The Long and Winding and Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M ~ Part IV

☆ May 31, 2018

Previous Installments: Part I / Part II / Part III

So, to recap: we have Roxy and her calf and Roxy’s udder edema. And we have Grandmother 6 and her calf and 6 had no milk. And we have Star Baby and her calf and Star Baby’s giant udder and previous mastitis from too much milk.

This has been the hardest segment to write, not because it’s tragic, but because these weeks were so wonderful, so beautiful, and I know my words will never be adequate. It was Spring. Newly Spring. The air was warm and the warm air was a revelation. Birds chattered and trilled everywhere, all the time: robins, mourning doves, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, Sandhill cranes. The sloppy, slicky mud had dried. Things were finally, finally easy.

Each morning, I went out early, often before coffee, to my little motley gang of cows at the barn. I let Roxy out of the barn and she trotted to the head catch. She had a haystack in the barn to eat from as she wished, and she went into the head catch just because she wanted to, not because she got extra food. 6’s calf learned quickly that if a cow was standing in the head catch, that cow was hers – her meal, her job, her delight. She’d run into the alley, wiggle alongside Roxy’s body, and suck her dry. When the calf finished drawing Roxy down, I let Roxy out of the head catch and let Star Baby in. Star Baby was lined up and ready to go as soon as Roxy was out, because Star Baby got extra hay while in the head catch. She stood peacefully and ate while 6’s calf latched onto her and devoured the bounty of milk Star Baby had to offer. I gave 6 extra hay in the corral while Star Baby fed her calf, for she was still so skinny.

One morning, Mike was with me during my musical cow routine and I said something about how 6’s calf has three mothers and he said, “We should name her 3M!” And so we did. 3M for 3 Mothers. I also like it because 3 is half of 6. Because, while 3M got her food, her nourishment, from two other cows, she got love from 6. After 3M finished nursing Star Baby, after she’d had her fill, she galloped right back to 6 who licked her and licked her. They stood together. They slept side by side. The love, the bond between them, was humbling in its purity. There was no “survival” requirement for their bond – the connection they shared was beyond biology. I don’t understand how some people believe animals don’t have feelings or emotions. Either those people haven’t spent any real, meaningful time around animals or they themselves lack feelings or emotions. Cows love. This I know.

I fell in love with 3M immediately. She understood from day one that I was going to help her get her meals but that she was going to have to make the most of every opportunity, to eat fast and suck hard. She ran to me when I arrived at the corral, licking her lips in anticipation, and ran into the alley when a cow was in the head catch. She was scrappy, happy, eager, opportunistic. Built delicately, her body and bones smaller than every other calf, but tough and determined, mighty!

I loved my morning chores. I loved this routine. Though, they were not “chores” and it was not “routine” – it was ritual beauty I got to help orchestrate and take part in. It was my guaranteed time of guaranteed wonder, of peace and the warm spring air and the good work of helping a cow raise her calf and helping a calf get the best food and helping two others cows keep their udders healthy. Of filling the water tank, of watching the cows and calves interact – the group together, the community of this little space – each one independent and respectful, familial in the very best sense of that word.

I repeated this ritual work every evening, too, and cherished it then, too. My time at the barn was the best part of my every day in a quiet, dependable way. I sat in the dirt with my back against the logs of the chicken house in the little alley next to the head catch as 3M sucked and slurped ecstatically, and I breathed – really breathed, and smiled – really smiled. In the afternoon, this spot was in shadow, but still warm.

By the time Roxy’s calf was a week old, he was drinking exponentially more than he had as a newborn and could consume all the milk Roxy produced. Calves, as they grow, will eat more and more – even more than they need. Mara, for example, now five months old, can drain every drop of milk that Daisy produces – gallons upon gallons upon gallons every day. Roxy and I no longer needed 3M’s help in keeping her udder drained twice a day. And Roxy’s udder edema had completely gone away. My early concerns about Roxy’s calf’s health had vanished, too – he was healthy and strong and both of them had outgrown the barn. It was time to let them out.

And so, my beautiful mornings and evenings transformed, became even more intimate: 6 and 3M and Star Baby and SBB (Star Baby Baby) and me (though Roxy kept returning to the barn, kept wanting to stand in the head catch just for the fun of it). Star Baby, for all her haughty disdain towards people, was so good with 3M. So generous. She refused to allow 3M to nurse when they were out in the corral, but she was always waiting for me in the alley next to the head catch when she saw me approaching, and once she was in the head catch, she stood calmly and patiently for as long as 3M wanted to nurse.

These weeks of mornings and evenings with 6 and 3M and Star Baby were so special. And I’ve been around long enough to know that if you love something, you better revel in it with all you’ve got because nothing lasts. Calves grow up. Seasons change. And even when seasons cycle back around, no two Springs are ever the same, no two Winters. Everything is temporary – and there’s no place this is clearer to me than in agriculture. These chores were sacred because I knew they wouldn’t last. They couldn’t last. Nothing does.

Part V is here. It doesn’t get tragic quite yet, I promise.


26 Responses to “The Long and Winding and Beautiful and Tragic Story of 3M ~ Part IV”

  1. Vanessa
    May 31st, 2018 @ 9:37 am

    Such beauty in having a wonderful routine; for as much as things are blissful in those moments, time moves on to yet another routine – sometimes so subtle you don’t’ realize, other times so fast you take days to comprehend what just happened.
    Ever since you introduce us to the cows and bulls I’ve never once been surprised that they love so much…what creature doesn’t? :-)

  2. Sheri Nugent
    May 31st, 2018 @ 9:58 am

    You paint such a beautiful picture. I was there with you for a few minutes.

