holes

It took seventy-four minutes to dig a hole this morning; just over an hour, with shovel and pick, to create a nothing four feet by three feet by four feet deep. I had thought it would take longer, prove harder, given the heat and the dry. But, no. Just seventy-four minutes. Time enough to come to terms with the harsh reality of the past thirty-six hours.

In early July of 2010, Marshmallow and S’more, two Nigerian dwarf goats, wethers both and brothers by all accounts (though the two couldn’t be any more different), were delivered to The Quarry Farm by Anne and Rowan, who brought them north from Cincinnati in Anne’s little Scion xA. Their arrival fortified a growing vision of The Quarry Farm as a safe haven, a home and sanctuary for the unwanted and the unloved, the abused and the forgotten.

Which is not to say that all of the animals now living here were unwanted or abused. Buddy and Lucy and Bill and Beatrice all came from loving families who, through circumstances undesired, were simply unable to keep them any longer or believed them better served on The Quarry Farm. And so, too, it was with the brothers (if not by blood, then certainly in spirit). The family that raised them to that point loved them, and dearly. Sadly, the two large dogs that also lived with the family loved them as well, though in an entirely different and specifically threatening way. Thus the trip north.

Marsh and S’more (The Boys as we came to affectionately call them), when they arrived, joined the Priscillas, sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet hens, and Johnny and Stella, two non-releasable Canada geese; the sum and total of The Quarry Farm’s inhabitants (not including the three dogs and eleven cats). S’more, was, and still is, slim and athletic, given to spontaneous bursts of energy that found him bounding sideways and pronging through the yard. It was clear from the beginning, though, that Marsh had issues. While he’d chase after his brother, bash heads and sport about to the best of his ability, he was prone to a constant mild bloating that, despite our best efforts, made it difficult to keep up. On more than one occasion, a visitor would ask if “she” was pregnant. What he lacked in athleticism, though, he more than made up in personality. Frequently the first to greet guests, Marsh was sweet and gentle, curious and approachable and children thronged to him. He’d greet them, and us, with his head tilted up, encouraging any and everyone to stand nose-to-nose with him.

But while willing and even desirous of the attentions of others, particularly when they offered bits of fruit or carrots or peanuts, Marsh was clearly bound to S’More.

Inseparable from the first, the brothers would play together, eat together sleep together and wander the property together, often pressed up hard against one another, shoulder to shoulder, moving about in a coordinated tandem. Now, I ache for the one without the other.

A little less than three years ago, we found Marsh standing in the yard, straining to urinate, but unable to do so. We called Dr. Ron Baldridge, a local veterinarian, who, over the phone, diagnosed bladder stones. Unlike kidney stones in humans, bladder stones in goats, due to their unique and convoluted physiology, will, untreated, prove fatal. Explaining that goats were outside his purview, Ron recommended contacting Ohio State University’s Veterinary Hospital. There, they surgically removed the stones and, after a week, Marsh returned home. Here, we worked to acidify his diet, providing ammonium chloride in periodic drenches and pouring gallons of apple cider vinegar into water troughs. Even so, ten months later, they reoccurred, necessitating another trip to Columbus and a second surgery. And again eight months later.

Wednesday evening, we found him once more, his belly distended. On Thursday, we drove him to the OSU veterinary facility in Marysville. That evening they called with disastrous news. Early Friday, I brought what was left of him home.

It took seventy-four minutes to dig a hole this morning, and even less time to fill it in. But there are holes and there are holes, absences that no amount of effort can ever fill.

So, then, because there is nothing else to do or say, goodbye, Marshmallow. Goodnight and sweet dreams.

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A Mother’s Love

Two weeks ago, we received a call from an acquaintance on the east side of Findlay, Ohio. He’d found a female opossum at the side of the road near his home and she was still nursing a litter of babies. When we arrived, he led us to his old horse barn where he’d stashed mother and babies. The mother appeared to have been rolled by a car; she bore a series of scrapes and small lacerations and was favoring her right front leg. The little ones had their eyes open and were covered in a fuzz of short hair. We bundled her into a carrier and brought her home, called Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education to let them know we’d picked up the family and set them up in a hutch just off our north deck.

Over the ensuing two weeks, we fed her a combination of dried cat food, soft cat food, apples, peaches, corn and duck eggs. Lots and lots of duck eggs. Once she began restlessly moving around the hutch, we decided it was time to cut her loose. Last night, we opened the hutch door and walked away, went about the business of entertaining ourselves on a Friday evening. Before calling it a night, we checked to see if they had indeed left, or if the amenities of the hutch were too much to take for granted. I was more than a little suprised to find the mother opossum gone, but her little ones still huddled in a corner of the hutch on the blanket we’d provided as bedding. We caught a glimpse of the adult as she moved away and into the tall grass in the bottomland below our house.

I was shocked. While the young opossums had grown considerably during their time here, they were still nowhere near ready to go it on their own. We waited by the door and watched to see if she’d return. She didn’t. Finally, too tired to maintain a vigil any longer, we shut the hutch door, locking the nine babies inside, and went to bed, disappointed and confused and more than a little heartsick.

This morning, a quick glance out the door showed the babies scrambling over the wire mesh of the hutch door. On the deck just outside the hutch and trying to figure out how to open the door was the mother. She barely reacted when I stepped onto the deck and still didn’t as I walked to the hutch, reached over her and pulled the pin that keeps the hutch door closed. The little ones scrambled out and found perches on their mother, who, after all of her little ones had climbed aboard, turned and, lumbering under their weight, climbed down off the deck and away.

I can only guess at what drove her off to begin with; there’s no shortage of nocturnal predators here. But I can say with certainty what brought her back. Call it instinct, if it suits you. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

From The Quarry Farm to all mothers, thank you for your love, sacrifice and determination. Happy Mothers Day.