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

☆ June 12, 2018

Previous Installments: Part I
  /  Part II  /  Part III  /  Part IV 
 / Intermission

Rain. Our single, four letter word for ‘water falling from the sky’ is grossly inadequate. There should be more words. Seattle rain and Wyoming rain are as related and dissimilar as chihuahua and wolf. Wyoming rain is the wolf. It can appear, seemingly from out of nowhere, and surprise you dangerously. It can be terrifyingly violent. Despite this, people tend to react to it with uncontrollable reverence. For without rain, there is no grass.

When it rains in Wyoming, it’s like a giant barrel being dumped out from the heavens. It’s like a blizzard with water in its liquid state. Wyoming rain comes down hard and fast, each raindrop as long and thick as your finger. The clay-laden earth can’t handle such deluge, and so the water stands in enormous puddles, runs rapids down the driveway, and the top six inches of ground becomes sticky, slicky gumbo – clay mud that can eat shoes and is nearly as treacherous as ice. The first time I lost control of my Bronco was not on ice, but in Wyoming mud.

Still, these torrential downpours don’t fill water troughs for the cows – that was my job. And calves are hungry no matter the weather, and 3M needed my help with Star Baby. Mike had left, and when I finished my coffee, I put on my ankle-length snow skirt which I hadn’t touched since deep winter and a rain slicker with a hood and my Muck boots (every day, my muck boots) and slopped out to 6 and 3M and Star Baby and her calf. My trudging turned to sprinting when I saw 6 was down and thrashing. She was lying on her side in the mud, legs splayed and kicking the air. When I reached her, I was horrified to see she had gotten her head stuck under the bottom rail of one of the corral panels. She was writhing and flailing and frothing at the mouth. She’d been trying to rescue herself for a while – who knows how long. I splashed to the barn and grabbed a lariat (aka a stiff lasso rope, which neither Mike nor I know how use in the way it’s intended), got the loop around her neck, and pushed it as far down as I could, down to the thick base of her neck where it meets her chest and shoulders. I heaved and pulled with all my might and managed to slide 6 away from the panel and free her head. The slipperiness of the mud is the only reason I was able to do this – even old and frail, she still weighed in at close to a thousand pounds.

She immediately began struggling to stand, but she couldn’t. When a cow gets up, she rocks a little to launch herself up and onto her feet. Imagine getting yourself out of an oversized plush chair – you’d rock back a little, then push yourself forward and out with the extra momentum. Cows do exactly this when they stand up. And cows can kill themselves trying to get up when they’re stuck – if they’re mired in mud, if they’re up against a wall without enough room to rock back and forth onto their feet. They will try over and over and over until they die of exhaustion.

Before we moved the head catch up to the new barn, I had it in the corner of Daisy’s little milking barn where Frisco spent the last weeks of his life. The head catch was set two feet from the back wall, bolted to posts six inches in diameter that were set two feet in the ground. On one of my countless trips to the barn when I was caring for Frisco, I found him on the ground, kicking and rocking next to the head catch. He had laid down so close to the head catch that he couldn’t get up – there wasn’t enough room for him to get enough momentum to stand up. When I found him, he was drenched in sweat from trying. Mike was two hours away, so I found a crowbar and a giant wrench and dismantled the iron panels of the head catch as quickly as I could and (thanks to adrenaline) moved them out of the way. Frisco was then able to stand up and take a long drink of water.

6 must have laid down under the small awning of the barn where the dirt gently slopes away from the wall – as dry a place as possible, but on such a day, with sideways rain, not dry at all. The degree of the decline is an unremarkable grade, not something I ever really noticed, not something that would adversely affect any other cow, perhaps not even 6 on any other day. But this day, the slope had been perilous. Either because of the direction she chose to lay down, or because she slid a little when she first tried to get up, 6 was positioned so that her body and head were downhill from her legs and hooves. She not only had to rock, she had to rock uphill. 6 was already weak because she was so old – for the past few days, she had been having some trouble rocking up to standing even when it was dry and perfectly flat. To fight against gravity, too? And the mud, too? She couldn’t do it. And as she struggled, she slid closer to the corral panel, and when she tired, she lay her head on the ground, and this is how she ended up with her head under the railing.

