The seasons seem to roll by with greater speed these days, but what a year it’s been with Covid-19 restrictions and ice storm Uri. Admittedly, feelings of personal vulnerability have been great. A humbling year to say the least.
Nevertheless, life has returned this summer to a more normal state. One of the most pleasing days of the year at the ranch is when we have cut, raked, and baled the hay, especially when its a good hay crop. And this year we had the second best hay crop ever with 166 round bales (each weighing about 900 pounds). This is greater than our own needs, although still feeling vulnerable, I’ll keep a larger reserve than I have previously and will sell the remainder.
While the rains have not been tremendous this year, they came at the right time. We experienced a good rain just after fertilizing (whew, such a big investment in dollars that could easily go for naught without rain). We also had timely rains during the growing season and then a dry spell long enough to cut, rake, and bale the hay. The bales will be left in the fields for several weeks, as the bales when wrapped tightly get hot and spontaneous combustion has been described with barn fires resulting. Following a reasonable interlude for the bales to cool, we will fill our barns to the ceilings with newly cut hay. Nothing like the pungent smell of newly harvested hay.
Bales of hay in the pasture
Bella , Jack and yours truly inspecting a bale
The birth of a calf is another satisfying event. Over a period of several weeks we had 15 calves born. It is such fun to see the calves scampering around. They are so curious that they will come up to humans, at least until their mothers emit a deep mooing sound to let them know they are getting out of line. What fun to watch their playful antics and watch how rapidly they gain weight on nourishing mothers’ milk.
Previously I’ve written also several blog pieces about a Great Blue Heron that has frequented our ranch. While we have other herons about the ranch, I had not seen the one with whom I had developed a certain symbiotic bond. Well, yesterday he (I assume it is a he) returned. This heron sits on the same limb of a nearby tree, sees me and flies to a spot about thirty yards from where I stand. As I begin to throw out food to Survivor Duck and the fish in the tank, the Great Blue Heron slinks down the embankment, drawing near to me. There he squats down and folds his neck amid the weeds, awaiting an unsuspecting fish to swim by. On spotting a small fish, he swiftly lunges and extends his long neck, usually coming up above the water’s surface with a fish clamped in his beak. What a treat to have him back at our stock tank. Legends say herons are good luck! Finally after Covid-19 and the devastating ice storm, we could use some good luck.
When I established my blog many years ago, I hoped a focus on a tranquil rural lifestyle that emphasized animal behaviors, natural beauty, and an attitude of positivity would create a few tranquil moments for my sometimes harried blog readers. Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch also provides the opportunity for me to share my thoughts and ruminations with my wonderful and highly indulgent readers. This blog tries to provide a sense of normalcy that comes from both less stressful rural living and from the close contact wild animals, stock animals and pets afford us.
Well, 2020 has proved to be anything but normal. The Covid-19 pandemic has swept our nation and world, impacting life in ways no one could have imagined. Additionally, we are in the midst of a hard fought presidential election in the USA with rancor unrivaled in recent memory. These two major stressors have unsettled most of our lives and given rise to our existential angst.
One advantage that comes from sitting on a hill in rural Texas is observing the world as it unspools its events on a grand stage. This is not to say we in the countryside are immune to what is going on around us, as such is certainly not the case. Nevertheless, we may not be as constantly bombarded or impacted as severely as those who live in denser population centers or who are more influenced by modern goings. I like to think of myself as a retired cowboy sitting on his hill, viewing the world through a broad lens.
The birth of rational thought occurred well over a thousand years ago with the teachings of the Budda, Confuscius, and Socrates. Each of these great thinkers were willing to depart from established dogma and the comfortable allure of the old ways to establish trust and belief in human rationality. These great thinkers advised trusting in what we can determine, rather than relying on sacrifice, incantations, and the old traditional ways. This rational approach took courage to follow and rattled more than a few cages.
In some ways the establishment of the USA shows a similar trend. Even the American Revolution had about as many people who favored maintaining the American Colonies within the British Empire, as it did revolutionaries, wishing for self-government and American liberty.
Our American experiment has lasted about 250 years and has vacillated between progressive eras (think emancipation of the slaves, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, and civil rights) and periods where more traditional-minded voters needed time to incorporate, assimilate, and at times roll back progressive instincts. Such swings of the pendulum undoubtedly helped to establish a semblance of societal equilibrium.
I view the partisan views of the Covid-19 pandemic in the USA in this light. The coronavirus doesn’t care if the party in power has a “R” or a “D” on its lapel. The coronavirus is entirely nonpartisan in whom it attacks. It is an equal opportunity pathogen. Speaking of the pandemic in partisan fashion simply leaves me mystified.
Worrisome is the fact that science has been disparaged to the benefit of fitting a political dogma with anti-science screeds, disparagement, anti-physician bias (“idiots, self-serving as they make more money if people die”). Even more surprising is that during this partisan year, some people accept such disparagement and even push for avoidance of frustrating mitigation strategies to establish “herd immunity.”
Dr. Paul Klotman, President and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine, took on the Dr. Scott Atlas’ of the world by issuing a prediction, based on current data, that such an approach to abandoning proven mitigation strategies until our population is vaccinated would lead to over 1.2 million American deaths. This calculation is three times the deaths that occurred to Americans during World War II and also during the Spanish Flu pandemic. These are huge and shocking numbers.
