make it back out. I laid down beside my daughter and pulled her warm little frame close into my arms, drifting lightly into pre-slumber with my cheek on her matted head. Twice she awoke me with two important questions: “Mom-eye?” “Mmmm?” ” Why are there rocks on the side of the rock steps up to the campsite?” Then back into slumber.  “Mom-eye?” “Mmmpph?” “Why are there waves in the river when there is no rock beneath them?” And then back to sleep. And I slept the sleep of the dead, dreaming of rivers, necklesses, and my mother-in-law.

Day 3 found us awake earlier than the previous morning as apparently the group had followed my example and retired soon after my departure the night before. We packed, cooked, ate and loaded boats as the morning sun worked it’s way down the pine strewn cliffs on the opposite bank. As sunlight finally made it to our tentsite and filtered in through the trees, I searched one last time for any sign of the missing neckless. Then comforted myself knowing it would always be here, waiting for me on my next Chama trip. And my next…

The day proved to be the most glorious yet with warm sun and cool temps for the majority of our river time. Six year old Nils perfected his rowing, tackling his first “rapid” mostly solo. Isla got a turn on the oars, Ella paddled the sit-on-top kayak, and Orrin refused to let mama Amber stop dunking him over the side. Randy and I jumped in for a swim, and water fights commenced by water guns, bailing scoop and well placed oars! We floated lazily through the flat stretch past the Christ in the Desert Monastery, soaking in the expansive view of the open valley rimmed on either side with towering red and yellow sandstone cliffs. Then the rapids picked up after the Chavez launch site and we had a bit more excitement.

A glorious day on the river!

A glorious day on the river!

Nils run his first "rapid"!

Nils running his first “rapid”, which we promptly christened Nils Rapid!

Isla take a turn on the oars.

Isla take a turn on the oars.

Orrin gets a non-stop baptism as we float past the monastery.

Orrin gets a non-stop baptism as we float past the monastery.

Eight year old Ella in the sit-on-top kayak.

Eight year old Ella in the sit-on-top kayak.

Randy told the story to Amber and Brian of how he had only flipped a raft once in his life, and it was on this river, just up ahead on Undercut Rapid. He still blames it on me (although he had been alone). We had just started dating, and he had been daydreaming about the last time we had been together and when he would see me next. That daydream had been harshly interrupted by a screaming right hand turn along a rough grey cliff wall. His raft had been pinned vertically on it’s side and he was dumped into the drink. He had climbed ashore, hiked back upstream, and managed to climb down the cliff to stand on the side of his pinned raft and lever it off the cliff wall. Then he had launched himself from the cliff, landing smack on the bottom of the overturned raft. Quite the super hero feat, and he does his own stunts too!

We all chuckled togther and slipped the rafts apart to prepare for the run through Undercut Rapid. I was at the oars and feeling a bit nervous. I am not that much of a rafter – a canoe is my craft of choice. But here I was, plunging towards a cliff wall that had once upon a time flipped my experienced rafter husband. I pulled back hard on the oars to set up for the right hand turn. OK. That seemed like enough clearance. Pivot the oars, turn the raft to the right and ride it out down the train of haystacks! But the current was still pulling me in towards the cliff. Crap! I’d forgotten it was undercut! I had no idea what was going on beneath that underwater ledge but I was getting sucked closer and closer to that cheese grater of a wall. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain I knew I needed to push the oar handles behind me and wing the blades forward and inside the boat. But it was all happening so fast! I fumbled, felt I did not have enough clearance left for the swing, and instead pulled the oar inboard through the oar lock and across my lap as the cliff loomed closer. But the blade caught in the oar lock and was still protruding about 10″ outboard. I saw in slow motion what was about to happen but was powerless to stop it. Fortunately Randy, seated on the bench ahead of me with his arm around Isla, saw as well and started to duck. The oar blade caught the cliff wall, was push back with tremendous force levering the 6′ shaft and handle of the oar forward from the pivot point of the oar lock! The shaft smacked Randy on the back of the head as he was starting to duck, knocking both he and Isla off the bench and into the forward well! Then the raft hit the nasty sandstone wall and bounced back off into the current. A soon as I could regain control of the oar, I pulled hard to the opposite bank and beached the raft on a gravel bar. “Are you OK sweetie?” I was very shaken and very concerned. Did he have a concussion? Or worse? “That rapid is still trying to get me – and it is still your fault!” he mumbled with a faint smile. “Ow.” I sighed with relief as he rubbed the fast forming goose egg. “I’m going to have a hell of a headache,” he grimaced. I shook my head. An inch or 2 lower and I could have broken his neck. I checked his pupils, calmed the crying Isla (who was fine but rather rattled), and pulled the raft back into the current. And I stoically bore the well-deserved razzing of my attempted spousal homicide for the remainder of the day.

Randy took over the oars soon after as there was a long stretch of rapids that I felt uncomfortable with. We are not talking BIG rapids here, just a lot of technical maneuvering. Being Sunday, the water flow had been cut at the upstream dam before noon, so we were slowly losing flow as we continued downstream. This made for some boney conditions and I was already very shaken up by my nasty mistake upstream. After a late lunch stop on a muddy bar, we packed back up food and folding table and worked our way down closer to the Big Eddy take out. Just before that final bend, Sheryl and Lars pulled over to look at some stunning cliffs freckled with swallow’s nests, and found a snake coiled inside one of the mud nests just at eye level! What a find! Always something magical and amazing awaiting us around the next turn.

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What was later identified as a gopher snake, coiled inside a swallow’s nest. The easiest way to exit was definitely a free-fall drop into the river, but I have no idea how this snake managed it’s entry!

We rounded the final bend to behold the worst take out zoo scene I think I had ever seen. I am sure that every group trip on the river that weekend was taking out simultaneously. Cars, trucks, and trailers were lined up forward and back on the access drive and boats and gear were strewn everywhere. It was the epitome of a proverbial yard sale! But we nosed into the fray and added our own chaos, once again racing a threatening afternoon storm. We unloaded, de-rigged and wormed our truck and trailer into position, all the while with thunder bouncing and rolling between the valley walls. Isla shivered on a rock, wrapped in towels and rain gear, watching the proceedings with blue lips. We loaded up the truck and trailer, tied down the raft and frame and pulled carefully past the long line of rafter’s vehicles to park in the lot. Then I could finally get my daughter into dry clothes, with myself close behind.

