an observation

We wake up later in March. A small hill to the east prolongs the sun’s rising even more than daylight savings time. It should be up in another 15 minutes. I woke up at 6:30. The stars had dimmed to Seattle brightness, only a hint of their Two Dot nightlife. Around 7 there was an intense crimson pre-dawn strip and I am now waiting for the sun itself. Last night at a reading in Harlo, Russell Rowland said that what defines him as a westerner is a strong desire to make a connection with wherever he is. He went on to say that Eastern Montana requires a closer looking to be appreciated. Looking closely is what we do here.
Mac White’s field is filled with white-tailed deer this morning. I counted 23 through my field glasses. The deer’s coats are the color of dry winter grass. It is the white under their tails that gives them away. Last night on our way home, two whitetails came up from the side of the road. John slowed and swerved, but one still hit the car. It seemed they could not stop their trajectory once begun. John wanted to turn around, but of course there was nothing to be done. He pulled over and a car sped past, clearly the deer was not dead or dying in the road. She was either mortally injured in the ditch or bruised and battered with an uncertain future. I want to go back and look, like picking a scab. I know there are too many whitetails, that they are overtaking Mule deer habitat, but I don’t want to be responsible for injury or death. And yet, we set the mousetraps and swat the flies. I guess observation extends to recognizing our own place and impact.
The ranch is deep into calving. We went out our first evening here to watch Maggie, the Border collie work the expecting cows into the corral for the night. She is getting older, but still loves to work, controlling the much larger animals with eye contact. She is in charge in the field, but once they’re in the corrals she knows to stay out. Richard claims that Maggie has a relationship with each one. He described them lining up at the fence for her to lick each nose. We didn’t see it then. Were the cows too preoccupied with their forthcoming deliveries? Two calves were born that evening while we were in the house at happy hour. We got back maybe 10-15 minutes after they arrived. Richard had warned us, “If you stay and watch it will take hours and if you go to happy hour they’ll already be delivered when you get back.” We did watch as the calves struggled to stand. They need to suck in the first hour before the cow’s colostrum turns to milk. One of the calves had a difficult time, once up she listed and tipped straight over sideways. Funny at the moment, but later we learned the calf had weak joints that needed to be splint. It took a day of working with the calf and feeding by hand to get it on its feet and sucking. Now it is honorifically called “Splint.” Other calves have not overcome their difficulties: one squashed by an adult, others to weak to survive. Richard calls this ranching. Do ranchers harden themselves to these tragedies and losses, or is hardening not required? Is it just a different outlook? This callousness is matched by respect for the animals. It is calming to watch Richard move through his cows wearing the colors of the landscape, nearly silent, only slight movements of his arms directing traffic, singling out those that are “ringing their tails” with the labor of delivery.
Now at 8:30 the sun is beyond the window casing. I am sure the ranch has been active for hours. Jay has gone home from the night shift and new calves have been counted. The white tails in Mac White’s field have retreated to the scrub along the river and I have enough light to begin working.