  3. Marg
    May 31st, 2018 @ 10:13 am

    I’ll be back !

  4. Rio Guzman
    May 31st, 2018 @ 10:20 am

    Nothing does.

  5. Laurie
    May 31st, 2018 @ 10:48 am

    The anticipation is killing me!

  6. torre
    May 31st, 2018 @ 11:15 am

    beautiful – calm and peaceful. images of contented calves and moms as i head back to work

  7. Cristina
    May 31st, 2018 @ 11:27 am

    You are killing me??? why such a short entry? This is like Steel Magnolias or My Girl, where the tragedy is least expected.

  8. Sarah
    May 31st, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

    I am so loving what you’re making available to us through your beautifully crafted stories. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

  9. Patr
    May 31st, 2018 @ 1:05 pm

    Anticipation….. always hated that word…. ;)

  10. shreve
    May 31st, 2018 @ 1:53 pm

    C ~ it’s 1100 words! And these posts actually take work ;) I’m glad you like them.

  11. Calico
    May 31st, 2018 @ 2:34 pm

    Thanks for your efforts in writing all of this out for us, Shreve! (I think you said once that you write long hand, and then type it?)
    It’s a little mini-book, and we wait with great anticipation for the next chapter!

  12. Pamela Ryan
    May 31st, 2018 @ 5:08 pm

    I don’t know if I can keep reading these stories …because I know that I will feel kicked in the gut when something bad happens to one of these wonderful mothers or calves.
    But I’ll probably tough it out as I just have to know how you and all of the farmily are doing every day.

  13. Julie
    May 31st, 2018 @ 11:38 pm

    Shreve…shreve. I am with you on this. I volunteer “work” one half day a week (Wednesdays) at the Berkeley Animal Shelter. I live on the other side of the tunnel…the commute to get there in the morning is brutal. I go there, every single Wednesday because I can finally let my breath out. I look forward to this half day where I work, and it is not work. I willingly enter into the wild crazy dance that is the SF Bay Area freeways, because I want to be there. I do not get paid, I do not look at it as work, I can tell you, it is the one day a week that restores my soul, I look forward to it as I have never looked forward to any day of paid work in my life. It is where I refill my tanks, and give all I have. The animals know. I know they know. They are in the waiting space for their person, and I am the stop gap to their uneasiness while they are waiting. It is so important. And I love what I do there. How you write what you do here, tells me that we are simpatico. I’m so glad you are giving us these stories of what gives you joy.

  14. Theresa Szpila
    June 1st, 2018 @ 3:08 am

    Oh, Shreve, I couldn’t breathe reading this. I was filled with both wonder and trepidation. It’s all so beautiful and the moms and calves so precious, I’m both in cow heaven and waiting for a shoe (hoof?) to drop. Can’t wait until next week; the suspense is killing me!

  15. Eileen Fritz
    June 1st, 2018 @ 7:07 am

    Beautiful!! No words!

  16. Nova Lockhart
    June 1st, 2018 @ 8:17 am

    Loving this!

  17. Anna
    June 1st, 2018 @ 8:20 am

    ritual beauty – wonderfully coined, thank you… we all need some in our lives!

  18. carol
    June 1st, 2018 @ 8:17 pm

    I guess somebody dies because that would be the most tragic. On Instagram, I follow ‘theedora’ and there are beautiful pictures of happy, joyous cows!! I would never think cows don’t have feelings.

  19. Leah in Indiana
    June 2nd, 2018 @ 10:53 am

    Thank you for always sharing your experiences and insights! You somehow always have some small sentiment that speaks so strongly to me.

  20. Judy
    June 2nd, 2018 @ 12:14 pm

    “If you love something you better revel in it with all you’ve got because nothing lasts”. Thanks for this sad/true/sweet reminder.

  21. mlaiuppa
    June 2nd, 2018 @ 4:24 pm

    I’m not sure I can stand the suspense anymore. It’s like a train wreck where you just can’t look away. Every one of these I have to read but I dread each one because I know something tragic is coming.

  22. GD
    June 5th, 2018 @ 5:04 am

    I fear the passing of 6…..

  23. Ruth
    June 6th, 2018 @ 3:49 pm

    Thank you Shreve. Another amazing entry into the life of your farmily. What a gift.

  24. Sandy G.
    June 8th, 2018 @ 6:15 pm

    Beautiful, endearing vision of the cows and hungry calves. They know just what to do and what a joy it is in hearing about it through your words. I am dreading reading your next part though because I don’t want anything bad to happen, but I will because I know also that nothing ever lasts, and that there are always difficult changes and/or sorrows that we all must bear. That is the way of Life.

  25. Ginny F.
    June 20th, 2018 @ 5:14 am

    Now I’m at the lip-biting stage of this story, but no so much that I can’t think, “And really, who among us DOESN’T want to stand in a head catch just for the fun of it??” What a line! So cute.

  26. Chuck Torbyn
    December 26th, 2021 @ 11:53 am

    The two most inspiring books I’ve read recently have both been written by women; The Daily Coyote and “Unbothered” by Angela Rummans. Oddly, you both wrote cookbooks first! I’m just amazed how fortunate you both were to be able to go forward with your lives with the confidence and courage you did. I’m so glad I care across your stories.

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