When we walked back down to the river we found Sheryl had pulled out a whole watermelon and was slicing it into triangles for all! Oh my, sweet nectar of the Gods! As I slurped and gulped unabashedly at the cool, juicy fruit, I noticed a new face amongst our pack of kids. “Well hi there! Who are you?” I asked the sun hat bedecked munchin. The little girl swallowed her mouth full and said “My name is Marian! I am 3 years old,” and her face disappeared once more into the hunk of pink melon which perfectly matched her hat.

Nothing beats chilled watermelon after a raft trip!

Nothing beats chilled watermelon after a raft trip!

After everyone’s boats and gear were loaded, and the requisite group pictures taken, we gave heartfelt hugs all around and climbed into our respective vehicles bound for 3 different towns in 2 different states. We had no idea when we would see the each other again, but planned for it to be in Oct for a 5 day raft trip down the San Juan River. We crossed all appendages that there would be enough water when the time arrived.

Randy pulled our rig through the lot and up to the pit toilets for a final pee stop at the “fancy groover”. Another group pulled in behind us for the same reason, a group we had seen often on the river and been beside at the take out. I pulled out our carton of hard boiled eggs that had made it through the trip. “Want a hard boiled egg from our own chickens?” I called out. “Heck yeh!” was the answer. I opened the carton of multicolored eggs and said, “Your choice, but you can only take 2.” “Let’s see, I’ll take that one and this one.” I pointed to the olive green egg in the man’s dirt-caked, water-logged, oar-callused hand and proudly said,”That is Noche’s egg, and that blue one is Dot’s. They are very nice hens.” “So would that one there be Noche’s too?” he asked, pointed to another olive green egg still in the carton. “Yep!” I replied with a laugh. “But I can’t tell you who these 3 belong to. We have too many hens that lay this tan color.” He walked back to his gear-laden car, reporting to his rafting mates the names of the chickens and which egg was who’s. I smiled, clipped the Nugget into her carseat, and hopped in the passenger seat beside my tired husband.

We drove home through the verdant Chama valley of the village of Abiquiu, following our river downstream, and thinking ahead to our farm life back in Taos. Dot would be waiting, and Noche, and all their friends and relations. Skye was milking the girls as we drove, and we would return to our calm, happy household ready to explode our dry bags and retrieve our everyday lives.

But Rowan’s ashes and my wedding ring would remain behind, forever marking our presence on the Rio Chama of New Mexico, where we would return again, and again…

… year after year.

Our 3 family group, happy, tired, and sunburned.

Our 3 family group, happy, tired, and sunburned.

The Nugget patrol: Orrin, Nils, Isla and Ella.

The Nugget patrol: Orrin, Nils, Isla and Ella.

Addendum:

Sometime during our drive home, a terrible miscalculation was made on a wildfire in Arizona. A crew of hotshot firefighters were sent in to cut line without an adequate safety zone to retreat to. The monsoonal thunderstorms shifted the wind unexpectedly and trapped 19 of the 20 person crew with no exit. They all deployed their fire shelters and were burned over. None of the 19 survived. This same crew had been in our home area fighting our own fires for the 2 weeks prior to this assignment. We were floored by the tragic loss of these fine, brave people. It was the worst tragedy in firefighting history.

We also discovered that 3 fires had been sparked off by lightning in a tight area to the west of the Chama River from the storm we waited through at the put in. The fire we witnessed was named the Aragon Wildfire.

Randy and me, happy to be back on the river again!

Randy and me, happy to be back on the river again!

“Honey”, I said calmly into the phone, “it appears you left the coop door open. The goats got in, knocked over the chicken feed bins and there is a lot missing. They gorged so heavily that they walked out on their own. You know what happened last time. There is no way I can go.”

And with that sad statement, our annual Rio Chama raft trip was canceled, on the morning of the afternoon we were to leave. The farm was in crisis mode waiting for the life threatening goat bloat to manifest, and we had to bail on our friends who were packed and ready to roll, dependent on us for all the group gear and one shared dinner. We felt numb and way beyond disappointed. And we were in deep fear for the lives of our goats.

Our friend Skye arrived at 9am to help us prep for leaving and clean the house. It was serendipitous that it was she, as Skye used to run an animal rescue farm for many years. Randy arrived back home and Skye kept us grounded, doing what obviously needed doing without direction, while Randy and I stood around paralyzed. “Um, so what do we do?” we said over and over. I got on the internet to research remedies, and emailed my goat mentors in TX. Bloat is very serious and often fatal, and we only had a few hours before it would raise it’s ugly head. I called all the vets in a 100 mile radius (as if I thought they had suddenly decided to treat goats after all), looking for a drenching gun. Next, all the feed stores from Alamosa, CO to Santa Fe, NM. I was ready for a long drive, but there was no drenching gun to be found. I still had the 2cc syringe I had fed our buckling colostrum with, so decided to improvise. I mixed up an olive oil/baking soda slurry, grabbed the turkey baster and syringe, pulled on my overalls, and lead Randy out to the barn. He was feeling horrible, although we both new it was possible the coop door HAD been latched and the goats had worked it open. In any case, I was careful to keep all guilt trips under wraps as he was doing a fabulous job without my help.

We grabbed Fiona first and got her on the milking stand and in the head gate. I mentally reviewed the YouTube video I had watched, and the drawings and photos I had seen on line, grasped Fi’s mouth, pried it open, and shoved in the turkey baster while Randy tried to squirt the contents of the syringe into the open end of the bulbless baster. Ever played the game Operation? Well that’s a start. Now imagine playing Operation while riding on a bucking bronco. You’re getting closer. Needless to say, more oil got on me and Fi then down her gullet. Straddling her out of the headgate with her butt wedged in a corner was only a slight improvement. As we paused to catch our breaths, Randy said “Look at Hazie!” And there was Miss Hazelnut, demurely lapping up the remaining contents of the mixing cup that was actually slotted for her. “Good Hazel!” we praised. We tried holding the cup for Fiona, but were too late. She had already developed an association of that particular smell to the heavy weight wrestling championship she had just won.

We gathered the train wreck of bowls, cups, baster and syringe, called it “a dose each”, and dragged our oily selves back inside. Meanwhile Skye gave each doe accupressure once an hour. It was obviously helping as they both passed gas and berries after each drenching and accupuncture session.

