I read a book once that pointed out that life tends to divide itself into befores and afters.
It’s true, when you think about it. Some are obvious milestones: Before high school. After high school. Before college. After college. Before and after your first job. Births. Deaths. We, all of us, all our lives, are just a mess of befores and afters and how they changed us from one version of ourselves to the next. We have ceremonies to celebrate or mourn the changes. Matriculation. Funerals. Christenings.
Sometimes, even though one day you’re a person of before and the next day a person of after, it feels like little has changed. Some befores and afters fade into one another like the colors of the sunset meld from one to the next, and suddenly the sky has gone from blue to orange to purple without you noticing. The easy changes are like that. You don’t realize things are changing until they have, and then, before you know it, you’ve made your way from a before to an after.
Other changes fall like a sledgehammer. No matter the slope into it, no matter the warning or preparation, the change will always be abrupt.
It was the 29th of July. Jeremiah and I were sitting down to dinner, and a good friend shot me a message on Facebook.
“Do you guys know when you’ll be able to come out? I need Jeremiah’s help.”
The message came from my friend Lauren, a teacher and ranch owner in Maine. We met about six years ago while working at a summer camp. She ran the horse barn; I ran the llama barn. We bonded over our willingness to get our hands dirty and get shit done. (That and the mutual dislike of a few of the other employees who didn’t have that same willingness…) Since that time, we stayed in touch on Facebook and realized that our lives were moving in creepily similar directions. She became a teacher. I became a teacher. I married a farrier. She married a farrier. She bought and renovated an old house. I bought and renovated an old house. Most recently, we both bought ranches and spend most of our lives keeping them running. We joke that we live the same lives in different states. It’s uncanny.
My husband is prone to mayhem. I’m not sure why (though I do have a theory that’s loosely based on the Percy Jackson novels) but weird things happen to him, or around him, almost daily. (Want an example? He’s been dead three times…) Nothing surprises me anymore.
So, Monday morning, as we drove out towards the highway on our way to Wildlife Prairie State Park with an injured Turkey Vulture in the backseat, I found myself in a state of disbelief that this felt so completely normal. And when the vulture sharted on my backseat cover, I just took another sip of my coffee. We rolled the back windows down. And we kept trucking.
We called the Turkey Vulture Dante. Jeremiah had nearly hit him with my Jetta the day before; the poor thing had been stumbling around a road, nearly blind and dazed by a brush with an automobile. Jeremiah had watched him in the rearview mirror for a few moments before stopping the car and going back for him.
“Well, sometimes God puts obstacles in your way that are rather hard to avoid. Like, you will take out the ditch trying to avoid them kind of obstacles. Everyone, I would like you to meet my obstacle of the day, the injured and blind turkey vulture that wandered out into the road. His name is Dante, and we will traveling together today.”
He gave Dante his lunch and they began the drive back to the ranch together.
On the ride home, Jeremiah learned some new vulture facts. For example, when a vulture poops in your car, the only course of action is to evacuate the vehicle…and wait. Also, vultures (or maybe just Dante) grow agitated when listening to Taylor Swift, but they chill out and jam to Johnny Cash. (They listened to Johnny Cash all the way home after making this discovering, because no matter how much you enjoy listening to “Blank Space,” it isn’t worth an agitated vulture in the backseat.)
Jeremiah planned to find a rehabilitator or rescue for Dante, but it was Sunday evening, so the search had to wait until the next day. In the meantime, Jeremiah laid down some straw in our feed room, hooked up a heat light, and gave Dante some food and water. We left him there through the night, basking soundly in the glow of the heat lamp.
I know this may sound strange, but I’m a fan of vultures. A few years ago, I attended a information session about birds of prey that featured some rehabilitated birds. Though not nearly as striking as the eagles or the owls, the turkey vultures stole the show. They were funny and interactive and seemed to really enjoy showing off for the people. Vultures get a bad rap, but they serve a vital purpose in the ecosystem. Rather than kill prey, these birds feed on what has already died. Their digestive systems sanitize what they eat, preventing the spread of disease throughout a population. They are nature’s clean up crew, and they really are very cool animals.
The next morning, Jeremiah began the search for a rehabilitator, planning to look locally first, then start to work through a list that my blogger friend over at Day by Day the Farm Girl Way sent me. Fortunately, Wildlife Prairie Park (less than an hour away) agreed to take him, so we loaded him up in the backseat and drove out.
We pulled around at the front entrance where they were expecting us. They had a small kennel set up for Dante, where he would wait until their bird keeper picked him up. We made a small cash donation towards his care and left, feeling grateful that someone was willing to give him a shot.
Unfortunately, Dante had to be euthanized later that day. He had more injuries than we knew, and he went into seizures. I was saddened by the news, but glad that Jeremiah had picked him up off the road, that the old guy hadn’t died slowly on the side of the highway, scared and confused. The night Dante spent in the barn, it had brutally stormed. Trees came down; thunder crashed so loudly that I woke halfway through the night. And I was glad that the old guy was tucked in safe and sound and warm. Even though no one could have saved him, we helped make his last night far more comfortable, and that is something that all God’s creatures deserve.
