At the heart of every sad story, there should be love and hope and perseverance. This is the redemptive quality of grief; it can be gorgeous as the most triumphant tale. But in order for this to be, we at the heart of it must fully accept the pain of our loss. No attempt can be made to diminish the impact, and moving on must wait until the sadness is lifted by time, and the transformation complete. On the far side of such an experience we are better for the suffering, changed in permanent fashion; something dear has been lost, and nothing will be the same.
The story of my lovely doe Mary, her sister Clare, and their devoted mother Anna, is so stark and profound that I find myself unable to resist the desire to tell it in detail. I begin it at the moment I discovered Anna, struggling with a delivery that was not progressing well. When I peered into the stall I saw the head and front feet of Clare protruding from Anna, still in the amniotic sack; she had not taken even a single breath. In spite of the advanced stage of her trip through the birth canal her mother could not finish the delivery. Typically by the time the head and shoulders have come this far, the next contraction will eject the kid without much additional effort, but the labor had stalled unmercifully.
Seeing the trouble I leapt into the stall, and carefully gripped Clare to apply a bit of traction. Anna strained, and the baby came slithering into my arms, placenta in tact. I pealed the membrane away from her little nose, and she sputtered into the world of breathing beasts. Anna turned and began to clean her, as I puzzled over what had gone wrong. It was then I saw the back feet of Mary protruding from Anna, and realized the two had been tangled in their exit, as Mary was breech. Setting the first doe down, I clenched the two back feet of Mary, and again applied traction in anticipation of the next contraction. With a bit more difficulty than the last, this delicate babe came into my arms. This time the placenta was left behind, and Mary was grateful for the air she had been waiting for desperately.
I carried the two perfect doe out onto the green grass under the brightening sky. The dark clouds that had obscured the sun were now breaking over Mud Bay, hills of old trees in the distance, a brilliant band of colored light now stretched in an arc through the sky. Worried for Anna I gripped the bit of dangling placenta that had not emerged from her with the second delivery. At the next contraction the perfectly intact membrane came steadily out, and I gripped it in both hands, holding it up fully extended to the light in amazement. I watched the intensifying light as it shown through the vessels and veins, before Anna delighted in consuming it to the very end.
Within twenty minutes these two doe bounced around at a gamble, taunting the older members of the herd, ecstatic with life. My joy could not have been more complete. Most of my births happen without my intercession, and this is good. However, when an animal husband is asked to participate in this way, the attachment to the new animals is profound. So it was with these two doe. They hoofed me and tried to suckle me; climbed up onto my back and leaped back down to the ground happily. I was so grateful that day that I told the story to everyone I saw afterward.
A few days later I arrived at the barn to hear Anna crying loudly; there is no mistaking the concern of a mother goat. It was then that I realized Clare was missing from the herd, and I began my search. In a moment I found her, silently trapped between the walls of the stall, she must have jumped into the gap and been unable to escape. When she saw me she cried out, and I rescued her. The sun had been shining on the outside of the wall, and the gap where she was confined had gotten plenty hot. She breathed heavily, in short puffs, and pressed her nose onto my shoulder for comfort. After showing her mother the condition I found her in, I went out and lay on the dry ground of the pasture. With Clare in my arms, I listened to her rapid breaths and felt the hot sun on my face, before drifting into a nap that seemed more restful than death. I was amazed to wake thirty or so minutes later with Clare still in my arms breathing gently, and all of the goats pleasantly resting on the ground around me ruminating. It was a moment of peace I will not forget as long as I live. I did not want to rise and return to the work of my day, but I did.
It was now several weeks since the babies were born, the graze and browse had grown to generous proportions, and I was letting the goats have the run of the ten acres that stretched from the foot of the hills to the banks of Puget Sound. The goats were always happy to see me when I arrived for a brief visit before, and a longer visit after my day working in the nursery just up the road a mile or so. The herd was strengthening with the season, and I could not have been more pleased with the progress of my new additions. Their connection to me had grown, and the time I spent lying on the ground with them, or encouraging them to climb up into my arms, made these Spring days some of the most lovely of my life.
It was just yesterday as I write this, that I ended my day at the nursery and proceeded to the pasture intent on enjoying the sun with my dogs and goats. The pasture is a lovely way to escape the asphalt and traffic. The birds love this place, where the land meets the sea, and the brush gives way to salt marsh and then mud. At high tide the edge of the pasture is briefly inundated with salt water. In the nursery I grow the same species of plants that populate this place for restoration projects all over Puget Sound and western Washington. I spend hours sitting at the edge of the water; contemplating these plants in an effort to better understand how they grow.
When I arrived I noticed the goats congregating down by the water, and Anna was bleating in despair. I moved quickly toward them, and they moved quickly toward me, allowing for a count of them, and a look to see if someone was missing. Sure enough there was no sign of Clare, and after a quick search of the pasture I raced to the barn in hopes of finding her back in the crevice in the wall. She was not there. Anna was still crying. I tried to comfort her but I could not. I promised her I would find her dear doe.
I began to search outside of the fence line, creeping over the thorny brush indifferent to the cuts and scrapes I was receiving, crying out Clare’s name. I made my way to the edge of the bay, tracing its complexity. I climbed up over an old railroad grade that once traversed this spot. As I did I heard Anna again, but closer. I realized she and Mary had slipped through a hole in the fence, and were now crying on the shore. I looked out into the bay, the tide was out, and there by the trickling freshwater stream that ran across the deep mud, laid the perfect, lifeless body of Clare.
Still irrationally yelling her name I lowered myself over the bank onto the mud, careful not to become trapped myself. The grey mud oozed up over the welt of my boots, as each step sank me deeper into the soft surface. Finally after a few dozen slippery steps I was standing above her perfect body, hooves still ideally shaped, eyes glazed, a ring of foam around her nose evidenced her efforts to live. I lifted her into my arms as if she were still warm and living, and carefully plotted my way back to Anna and Mary on the bank. I tossed her up at their feet; their eyes bulged at the sight. I pulled myself up and lifted her into my arms again. Then proceeded through the gap in the fence and on up into the pasture. The entire herd followed me.
When I reached a dry spot I laid her body down in the sun. She was as perfect as I remembered her, but still as stone. Anna tasted the salt on her fur, Mary hoofed her gently but she did not stir, a flock of geese flew low and fast over our heads, my eyes filled with tears for a life that would not be, and the mourning began for us all.