Off by One

My count was off by one.  Here it was the first day of the year and I had lost a cow.  The night of solstice had been long, but well worth it.  Some time ago we had let the calendared new year go in favor of what is natural to our place.  The evening lacked the neighbor’s fireworks but the clear starlit night was fair compensation.  Mutuality lies in a night sky.  If one takes the time to look, stars strut their brilliance and give us an amazement than cannot be rocketed into the sky.

I had put off feeding until morning light.  I was to wean calves and separate them from their mama’s this morning and doing so prior to feeding is easier.  The morning had gone well.  Cows were in their winter pasture and calves just across the fenceline in the weaning pasture.  Having finished feeding cows and weaners, I stood near the fence and took a count.  One off.  Counting again I got the same number.  One more counting and arriving at the same number again had me climbing into the pickup bed, standing, and counting again.  Surely a different perspective would come up with the correct number. It didn’t.  That left scanning all the pastures in the back forty.  Sure enough, in the far southwest corner stood a single cow.  Just standing.  Her not moving indicated one thing.

We have two early calvers in the herd.  And looking over the feeding cows told the story.  One of the early calving cows was not feeding with the others.  Sometime last night she must have separated from herd, found an isolated spot, and calved.  The first question that came to mind is how is the calf doing on a below freezing morning?  We do our best at husbandry and best would have been to have the cow near the barn last night.  This was a second-best day.  It would take some time to move cow and calf to the barn.  However, it went well.  An hour and a phone call for help later—and a fair amount of coaxing mamma to move from her birthing place—cow and calf were fed and bedded in the barn.

Five days later.  A cold dark morning has me thinking of the child in a manger story.  I cannot help but wonder how a story about the poor, disenfranchised, homeless, and hungry became commodified by State and business.  In the coldest of seasons, when one begins to wonder if it is ever going to warm up again, one might also wonder what honor does our community have when so many children (and their parents) exist in the 2021 equivalent of a manger.  While a cow and calf are bedded “uptown.”  Seven miles from the farm, in a grove of trees, lives a tented community of my siblings; on a twenty-six-degree morning.  Can I or my community have dignity when we believe charity of clothing and food is adequate?  Is there honor when my care for a babe in a manger is less than my husbandry practices for a cow and calf?

The sun is just breaking over the southern ridge; south by southwest.  Blue sky and cold.  The cows and weaners are beginning to rise from their bedding.  Time to feed.  Time to wonder.  Time for honor?


  1. Howdy Dave! I wish you and your family an awesome new year! I have been back home in Tennessee for about ten years now. I’m loving being back almost as much as I loved Seattle.
    Your dedication to four-legged and all creatures remind me of my mural upbringing. It was hard, honest work and I enjoyed the fresh and mostly unprocessed foods. Did I mention good tasting as well!
    I live in Memphis which is less than 50 miles from the rural community where I was raised. The many cultural aspects of the city appeal to me and it affords me the opportunity to volunteer in many performance venues.
    Hamilton is in town now and was also here several years ago. I am a huge theater geek.
    Thanks for reminding me of my southern roots and more importantly how precious it is to our continued existence.

    Please say hello to your family for me.

    Stay well!


    1. Wonderful to hear from you Regina! Your thoughts have always been helpful to what I do and who I am. And…isn’t there something about being in the landscape of your youth. Something of who you are that cannot be had in another place. I know being in my place for bette than twenty years has me seeing life as only this place can teach. Yet, when I return to the canyons of my youth, I am reminded there is much of how I think and be that comes from the brush and dirt of that place,

      I’ll say Hi to everyone for you.

      Be well, Dave


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