After I swiveled her around and freed her head, I tried to help 6 sit up with her head up, but she was too weak and exhausted to hold it up. She just kept thrashing around on the ground. There was already a raw patch of skin on her bottom shoulder where she had worn all the hair off in her struggles. So I did the only thing I could: I sat beside her with my hands on her head and face. As long as I was touching her, she lay still. I didn’t dare run back to the house to get my phone to call Mike – when I moved away from her, 6 started convulsing in attempts to get up and I didn’t know how much longer she could fight before expiring. I wasn’t willing to risk it. So I stayed with her in the mud in the pouring rain, waiting for Mike to return. I sobbed hysterically and talked to her through the downpour. “Don’t die. Not now. Not today. Not in the rain. Don’t die yet, don’t do it, please….” Her eye, the one I could see, was wild. It bulged out and then sank into her skull and I was sure she was going to perish in the storm as I pet her cheek.

When Mike got home, he found us in the mud and quickly rearranged a few of the panels between the corral and my garden. My garden stretches out from the chicken house and is right next to the panel corral we made for 3M & Co in front of the barn. It, too, is surrounded by panels because I haven’t had time to build a proper wooden fence around it. Once Mike opened up a passageway between the two, he grabbed one of 6’s hind legs and I pushed her shoulders and together, we slid 6 out of the corral and into my garden. We got her to a level grassy patch and we got her sitting up – lying down but with her head up. She seemed relieved. The only question was whether 6 could get up at all. Would she ever get up again?

After taking care of 3M and Star Baby, who had been huddled in the rain but were perfectly fine, Mike and I returned to the house. I escaped to a hot shower. The rain traveled past us and the sun came out. I nervously peeked out the door at 6 in my garden and she was up! She was standing! She was peacefully grazing the luscious, rogue grass that was already six inches tall between my raised beds. She moved delicately enough that I wasn’t worried about her destroying my garden the way another cow would – she could stay in my garden as long as she liked! She nipped down all the grass and didn’t even touch my raspberries.

Part VI is here.


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

  1. torre
    June 12th, 2018 @ 6:53 am

    oh no! tears here at work LOL So glad 6 is ok! you’re such a good animal mom and glad Mike got back in time to help!

  2. Vanessa H
    June 12th, 2018 @ 6:58 am

    Guuurrllll, haven’t you leaned not to go out with out our phone? Not just because of the surprises that might be found, but also for your sake should you find yourself in need of help. **Off my “Momma soap box” now.**

    I was almost afraid to read todays entry; your such a gift to those animals in your care, because you truly care for them, about them. 6 (I think she needs a new name) drew strength from your comfort. SO relieved and glad she’s up and cleaning out the garden.

  3. Sheri Nugent
    June 12th, 2018 @ 8:10 am

    This is so good – I love the way you describe everything. I am there… panting along with you and forcing myself not to read too fast — no skipping over words to find out WHAT HAPPENED!

    So far, everyone has survived…. but I know a blow is coming.

    I wait.

  4. Kristan
    June 12th, 2018 @ 8:13 am

    I can only echo the comments above! All of them!

  5. Leslie
    June 12th, 2018 @ 8:19 am

    The older I become, the more I think that all of our striving and building, every job untertaken and every bedsheet washed and every meal cooked and every dollar saved when you want to spend it–it’s all done so that we are free, when we must be, to drop everything and sit holding our loved one’s face in our hands and comfort them into the next phase of their life, no matter how long it takes or how painful it is to do that. Shreve, once again your story is packed with drama, character, and meaning. Thank you.

  6. Holly
    June 12th, 2018 @ 8:23 am

    Oh I was so afraid as I read this relief that 6 is okay and has regained her strength is beyond words. Thank you Shreve for being there with her. It must be petrifying for an animal when something that they have done all their lives cannot suddenly be done. The panic I can only imagine…So happy she ambled in your garden.

  7. Marg
    June 12th, 2018 @ 8:35 am

    I am exhausted after reading this, who knew farming was such an adrenaline burning business!I’ve a new respect for those who choose to live that life now.

  8. Sarah
    June 12th, 2018 @ 9:15 am

    I think I had a heart attack

  9. Gina
    June 12th, 2018 @ 9:54 am

    We have to wait until next week for more? I can’t stand it. A real cliff hanger.

  10. Carolyne
    June 12th, 2018 @ 10:11 am

    Sadly, I don’t want the ending to be tragic…
    I think I shall have to skip my first post EVER and let the story end in my mind like this!

    June 12th, 2018 @ 10:23 am

    Phew! I was crying along with you.

