While mourning his daughter Tullia, Cicero took to writing a book of self-consolation. Thinking himself the inventor of this type of self-help, he said, “Why, I have done what no one has done before, tried to console myself by writing a book.” (This is quoted by Han Baltussen in the Nov. 2009 issue of Mortality in an essay titled, “A grief observed: Cicero on remembering Tullia.”)
I certainly don’t think Cicero was the first to console himself by writing, but he seemed to find it of value, and many after him have repeated the exercise. Writing can be a way of releasing out inner torment when faced with grief or illness.
If you use or have used writing as a consolation, I’d like to invite you to join the Writing Through Illness and Grief group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/256668978211572/). If you are not on Facebook but are interested in participating in other ways, please contact me at Randall@ethicsbeyondcompliance.com.
I was an adult before I realized that barbed wire is not called Bob War, because that was how my grandfather pronounced it, and he happened to be the person who mentioned it to me most often, as he was the person who would always tell us kids that we needed to help repair the fence. Some concerned neighbour would call to tell him some of the cows were out, and he’d tell us to grab some Bob War and git in the truck. We’d drive out to the cow lease, which was several hundred acres, and find the wayward cows, round ‘em up, and repair the fence. Sometimes getting the cows back on the lease was the easy part, and sometimes it took all day.
Repairing the fence was always about the same. First, cut the broken wire and get it out of the way. Second, nail a new piece of wire to a fence post with a fencing staple. You have to get the staple just inside of a barb to keep the wire from slipping through. The hard part is stretching the wire to the next fence post enough to get a barb there to use it to secure the other end of the wire. Sometimes my job was to get the wire in the fencing tool and pull it around the post using the post and tool for leverage. It wasn’t really easy. It required all my limited strength, and it caused me no small amount of anxiety, as my grandfather was not easy going about it. My efforts were usually subject to some harsh criticism.
In the end, though, the cows were always contained, and the fence was always mended – one way or the other. I never felt much happier about it, but that’s how life is when you raise cows. And the cows were fairly happy, I guess, having plenty of room to roam. It made you wonder why they’d ever want to escape in the first place, though sometimes you knew.
Every farmer needs a few bulls, of course, but not too many, so each year we’d cull some of the bulls from the herd and take them to auction where they were bought and either put to pasture or slaughtered. Unless they were breeding stock, the bull calves were castrated and sent on their way to become steers, as steer meat is more desirable than bull meat. I sometimes participated in the making of young steers. You may think the testicles are whacked off with a big knife or something, but we had a device with a strong rubber ring attached and stretched open. We’d pull the testicles through the open ring and then remove the device, which meant the ring constricted around the base of the scrotum. It’s anyone’s guess whether this was more or less pleasant than a big knife.
It wasn’t my concern to know what happened to the calves we sold. I do remember, though, returning to the lease one evening to find a mother cow wandering around the perimeter of the property braying for her calf. She was well-fed and cared for, but she depended on her son’s executioner for winter food, protection, and medication. This is humane farming, you see, not the horrible things you see in the smuggled films from factory farms.
I don’t know how long Mom continued searching and braying for her lost one.
I’m putting together a poetry trail for the New Mills Festival. The festival begins 14 September and runs for three weeks. Poem will appear in shop windows throughout the town. We will have a round-robin poetry reading for participants on 26 September 2018 at The Butterfly House at the Torrs. The deadline for submissions is the end of May, but I’m accepting poems as I go, so it is best to get them in early! Guidelines below.
New Mills Festival Poetry Trail Submission Guidelines
1. Must be family-friendly. If you know me, you know I enjoy work that is provocative or even shocking, but the poetry trail is probably a good time to tone things down a little.
2. 20 lines maximum. People will be standing on the pavement reading the poems—shorter poems are bound to be more accessible.
3. Please include a location for yourself. You can choose whether to use your current location or the place you most identify as home.
4. I will try to place poems with subjects related to local businesses in those businesses (e.g., cycling poems in the cycle shop, flower poems in the florist).
5. Submit up to three poems in the order of your preference. I have about 65 spaces. If 65 people submit, I will use your first choice. If fewer people submit, I will use your first two choices. You get the idea.