Julie Jacobson is an Athabaskan native from the Copper River Basin in Alaska now living on a ranch in Colorado, one of those people who live stories. All she has to do is peek out the window or remember an old auntie and the words come spilling out of her, assured and exhilarating. She’s my student at Vermont College of Fine Arts this semester; her packet cover letters read like great essays, they read like this—
I am writing this in my ranch truck, watching a cow try to have a calf. It must be a big boned thing, because her mother has been up and down four times and can’t get the position right to push. Sometimes they have to stand up, walk a bit, then try again. The front legs have to come first and I’ve seen the silver bag around two hooves a couple times now. She just needs to get “comfortable”.
Hopefully my husband, Brent, will be home today (he is in Denver with his mom, who is in the hospital again) and I can get off calving watch (which means checking every four hours in good weather – I’ve had 6 beautiful black babies since Tuesday night) and back to the kitchen table to finish. Today I moved 92 head and pulled two circles of electric fence with my 12 year old. He is good company and getting to be quite a hand. The farmers we lease from are pissed that we are not off their ground yet, so I’m under the gun to get it all done yesterday.
So, the cow finally had her calf. On her own. Which is good, because I’m always a little nervous about being a doctor out in the mud with anxious mothers all around me. My son’s iPod battery is dead so we will make one last pass through the mothers-to-be and head home.
I’m doing well, just writing today. It is windy as hell here. The terrible howling, sky darkening, dirt blowing kind that closes roads and schools. I can see the dust come in the tiny gaps in the doors and windows and settle uniformly on my kitchen table and laptop. I don’t know why anyone ever thought this would be good country to live in. Miserable for livestock, too. When we drove through the cows this morning, we noticed that their eyes are all clotted up and pressed shut against the shit dust forced on them in swirls around the windbreaks and bare trees.
I have a new baby calf in my bathtub, born last night and feeble like he isn’t sure if he wants to live yet or not. His mother died, so we are going to try to graft him on to another cow when the wind settles this afternoon. We lost twins night before last and that mother (K.A. #74 Orange tag) is heartbroken. We have been trying to graft a crooked faced calf off of a thin poor milking cow (K.A. #802 yellow tag) to her, but I’m not sure if she wants to be a mother bad enough yet. I’m writing about the grafting experience. Maybe I’m simple, but it is really something. It reminds me so much of experiences I’ve heard of and had with humans – in a stripped down sort of way.
It is time to check cows again. The wind has slowed down and we are going to skin one of the dead calves and put the “coat” on the crooked faced calf, milk the foster mother out, bottle feed the calf and then pour the rest of the milk on him and his new coat to help trick the cow into taking him. Wish me luck.
—J. M. Jacobson