We brainstormed some possible scenarios: Randy taking Isla to the put in and staying overnight in the BLM cabin (where we were all supposed to be staying tonight with our friends) and contacting me the next morning for a status report…. he and Isla could check permits together Friday morning, as that was his job as a BLM ranger…. if the goats seemed OK, I could drive the trailer with raft and gear down to meet them in time for the 12 noon scheduled launch. We decided this was a decent Plan B, but we would pack the gear together first… just in case I COULD join them. But I was settling in for some serious goat drama over the next 32 hrs and had small hopes of seeing a river this weekend.

A few hours later, Skye and I headed out to try to drench the goats once more. She knew the proper wrestling positions and with her securing each goat (this is a relative term of course), and the removal of the turkey baster link, I was able to get a wee bit of the oil mixture down each of their throats with the syringe alone. But it was hell on earth. That made for an easy decision as I could not do it alone once Randy had left for the river, and I assumed they would need many more drenchings.

We fully canceled our trip and sat down defeated, waiting for our goats to bloat.

But nothing happened. The goats continued to be fine. Had they gotten into the coop after they were already full of hay and therefore ate less than we thought? Had the oil, baking soda and accupuncture thwarted the worst of the reaction? Because the last time this happened, they both experienced explosive, projectile diarrhea for 3 days and came close to dying. But currently out in the barnyard, their sides were not even protruding – the most obvious sign of bloat. Needless to say, the chicken feed bins, now considered a “controlled substance”, have been very inconveniently, moved out of the barn and barnyard, forever.

Scratching our heads in wonder, I asked Skye, who had demonstrated her obvious competence with the goats, how she would feel about farm sitting. We had already canceled on our scheduled farm sitter as neither us nor he was comfortable being left in a potentially precarious position. Skye was fine with it. We called up our friends. “Well”, I said, “It’s gone from a 2% chance to a 95% chance that we can still make it tomorrow.”

“Oh,” they replied. “Great! Um, we already invited another family as we needed the group gear that you would have been bringing.” There was a brief moment of awkwardness as we humbly squirmed our way back onto our own trip with tails between our legs. Food had to be quickly discussed once more and we decided to just BRING FOOD and worry about sorting it out once on the river. We were sure, at least, we would not starve.

We went to bed exhausted, overwhelmed, emotionally drained, extremely relieved, and excited once more for the trip. Skye had had her milking lesson (with all her animal experience, she had never rescued a goat in milk) and farm orientation, and we felt confident she could handle it. But we still had to pack!

(Story continued in Part II)

No bloat here! A perfectly healthy, happy, herd.

No bloat here! A perfectly healthy, happy, herd.

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Bucky is doing a little teething on his play set.

Silver Linings

“Well, I know if I wear a skirt she will go into labor,” I said with a shrug to my gawking husband as he stopped in mid stride carrying out the big bowl of salad greens to the table on the grass. It’s not every day he gets to see Farm Boss in something other than dusty Carhartt’s. He cleared his throat and replied, “I thought throwing a party on Fi’s due date would be enough,” and thoughtfully studied the rear view of my retreating skirt.

With the grill heating up, the folded table laden with food, and our friend Wes moulding burger patties, we were ready for Randy’s first staff appreciation party hosted at our farm. Being the big boss, he was anxious to make an impression. And believe me – an impression was definitely made! I just didn’t think it would be the barnyard making it!

There had been none of the pre-labor signals that Hazelnut had given me over days. True, Fiona did have a bit of milky lube on her vulva that afternoon, and her babies dropped into her deep keel rather abruptly, leaving her looking surprisingly slim and trim once more. And then hollows in front of her pelvis began to appear and sink deeper. It’s true, too, that all this happened in just a few hours. But Hazelnut had been in labor for 3 days! I did not think we would see a thing until the next day at the earliest. But a quick farm check after I hoovered down my burger sent me scuttling back to the house with skirt flying, blurting quick orders to Randy who, having been wrapped for a few hours in a 4 yr old straightjacket (that would be our party-shy daughter), had only just piled up a plate of food. “Towels honey! Babies are coming!”

I stripped off my skirt in the living room and yanked up my overalls, dust and barn odors emanating from the crusty folds. I THINK I had washed them since Hazelnut’s kidding. Tim, our 83 yr old camp ground volunteer might have gotten a free show but I did not take the time to find out. I fumbled the birthing kit into my arms and trotted back out the back door, dodging masticating guests, betadine bottle bouncing into the grass behind me. “HONEEEEEEE! A bucket of warm water!” I yelled over my shoulder. By now I had gotten everyone’s attention, for sure.

Fifi was in the dirt entry of the barn, nosing the slimy puddle of amniotic fluid on the ground. She was barely even grunting with each push, I noted incredulously, remembering my own births accompanied by a continuous stream of furious sailor’s curses. A single word burbled up from the catty recesses of my mind: “Bitch.” But I didn’t say it out loud. I also did not say it out loud to all the young mothers who just HAD to share their orgasmic home birth stories with me! Grrr.

“A HOOF!” I exclaimed, dropping to my knees. My arms were dripping with water and betadine. I reached my hand back and my husband/assistant plopped a fresh towel into it. I squirted a dab of KY onto my fingers, feeling very confident after Hazelnut’s tragic kidding, and inserted two fingers into Fi’s vulva,  just to help stretch her perineum. She was a first timer and her opening was straining to the max. Another hoof pushed past. I was breathless with anticipation. “A nose!” I reported more calmly. A little mouth pushed forward and it gave a funny one sided grimace. “It’s alive!” I whispered, choked with emotions. A few more pushes from Fiona’s youthful body, and the little black buckling was in the towel in my arms, wriggling and squirming with it’s first breath. Our first live kid! I wiped it’s face, wobbling on it’s little neck. Hazelnut was right beside me and immediately pushed her way in to lick off her grandson. Fiona stepped aside into her stall, lay down, and pushed out a seond while we were all engrossed with the first!

“Another!” said Randy. I heaved myself up from the ground, shoving past Hazelnut and assorted bodies, and knelt next to the second kid. She was wriggling too, quite alive, but something was… not right. Another towel in my hand answered my verbal request and I wiped her face and body. Oh dear. I inspected her quickly, my heart sinking deeper with each new realization. She was horribly deformed… and trying gallantly to draw her first breath, which, with a look at her issues, I doubted would ever be possible for her. I stood and stepped back, hoping this poor little doeling would do for herself what I would otherwise have to do for her. A quick image flashed behind my eyes – my hand holding her under in a bucket of warm water – then vanished as I turned my attention back to the buckling with a disappointed sigh.