  12. shreve
    June 12th, 2018 @ 10:43 am

    C ~ please don’t do it!!!!!! there will be tears of sadness AND tears of miraculous wonderfulness before this saga ends…….

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments! I’ve so enjoyed reading your reactions to every post.

  13. Frances
    June 12th, 2018 @ 11:15 am

    I check back every day, waiting with bated breath for the rest of the story…. I really thought this was the tragedy of the title… But no… left hanging for another day…

  14. Erica
    June 12th, 2018 @ 11:44 am

    WOW. Your writing is SO, SO good. I felt wet and cold and anxious – just as if I was there with you. I’m so relieved that 6 stood up!

  15. Deborah
    June 12th, 2018 @ 12:27 pm

    This is a nail biter!!!

  16. Steve
    June 12th, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

    Love the stories… But I can’t be the only one who struggles to convert textual descriptions of your property to a visual image in my head. Have you ever published even a rough sketch of the layout – barn, corral, pasture, house, gardens, catch, etc. ?? It would help a subset of your readers like me to more vicariously “relive” your experiences.

  17. Theresa Szpila
    June 12th, 2018 @ 2:27 pm

    OMG, Shreve! I think my heart stopped ~ and didn’t start again until Six was back up on her feet. I can only hope she has completely recovered and has suffered no lasting injuries.

    Awaiting the next installment with trepidation….

  18. Nova Lockhart
    June 12th, 2018 @ 4:31 pm

    Have been holding my breath while reading this. I admire your stamina! .. Looking forward to the next installment but am doing so with trepidation.

  19. Pamela Ryan
    June 12th, 2018 @ 7:37 pm

    Shreve, I don’t see how you can say we will have tears of sadness & tears of miraculous wonderfulness. I just can’t bear to think of 6 leaving us. But I am eternally grateful to a higher being who put you there 11-12 years ago. Ten Sleep is where you were meant to be, giving love and kindness to all these animals. I am still so happy I had the pleasure to talk to you and meet you!!

  20. mlaiuppa
    June 13th, 2018 @ 12:08 am

    I’m with Carolyne. I’m not sure I can take this any more. I don’t want there to be any tragedy, not even if it is seemingly tempered with miraculous joy.

    I’m the one that won’t watch movies where the dog dies. Ever. Just because Bristleface sires puppies or Ol’ Yeller saves the family or whatever, it doesn’t change anything for me. Movie makers and story tellers always think they can kill off the dog as long as there are puppies. Like Turner and Hooch.

    Or Charlotte’s Web.

    I’ve never read Animal Farm, The Red Pony or Where the Red Fern Grows and I never will. My friends have warned me.

    I’m of the school of Gordon Korman’s “No More Dead Dogs.”

    I would rather skip the miracle if I can save myself the tragedy.

    I don’t want 3M to die and I don’t want 3M to lose it’s mother 6. Even though she has had a long life and 3M is a miracle baby. I think I’d just rather not know any more. And if I don’t read it, it never happened.

  21. Marianne C Larsen
    June 13th, 2018 @ 8:26 am

    I need to be connected.

  22. Cat Chandler
    June 13th, 2018 @ 11:05 am

    The suspense! Your writing is incredible. These stories should be published in the New York Times, or National Geographic, or some other highly acclaimed international publication. Just incredible, and more so because they are real events.

  23. bonnie
    June 13th, 2018 @ 9:38 pm

    good heavens! mud wrestling with a panicky cow! it’s exhausting just reading about it. many blessings to you for your devotion!

  24. Burroughs-338E
    June 15th, 2018 @ 1:52 am

    @mlaiuppa: I’ve never forgiven Steinbeck for “The Red Pony.” It was a reading assignment in school, and I refused to read further once the pony died. Here’s a site for you, if you haven’t run across it already: (Or if you want to know how the animal actors fared: )

    @Shreve: Such is the down-side of caring for and about animals. Damn things always end up breaking our hearts sooner or later.

  25. Sandy G.
    June 16th, 2018 @ 4:13 pm

    Oh my, that had my heart beating fast reading about your experience with 6. I felt so sorry for 6 and I so admired and appreciated your caring and strength in saving 6. You are amazing and so is your writing about your experience. (I am so hoping that there is going to be a happy ending to this tale! But I am old enough to know that isn’t always the case, especially on a farm.) Bless you.

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

    Wondering whether animals have a post-traumatic aftermath when such things happen to them. Wonder whether they are still suffering and feeling fear, though they look calm.

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