I emailed my blogger friend when I found out that Dante was euthanized. I knew I would post about it, and I wanted to tell her via email before she read about it on my blog.
I wrote, saying,
“I plan on posting about this whole experience, but I wanted to let you know first. We got an update from wildlife that they humanely euthanized Dante yesterday. He was apparently very old (the zoologist used the word ancient) for a vulture, and he had a head trauma. By the time she saw him, he was having seizures. There was nothing they could do beyond give him a peaceful end.
I wish it would have turned out better, but I’m glad he didn’t die alone, terrified, and confused by the side of the road. There was a massive storm across the Midwest the night he stayed with us, and he got to spend it in a dry room with a heat lamp instead of dying in a ditch.
Thank you for your help. Thank you mostly for your reassurance that we did the right thing.”
Her reply was sweet and thoughtful. I asked her permission to share it with you.
“Cherity, I’m so sorry. I had a feeling he might have been old by the looks of his head. I’m also not surprised at his injury. Many large birds are hit while feasting on roadkill. Especially this time of year when parents are looking to feed their young. Forrest and I have transported many male owls and hawks to WildCare during the spring and summer months… hit by vehicles. I suspect since the males do most of the feeding of the young and the female (after the eggs hatch), they are very busy looking for meat to feed all of those mouths!
Dante was a magnificent bird… and you and Jeremiah are fortunate to have shared in the last of his life’s experience. You are the benefactors, and his life was not lived in vain (not that it would have been in vain at all – we are all here for the experience of knowing God/Universe). When you write about him, and your experience, you will have made his life all the more influential on humans. It was his gift to mankind to be a cleanser of the earth all of his life… and in the end, he was a gift for all of us, to understand showing kindness to those who need our help.
I believe that animals/birds/all life forms, read or sense energy. Dante knew the kindness of humans. He felt your touch, and your energy. Wouldn’t that be the best way to have the ending of life here on planet Earth? To know the kindness and love of another? Gentle hands placed on you with soft words and a sense of being cared for? When Jeremiah removed Dante from the chaos and terror of the pavement, he had to have known or sensed that something greater was happening. He probably knew his end was near… and death was imminent, but because of the kindness of you and your husband, and the people at the wildlife rescue, he knew goodness and kindness.
I am so proud of both you and Jeremiah. Thank you for including me in this experience. I look forward to reading your blog post about Dante. It is a beautiful story that should be shared with others.”
My husband was asked why he bothered to pick up a wounded buzzard. Jeremiah simply replied, “Because God put him in my way.” I think God puts opportunities to show kindness in our way, and I think Dante was one of those opportunities. And no kindness is ever wasted, even if it is just shown to a wounded buzzard.
It seems I’ve been gone for two whole weeks! Weird. And unintended.
Also weird? It’s been just over a year since I started almostfarmgirl.com. Since then, almost 200 of you (between Facebook and WordPress followers) have started following this crazy ride on the ranch, and I am so thankful to each of you. (I’m especially thankful to those of you who interact, and who I’ve gotten to know a little bit. You guys know who you are.) I just paid for another year of hosting, so here’s to the start of another year of this blogging adventure together.
To celebrate a year of blogging, I went to Costa Rica for a week.
Actually, that’s a lie.
I went to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday.
You see, for Christmas this year, my mom gave me and my sister a trip to Costa Rica; she had earned the trips in her independent consultant work with Norwex, a company that specializing in environmentally friendly cleaning products. (Just FYI, their dusting mitt is awesome, and I have never found a better way to clean windows and mirrors than with their enviro cloth and polishing cloth.) She chose to give the incentive trips to my sister and I, partly because Chas’s 30th fell just on the other side of the trip.
So we traded this
Between seventy-five and ninety degree temperatures in Costa Rica. Between 20 degrees and negative twelve degrees back home.
I did feel bad leaving Jeremiah with the ranch, but I loved seeing the rainforest, and volcanos and the ocean.
I was playing in the surf wearing SPF Vampire to protect against the tropical sun…
And my poor husband was shoveling the barn out of nearly a foot of snow.
Guys, I actually zip-lined through the Rainforest. I saw Scarlet Macaws, and a Toucan, and Iguanas. And I barely got sunburned at all, which is kind of a miracle.
Chas and I toured an organic coffee plantation. (Seriously, don’t take your morning cup of coffee for granted; it’s loads of work to get it in your cup.) We spent five days in Central America on the Pacific Coast and somehow managed the escape all but the very last harsh winter days of the season.
We spent our last night at the Norwex Rainforest Gala, before packing up and heading back to the states.
And, one delayed flight, one missed flight, one redirection to Chicago, one lost bag, and a three-hour car ride later, we made it home safe and sound…and completely exhausted.
I was ready to be back home.
Because as awesome as that trip was, there’s nothing quite like watching my ponies and alpacas grazing from my kitchen window.
Thanks again for a great first year, everybody! And, as always, thanks so much for reading.