He was a fine, braw laddie, being knocked about lovingly by his grandmother’s fierce attentions and warm tongue. I heard a friend’s voice say matter-of-factly, “She’s gone MacLaren,” and knew he was referring to the doeling, who’s heart had beat on involuntarily for a few minutes without the required oxygen. I asked Randy to move her body so I could tend to the new mom. Fi had meanwhile blown an amazing red balloon from her vulva opening! Christian had told me over the phone during Hazelnut’s kidding that placentas were actually in their own bags. Obviously that was what I was witnessing. I popped the balloon to help the process along and Fiona rose to her feet, assisting in the removal of her own placenta. Then for the first time she turned around and met her wee son. She sniffed as Granny Hazelnut continued her attentive cleaning, the bond growing deeper and deeper between grandmother and grandson. Fiona seemed mildly interested, probably wondering where that huge poop went that she had just pushed out. For I am sure she had no clue she had just given birth! We love our Fifi, but she has never been one of the sharpest knives in the drawer – always one ant shy of a picnic. Granny nosed the buckling as he attempted to gain his sea legs. He listed upwards, capsized to port, then tried to right himself once more. Finally he bobbed upright, lurching precariously from bow to stern, legs splayed awkwardly. Then he immediately tripped off to find his first meal.

His mother, Fiona, would have nothing to do with his nuzzling at her teats! She stepped away at his every attempt, knocking her hungry little nugget off his barely gained legs. But he was determined, and continued to try for another 10 minutes or so. I finally assisted by clipping Fiona to the stall partition, and holding her teat out for him, but she still had enough play in her collar to step back and forth over her buckling’s body, very effectively preventing him from nursing. So he tried Granny. She stood as still as a statue and even nudged him in the right direction.

And that story is pretty much told. Over the next 24 hrs, Fiona continued to reject her kid and Hazelnut continued to bond and nurse. And after 32 hrs, Granny would not let Mommy even get close! Fiona cried and cried, confused and rejected by her own mom, not really understanding she had just rejected her own offspring herself. Her crying was so pitiful, and so annoying, that I actually contacted several Nubian owners asking if they had any does with kids for sale. I thought some company for Fiona would solve the issue before we were kicked out of our urban neighborhood. But now, a week later, the issue has solved itself as the buckling has begun prancing about playfully. Fiona, still full of her own kid-like playfulness, has become his sort of sister/aunt. He prances and she raises her winglike ears into airplane mode and jumps about like she was a few months old. She has stopped crying, and is standing still on the milking stand, most of the time. In any case, we are quick to move the pail out of the way of her hooves which sometimes threaten to plop into the bucket of frothy, fresh milk, and sometimes succeed. She is not a stellar milk producer, but we hope to see an improvement.

And dear Granny Hazel finally has a baby. Her heart is healing from the recent loss of her quadruplets, and she is giving us over a gallon of milk a day, while still holding back enough for her adopted grandson. We are drowning in delicious, sweet, creamy Nubian milk! Tomorrow I meet with a few chefs from the higher end restaurants in town with samples of my chevre. And I cross my fingers they will love it as much as we do.

Some say that there is a silver lining to all life’s trials and tribulations, that there is always a gift and something to be learned. We lost 5 of our 6 kids in our first kidding season ever, ending with one live buckling alone, bound for our freezer some 10 months from now. It has been devastating. But we have 2 healthy does in milk with only one baby to feed, which translates into a LOT of milk and cheese to sell to supplement our inadequate income. I have gained an immense treasure chest of knowledge and experience including repositioning kids in utero, administering injections, tube feeding colostrum to newborns, and as of yesterday – disbudding. Castration will soon follow. But most importantly, I have gained a level of medical confidence and curiosity, and have learned that I unknowingly create an eye of calm in the midst of a medical malstrom. Randy told me he was amazed at how focused I was, how in charge, and how people just… did for me as I asked. I had assisted Fiona’s kidding with a barn full of people in the midst of an intense electrical storm. I had not been fully aware of either until Randy told me later on. It had been just me, the goats, and the kids, even though there was no emergency present. With Hazelnut’s tragic kidding loss, my focus had been ever so much more intensified. This newly acknowledged “gift” is now leading me toward the possibility of a fresh vocational calling — that of an EMT (and eventually WEMT). The medical field has always interested me, but I would never agree to put up with the crazy sacrifices of med school, internships and residencies. But I can still get my toes wet in the river, so to speak, and lend a hand from the bank.

So, I believe that out of all this tragedy, I have found my silver lining: a way I can help my community. I have found a way I can save lives as I saved Hazelnut’s; a way I can keep my family and friends safer on our wilderness trips; and a way I can make a difference for others….

Be they human… or animal.

Granny Hazelnut cleaning her newborn grandson

Granny Hazelnut cleaning her newborn grandson

Bucky, trying to get to his feet!

Bucky, trying to get to his feet!

Ahhh! Granny milk!

Ahhh! Granny milk!

Hazelnut was in her kidding window.

I had gathered my kidding kit together: piles of towels, string in case the umbilical cords did not break on their own, betadine and a jar for dipping umbilical cords (and for the unlikely event that I had to scrub up before reaching in to adjust the position of a kid, God forbid), a sharp knife for cutting string and umbilical cords, nail clipper to make my nails super short while waiting, K-Y jelly, a bucket of warm water for washing, a bulb syringe for sucking mucus from the kids’ mouths and noses, and all 3 of my best goat books with my reading glasses on top. Oh yes, and camera, tripod, head lamp and extra batteries for both, and the all-important cell phone. I had a separate bucket ready for mollasses/cider vinegar water for Hazelnut, and a bag of raisins for treats. Hazelnut was 7 years old and had kidded twins twice before without incident, or any human being present. I fully trusted she could do this on her own, but I was NOT going to miss it for the world! I had never before witnessed the birth of a kid and I was ready to snuggle some goat babies in my lap!!

The Thomas Turkey Family are, uh, "assisting" my stall mucking attempts.

The Thomas Turkey Family are, uh, “assisting” my mucking attempts of Hazelnut’s stall.

Thursday arrived with clear skies and the promise from the weather site of another day of strong spring winds. With the kit assembled and piled aside, I focused on the busy day ahead. Molly, our Pyrenees, and I headed out for our Thursday morning hike. It was a lovely spring day and I was giddy with anticipation! Kids! Babies! The first ever on our farm! It was imminent!

We returned home and I let Molly in the side gate. She beelined it for the fish pond to drink next to the trickling waterfall. The wind had begun to pick up, adding the swinging song of the wind chimes to the relaxing backyard sounds. I stood by the back door, devouring a ripe peach, staring out at the barnyard, as is often my habit. As I wiped juice from my chin, I became curious about some strange behavior in the teenager chicken pen. Our 4 month old rare chicken flock of 14 (originally 16), were running back and forth along the fence line shared with the main barnyard. How odd. Suddenly, there was a streak of orange and I saw a small red fox rushing the flock! I yelled out to Randy, stumbled into my slip-on farm shoes, and ran out the door bellowing obscenities! The fox wisely altered course and leapt over the 5′ fence without even touching the top!! I was dumbfounded by it’s agility, and stupefied by it’s courage to attack a farm in broad daylight – with humans right in the house! I was also quite terrified by what I would find in it’s carnivorous wake.

With the fox fleeing up the acequia, we trotted into the enclosure to assess the loss. Gracie, our beautiful lavender Auracana pullet, was stuck in the fence door, having wedged herself while trying to escape. We freed her, and set to counting survivors. Eight was the tally. Just 8 birds left of our original 16. Our rare flock was cut in half. The F-ing fox had obviously been in the pen for some time, systematically eating one bird at a time. He had devoured 6! I was heartbroken and furious! Interestingly enough, at least one of each of the 5 breeds remained – a small consolation prize. It had been a full year since our last predator, a grey fox, had attacked, eating a mama hen and her 14 chicks in the early dawn hours. Since then we had created a Fort Knox of our barnyard and attached 6 Niteguards to it’s perimeter. But they only flash at night – not in broad day. And the teenagers were in a separate enclosure off the main pen.

We had little time to grieve as a friend was coming over to visit the farm in a few minutes. We gave her the tour, told the story of the fox attack, visited over some iced mint tea, and said goodbye. As we waved farewell from our southern window, we saw a smoke plume rising to the south behind Jicarita Mountain in the Pecos Wilderness. The Tres Lagunas wildfire had begun.

Late afternoon was spent preparing for dinner with one of our favorite families. Both of their daughters were heading off to school soon, one to her freshman year in college, and one to her junior year of boarding ballet school. We were desperate to get some quality time in! We had a lovely dinner of grilled shrimp and grill zucchini and salad, and comfortable conversation that only old friends can have. As the meal wound to a close, I headed out to put the animals to bed, closing multiple chicken flaps and checking on Hazelnut.

By God, Hazelnut was in labor!

Laying out my kidding kit on the milking stand.

Laying out my kidding kit on the milking stand.

I made the announcement in the house and Kiersten, who just happened to be the midwife of both of our children, gave a sharp intake of breath, followed by a smile. She was not on call tonight. She wanted to stay. So did her girls. Not only did they once own a goat, all three had experienced a goat kidding; I was in luck!

Treska and Fiona watch labor progress through the stall partition.

Under the eerie red heat lamp, Treska and Fiona watch labor progress through the stall partition.

The long hours of waiting marched forth into the darkness. We lounged in the barn, bundled in dog blankets, Treska, the 17yr old, wrapped like a burrito in Fiona’s as-yet-uncleaned stall. Her head rested against Fiona’s bulging side. “Fifi”, Hazelnut’s yearling daughter, would be entering her kidding window in a bit more than a week. The red heat lamp hung above Hazelnut giving off a bit of welcome heat, illuminating our vision, and allowing the goat’s pupils to dilate to human-like orbs. It was an eerie effect, as if they were constantly surprised. With headlamps we routinely checked Hazel’s vulva for the status report. We dozed. We drank tea. We listened to Hazelnut’s rhythmic moaning as contractions came and went.

But nothing happened.

Around 2:30 am, we gave up and headed inside and Kiersten and her daughters crashed in the guest room. I stretched out on the sofa in my sleeping bag, one ear tuned to the groaning on the baby monitor, one ear stuffed with an earbud as I watched Star Trek, the movie. When Hazelnut would have an especially big grunt-push, I would pause the computer and go give her a check.

Still nothing.

Friday‘s dawn was announced by the startling crow of Little Willie broadcasted throughout the house, compliments of the baby monitor! It was 4:45 AM. I had just begun watching the Sherlock Holms series and almost dropped the computer off my lap! I started steeping a pot of green tea and headed back out for a check. I wasn’t feeling too great. Not a wink of sleep, 2 days of serious wind, a night in a dusty barn, and I could feel the telltale signs of a head cold creeping in. Bad timing.

And still no bouncing baby goats.

The house slowly awoke with smells of coffee and raisin toast. Teenagers stared bleary-eyed from the sofa, coffee mugs warming their fingers. Kiersten and I did morning farm chores, Randy started breakfast, and Isla slept on. Eventually, our sleepy friends headed out to their respective days, Randy took on Isla and Hazelnut duty, and I laid down to get some sleep.

Hazelnut’s contractions spaced out and slowed down. False labor. And a second wildfire started to the southwest, the Thompson Ridge Wildfire up in the Jemez mountains. It was going to be a smokey summer in our high southwestern desert.

Saturday I awoke with a full blown head cold. It was Randy’s work day, but he delayed departure to care for me and Isla. Kaya, Kiersten’s 15 yr old, had planned to come over to help with Isla, so child care was gratefully covered. I slept, watched movies in bed, and slept more. The 2 plumes of smoke increased in height, billowing with the afternoon wind as the hungry wildfires devoured pinon, juniper and ponderosa trees. A smoke-laden dust storm careened through our farm, whipping tree branches against the house and flattening dust devils in it’s violent path. The day could barely have been any nastier.

Hazelnut continued to have light contractions that were spaced far apart. The rest of us were biding our time, waiting for the kidding train to leave the station.

Sunday morning, the worst of my cold had past and I was gratefully turning the corner. Randy came in from morning farm chores with the announcement that Hazelnut had a lot of mucus and glop coming out of her vulva. I hurriedly pulled on my overalls and trotted to the barn. Sure enough, she had blown her mucus plug, or at least I assumed so! Labor was once more underway. Randy headed to work and Isla and I spent most of the morning in the barnyard, petting chickens, turkeys and Fiona, and checking on Hazelnut. “Bloody show” soon followed with stronger contractions and even pushing. Without knowledgable goat support people, and being solely in charge of my child for this first ever kidding, I was feeling jumpy and anxious. Then her water broke! More hard pushes, fierce grunts, curled lips, bellowing…. where was the first kid?

Hazelnut hefts her bulk up on her feet to give a push.

Hazelnut hefts her bulk up on her feet to give a push.

Isla cuddles with a concerned Fiona.

Isla cuddles with a concerned Fiona.

It was then I saw a little ash-grey ear fall from the vulva slit and hang there in the opening. Oh crap! The first kid was trying to come out with it’s head sideways! It was stuck!! SHIT!! “Isla!” I yelled. “Go get Marian, QUICK!” As Isla scurried out the gate, I fumbled for my cell phone. I had been introduced via a Facebook friend to a goat dairy couple in Texas the previous year. So far, they had mentored me through getting the goats and every possible question I had regarding goats. They were indispensable. I had already been on the phone with Christian several times with Hazelnut’s false labor. Together we had deduced that I had inadvertently stimulated contractions when I had milked out her painfully engorged udder that Thursday afternoon.

Christian thankfully answered his phone. “I see an ear Christian – not a nose, but a little ear! It is hanging out. Do I need to go in?” I was shaking. “Yeh, you need to turn it’s head so it’s coming out nose first, and try to hook a hoof with your finger.” I washed my hands and forearms in the bucket of water, almost knocking it over in my nervousness, and doused myself with Betadine as Marian, our housemate, came trotting back with Isla. Christian and I continued our conversation with my ear bud wedged in my left ear and my phone in my right front pocket. I positioned Marian at Hazelnut’s head and squeezed the K-Y on my hand. Deep breaths, left hand on Hazelnut’s flank, I slowly started to explore with my right, past the little ear and into her birth canal. Christian continued to talk me through as I reported back to him everything I could feel. I got the kid’s head turned so it’s nose came out, then it’s eyes, and I continued attempting to hook a hoof. Finally one hoof pulled through, and with another mighty push, the little goat slipped out into my hands. I wiped mucus away from it’s nose and mouth. It was not moving. I rubbed more briskly with a fresh cloth and used my finger to scoop mucus out of it’s mouth. Still nothing. Using a towel, I grasped it’s hind legs, slick with birth fluid, and swung it gently upside down. It was not reviving. I massaged it’s heart and rib cage, then took a deep breath, placed my mouth over it’s nose and mouth, and blew gently. It’s little rib cage rose with my exhalation. As I pushed back down over it’s heart, a tremendous amount of mucus came bubbling back out it’s mouth. I continued CPR. Swung it upside down once more, rubbed vigorously, but the little doeling remained still. Hazelnut turned around and began to nose and lick her little dead daughter. My heart ached. She looked just like her mom and her auntie Fiona. How could she be dead? The first ever kid on our farm!

“Put the kid aside and focus on Hazelnut and the next kid,” said Christian’s voice through the ear bud and my grief. I wrapped the still kid in a towel and set her aside, then gave Hazelnut the bucket of mollasses and apple cider vinegar water. She drank deeply. After 40 minutes more of fierce pushing, I called Christian back. “You’ve got to go back in,” he said. I washed up once more, smeared my arms in betadine and K-Y and began my second intrauterine manipulation. I found the next one’s head in the birth canal, but it’s feet were back like the first, still lodged in the womb. The proper presentation for a goat kid is front hooves leading slightly in front of the nose. I reached slowly through the tightly stretched cervix while Hazelnut bellowed and Marian calmed her as best she could. OK. This one was also right side up, and there was a hoof and wrist, so to speak. I was able to get a finger behind it and pulled forward with the next contraction. One more push and the kid slipped out. Same thing. Non-responsive. I tried even harder to resuscitate this second doeling who resembled her previous sibling to a ‘T’. Hazelnut began to lick her baby but another was coming right on it’s heels! Triplets! I quickly got the second dead kid aside in time to meet the first proper presentation of nose and 2 hooves, in classic position. With a dry rag I grasped the two slippery hooves and pulled with the next push. Out he came. Unresponsive. I repeated for a third time the CPR and upside down swinging and vigorous towel rubbing. Nothing. This little buckling was black, like his father.

I was shell-shocked. I had not expected triplets and I never thought there would be an issue. 3 stillborn kids? How could this be possible? Though my eyes remained dry with disbelief, my heart ached. “I don’t mean to sound harsh MacLaren, but put the kids aside and take care of your doe”, said Christian. “She needs you.” I hung up the phone and turned my love and attention to Hazelnut. More mollasses water, a handful of raisins, heartfelt love and empathy. While she rested, I called Randy at work, then texted Kiersten who was ironically in a grief and loss workshop. I removed the sodden wood shavings. I wiped Hazelnut’s vulva with a warm cloth with Betadine. I petted and hugged her, and I carried her dead kids out of the barnyard.

Randy came home from work, and held me against his strong body for a long time. He picked up our shovel, walked to our northern fenceline, and dug a grave for the 3 kids. Then we collected Isla, who had been quietly present in the barn for each birth, and conducted a little ceremony, tenderly laying each goatling in the arms of the Greatest Mother of all. We said prayers and tossed in freshly picked flowers and sage. Then we filled the hole with our dry, chunky soil and walked back to the house, hand in hand.

Isla looks on as I unwrap the 3rd kid for burial.

Isla looks on as I unwrap the 3rd kid for burial.

Two doelings and a black buckling - all perfect and fully grown. So terribly tragic.

Two doelings and a black buckling – all perfect and fully grown. So terribly tragic.

But as the day waned, Hazelnut continued to labor. I called Christian again. He informed me it was unusual for a goat to experience pushing contractions when passing the placenta. There is one placenta, regardless of the number of kids, and it sort of oozes out over the next 24 hrs. Usually. We discussed drugs to give her (oxytocin) but as we have no large animal vets in Taos, options were limited. But Hazelnut was in such distress and bearing down so fiercely, I was growing very concerned I would lose her. While Randy fed animals and Marian stayed with Hazel, I called as many medical resources as I could, but being a Sunday evening, that was pitifully few. There was one vet on emergency call for 3 clinics, she lived an hour away, and she was being extremely difficult. She said we would have to meet her at the clinic with Hazelnut, but we could not get Hazel to walk, and only barely to stand, with a shaking back end. It would be impossible to move her. As far as human medical resources, my ER doc friend was camping with his boys, and my retired GP friend was rafting the Grand Canyon. Hazelnut’s previous owners were in Hawaii. Even my next door neighbor, a small animal vet, was out of town. And the pharmacy was closed anyway.

I was completely on my own.

As dusk settled on our farm, I returned to the barn. I had a gut feeling and I had to follow it before I lost my sweet doe. “Marian, I’m going back in again,” I sighed with furrowed brow. I washed up a 3rd time, without phone support, and began the slow, careful intrauterine exploration as my goat became weaker and weaker. She bellowed in pain. I steeled my resolve and reached in further. I knew I was her only hope of survival. My finger tips touched something hard that was no placenta. “There’s another kid in here, Mare!” I gasped in disbelief. I closed my eyes and leaned my cheek against Hazelnut’s flank. Her cries faded from my ears and I slipped into an altered state – just me, my hand and this very wedged kid. The cull kept tangling in my fingers making movement difficult, like being caught in a huge spider’s web. I finally realized I was hitting the side of the cervix, so I slipped my arm back, repositioned my fingers and slipped inside the womb. I could not sort out what I was feeling and I was starting to panic. “Breathe,  MacLaren,” I heard from outside my bubble. I breathed, and tried again, my arm being crushed by Hazelnut’s contractions. I still could not find the head, but I had to get this baby out – not for the baby’s sake, who I assumed was long dead, but to save Hazel. “I think it’s a chest,” I whispered into Hazelnut’s fur. I grabbed as hard as I could on what I was assuming was collarbones and shoulders, and on the next contraction pulled, wiggled and shook. A better grip, another contraction, and more of the same. After the third try, the kid busted through the cervix! In the birth canal I found the head which had trailed behind the chest, hopelessly turned back on it’s spine. I hooked a hoof, and the kid slid out.

It was black. That was all I could register. I did not attempt resuscitation. I was shell-shocked and utterly exhausted, but not nearly as bad off as my goat. She was hoarse from bawling, and trembling on her side in a mess of blood and birth fluid. Her head was in Marian’s lap. She was too spent to even look at her 4th and final kid. I wrapped it in a towel without checking the gender, then slipped out into the night air to get my breath. I could not stop shaking and felt near hysterics. I paced across the barnyard and stared up at the stars screaming WHY?! inside my head. I bent over with my hands on my knees and took 3 deep breaths, noticing the faint, acrid smell of smoke from the wildfires stinging my nose. When I stood I saw a pale shape in the goat water bucket. Was that a mourning dove? Had it drowned somehow? I walked over and bent to scoop it out, realized with a knife to my chest that it was another turkey poult! We were now down to 2 from the original 7.  I did not know how much more I could take.

I returned to the barn, slid my back down the wall into the shavings next to Hazel, and laid my blood crusted, trembling hand on my dear goats’ flank. She was breathing shallowly, but calmly, with exquisite relief. She softly moaned out her grief and pain with each exhalation. “I just found a poult drowned in the water bucket,” I said quietly to Marian. She sighed and closed her eyes, stroking Hazelnut’s neck and knobbly head. We sat in the stall in silence for a long time, listening to Hazelnut’s breath, and Fiona’s still-pregnant moans. “You did it MacLaren,” said Marian. “You trusted your gut feeling and you saved her life.” I blinked. Yes, I guess I did. I did the unfathomable. I repositioned kids in utero –  3 times. Only one out of 4 would have come out on it’s own. And I hoped to God I had saved my goat’s life. Time would tell.

Marian stood and stretched and I took her position at Hazelnut’s head, resuming the stroking and love. “Hazel,” I said, gazing deeply into her half open, caprine eyes, “You were a brave, brave mama. You will recover your heart and your body. You will be OK my dear friend. And I vow to you now, I will never, NEVER breed you again. I love you Hazie.” I said as I kissed her on her classic, Roman, Nubian nose.

I administered a weak betadine douche with a turkey baster, per the vet, and let her rest beside Fiona. Then I roamed through the house in a daze as Marian returned to her apartment and Randy and Isla slept. It was many hours before I found the relief of sleep myself, interspersed with anxiety dreams of reaching blindly into a bottomless pit and pulling out a 5th kid.

A small farm miracle of the year's first poppy that morning.

A small farm miracle of the year’s first poppy that morning.

Monday morning, Willie awoke me with his 4:45 AM crowing and I dressed and stumble out to the barn. Hazelnut seemed slightly better but could not stand without shaking terribly, and was still having some mild contractions. She ate her grain rations heartily and drank her mollasses water deeply. She gazed at me with thankful eyes, filled with pain and loss, and moaned hoarsely.

I sat on the porch step holding my undrunk coffee, staring at the northern mountains, vaguely aware of the rising sun. The shovel chunked into the hard adobe soil as Randy worked on the grave for the fourth kid. I could not even join him, nor did I include Isla, as he buried the last babe, and the dead poult, in a grave beside the previous kids. As he walked solomnly back to the house with the towel and shovel, he touched my slumped shoulder and said softly, “Another doeling,” and slipped inside to get dressed for work. The early morning sun glinted off the pond into my eyes and I blinked back my tightly held emotions. Then I returned to the barn and Hazelnut and sat beside my friend. “The last one was a girl, Hazie,” I said numbly. And then the flood gates opened and I sobbed and sobbed for a long time while stroking her reddish brown fur. I cried for Hazelnut, I cried for the 4 lost lives, I cried for the bouncing, playful kids that would never entertain us, and I cried for my son, Rowan, who we had lost at birth. I had remembered his warm, limp weight in my arms with each kid I laid in the grave. I had remembered bathing his perfect body with each stillborn kid I rubbed briskly with my resuscitation attempts; attempts to rivive these beautiful, perfect, furry beings; to magically revive my beautiful, perfect son. Oh God Hazel, I am so sorry! I am so sorry I could not do more! Oh Rowan, I miss you so!

**********

I met the vet at 8:30 AM at the clinic to purchase penicillin and oxytocin shots. The potential of infection was high with my necessary invasions and I still was not sure the placenta had passed completely. I say I “met” the vet, but she actually completely ignored me. There was no “How is your goat doing?” or even “How are you Ms. Scott?”. She did not even introduce herself. It was like salt dumped on my wounded heart.

We poured Hazelnut’s rich colostrum down the drain as, laced with antibiotics, it was undrinkable. I remembered with deep sadness my own colostrum that had leaked from my engorged breasts – nourishment that my baby would never taste.

Hazelnut slowly improved and gained strength. After a couple of days she walked out of the barn to greet us at dinner time. We were overjoyed! I mixed her up a special concoction each evening of her whole organic oats and barley, whole sunflower seeds, seaweed, molasses, diatomaceous earth (for worming as Christian had warned worms could take over a weak goat), acidophilus, and organic live yogurt. Each morning I gave her a bowl of raisins with her penicillin injection. It’s been 6 days since her kidding and I feel certain now she will make it. She is jumping up on her milking stand, and acting alert. Other than being alarmingly thin, she seems quite normal. In another week we can start keeping her milk and get back to drinking and consuming our favorite milk and cheese.

Yesterday I cleaned Fiona’s stall in preparation for her kidding. She entered her kidding window today as she is 5 days out from her due date. Am I nervous? Hell yeah! But I am feeling more calm with each day that passes. My heart is healing as Hazelnut heals, and I am healing at a deeper level from the loss of our own baby, 8 yrs ago. It is slowly sinking in that I truly saved my goat’s life! I am pretty sure I now have more experience with goat kidding than the vet I had called the night of! I notice I am walking a bit taller, my shoulders back and my back straight. I am looking strangers in the eye with a sad, but confidence smile. I hope to God I never have to experience that again, but at least I know HOW, if the need arises, to reposition kids in utero – lots of kids – and deal emotionally with the sad, senseless loss of new lives.

After the last few days of processing and recovery, I finally get it that there was nothing I could have done to save our Rowan either. Nor was there anything the doctors and midwives could have done. Absolutely nothing. And that comes as some relief, as I forgive myself for my own helplessness, and wash away another layer of grief and anger.

Our first poppy at sunset the day after.

The illumination of the setting sun.

Many years ago I became convinced that Guinea hens were from another planet, in another solar system, in a far away section of our galaxy. They are streamlined, like wee flying saucers, and have those odd appendages on top of their heads which must be signaling devices, or GPS LARAN positioning systems, or perhaps steering controls when traveling at hyperspeed. Even their markings look like a milky way of stars scattered over a twilight sky. So, living in New Mexico, capitol of alien abductions, flying saucer crashes and government conspiracies, it seemed appropriate we should have guineas.

And even MORE significant was the fact I refused to spend another summer removing squash bugs by hand and squashing them individually. I needed to acquire another farm species who would work for their rent, and guineas are famous for their exquisitely detailed control of insects – especially squash bugs!

I had planned to tuck several store bought guinea keets under our broody turkey hen when she wasn’t looking, hoping she would assume they had just popped out of one of the chicken eggs she had been setting on for 3 weeks. But the same morning that I was heading to the feed store, I saw a post on Facebook, looking for someone to adopt 2 adult guinea hens. Well, I’m your huckleberry! After a few days we arranged a pass off at Randy’s work and he returned home with a dog crate of guineas.

Wow. They were SO much more beautiful than I imagined! I honestly had never seen guineas close up – only in internet images. I had somewhat prepared myself for their calls with a quick Youtube search though. Wow again. Randy summed it up concisely: rusty water pumps. Yup. On a PA system. The mom was named Lighty and the daughter was unamed. Isla quickly took care of that. “Can she be Daisy, Mama?” And so she was.

I hastily raked out the coop and nesting shelf, adding fresh wood shaving to both, and brought their cage inside the coop. Fresh water and feed awaited the birds as a welcome basket of sorts. I excitedly opened the cage door and stepped back. Ahhh….. there they were. The mother was ash grey with a spray of white dots, and the daughter was black with white dots matching her mother’s. And there was that rusty, squeaky water pump! Whoa! Someone bring me some oil for that hinge! They were agitated and curious and REALLY wanted to get out (being somewhat feral). But I was determined to imprint them on their new farm so pulled out my best tough love act. “Staaaay, ladies.”

I left them in the coop for another hour or more and then opened up the flaps and herded in the chickens and Thomas the turkey. There was no commotion as there would have been with a new chicken. They must have been terrified of each other. In the morning, Randy opened the bird flaps and everyone piled out, guineas included. Within minutes, much to his surprise, they both flewn over the 5′ high barnyard pen fence that the previous owner thought would contain them! Then they commenced to get to know the larger boundary of our dog fencing, our boundary perimeter, our driveway, our neighbor’s driveway, and then back into our yard, and even back into our barnyard pen! And did I forget to mention our barn roof? Able to leap tall fences in a single bound was no joke. There was no fence on our property that could contain them! But at least I always knew where they were, unless I had my earplugs in.

But then they started up the acequia. Isla and I got ahead of them, but when we weren’t looking, they skittered by on the opposite bank like two scaled quail on steroids. With a large expanse of thick sage brush and a 4 year old in tow (who insists on me holding her hand as we walk), it was impossible for me to pursue them. A bit later, my duplex mate watched Isla for 30 minutes while I investigated the area where I could hear them calling from. But when I got close to their sounds, they quieted down and I could not pinpoint their location.

A second time I went off alone in pursuit of their calls, this time leaving Isla in the house with a promise I would return in 5 minutes (OK, it was 6). I knew they were around my neighbor’s enclosed back yard and attached carport, but again I could not pinpoint the location. I knocked on the door each time but no one answered.

After Randy got home from work I wrote up a note, grabbed a roll of tape, and headed back up the acequia. This time someone was home and I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting my delightful neighbor Cecilia, an older woman who had already met Randy and Isla on our neighborhood trail. She took my number and said she would call if she heard anything resembling the guinea hen imitation I demonstrated for her (sounding more like a miniature donkey I am sure).

The next morning, as I was leaving to take Isla to school, Cecilia called. She had heard a strange noise in her backyard and thought they might be the guineas. I let her know I’d be there as soon as I could after dropping Isla at school. A bit later she called again saying she was pretty sure they were under her tree in the yard. Then a third time to say she had heard the sound in her carport and saw some feathers there. Well, I hustled home as fast as I could, changed my clothes, grabbed the cage, a sheet and a can of scratch, and hiked up the acequia toward Cecilia’s. I enter the carport and immediately saw the evidence: a pile of beautiful ash grey feathers sprayed with white dots, definitive evidence of Lighty’s demise. My heart fell into my shoes. With slumped shoulders and aching heart I search the backyard area but found no sight or sound of Daisy. I could only hope she had found another farm with guineas, or that her ascent to join her mother in guinea heaven was a quick one.

I gathered up the alien feathers and plodded slowly home towards the setting sun.

Lighty and Daisy

Lighty and Daisy

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