Lets also keep in mind that the coronavirus will continue to circulate and science does not yet know how long immunity will last, be it naturally acquired or vaccine induced. Just imagine what such a deluge of Covid-19 patients on our health system would cause.
For starters our hospitals and health care providers would be overwhelmed. People with other illnesses in need of hospital treatment, would not find services available, leading to secondarily related deaths. Routine healthcare and screenings would be diminished. Such an outcome for our country and for our public health strikes this retired physician as totally unacceptable.
Knowing that we all suffer pandemic and political fatigue, I harbor no illusion that I understand how the American election will turn out or the extent of change relating to Covid-19 that will result from the election. While I hope for a healing of our partisan divide along with a strong uniform national policy for mitigating the pandemic, Tuesday’s election will determine our course forward. Following the election let’s hope our citizens can unite behind our common beliefs in America. Let’s be prepared to move ahead.
Our national experience in historical terms is fairly short. We are bound by our amazing Constitution and our Declaration of Independence and much less so by ethnic, religious, and common experiences. Let’s believe in our American system with its rights, freedoms,values, and responsibilities. Lets be prepared to heal the political divisions, no matter who is elected President, and look forward to a brighter future than has been the year 2020.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to write about those rural aspects that fascinate me and look forward tp sharing those stories with my indulgent blog readers.
I must confess to a special distraction that has enthralled both Trudy and me this year- the birth of a new grandson- Teddy O’Neal. There is nothing like new life to provide an uplift for sagging spirits. This gift has greatly benefited our emotional equilibria this year.
Please continue to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus by wearing a mask, by social distancing, by avoiding crowds, via hand-washing and, yes, DO NOT FORGET TO VOTE.
As the days of Covid-19 linger on and my boredom mounts, I find myself focusing energy on unusual topics. Such has been a recent instance of identifying nocturnal intruders who persist in knocking down and destroying our bird feeders. Now my lovely wife, Trudy, holds that my attention to these matters borders on out of control obsessive/compulsive behavior, bordering on maniacal. I simply maintain that I am curious and have strict attention to detail.
In any event, our half dozen or so bird feeders have been repeatedly attacked. I found one or two of them dislodged from their attachments to the tree almost every day, and on occasion destroyed completely. Needless to say, my feathered friends needed me to act. Answers were required.
I began my quixotic enterprise by fastening two borrowed game cameras onto nearby trees and setting out a small live animal trap. Given previous experience with raided bird feeders, I suspected devilishly adept squirrels or raccoons. But keeping my differential diagnosis wide, as we physicians like to do at the outset of a case, I also threw in for good measure, the possibility of Big Foot.
I recognize those who are reading this blog piece immediately discount the possibility of Big Foot. Oh yea of little faith. In addition to Trudy I presented this intriguing possibility of Bigfoot to my good neighbors, Colonel and Mrs. Tom Norris. They too like Trudy had stricken looks on their faces, as if I might just have gone around the bend. Nevertheless, I remained undaunted and full of unrequited purpose.
Evidence of Bigfoot, ostensibly in our front yard
To enhance my case, I began sending pictures to Tom and Linda Norris of suggestive evidence of Big Foot. Who knows but Big Foot could be alive and well in Live Oak Valley, I said. Besides these bird feeders are hung as much as six feet above the ground making them too high for a deer to dislodge and surely too difficult to remove from its metal hanger by even the craftiest squirrel or raccoon. But not too high for Bigfoot to reach, I wager.
A hairy Bigfoot
Besides creating a myth that Big Foot is alive and well in Live Oak Valley wouldn’t do our tourist business any harm in our tourist driven city of Fredericksburg. Needless to say, Trudy and the Norrises remained skeptical despite clear cut pictorial evidence (amazing what you can find online) to support my thesis.
After setting the cameras and baiting the trap with marshmallows, I slept fitfully, not too patiently waiting for the sun to rise. Peering through our kitchen window the next morning at dawn at the live trap within the shadows not more than fifteen feet away, I found the trap had been cleaned out of marshmallows and had caught absolutely NOTHING. Repeatedly, I baited the trap only to find each morning that somehow the trap had been cleaned out of bait but had failed to capture the nocturnal intruder. Surely I thought this was evidence of a sentient creature such as Big Foot.
One of the cameras indeed caught a glimpse of a hairy creature that was mostly outside the frame. Ah ha, surely such a hairy beast must be the skulking Big Foot of Live Oak Valley! Admittedly, it also may have been a raccoon that climbed immediately in front of the camera’s lens.
Realizing that the live trap was rather small, I also wondered if somehow an animal had been able to crawl into the trap, travel to the end where the spring plate was located, eat the marshmallows, and manage somehow to prevent the trap door from falling behind it. To investigate this possibility, I borrowed a larger live trap from my neighbor, Jake Davies.
I again baited the larger trap, set the cameras and waited for my stealthy plan to unfold. Sure enough the next morning I found a rather angry raccoon within the trap, one also in a nearby tree, and the east side of a large raccoon heading rapidly west! Well, two down out of three is not too bad.
One Mad Raccoon. Not my raccoon but representative from the internet
Now I was confident that I could rid my proud dominion of intruding and raiding raccoons. All I needed was a fresh and goodly supply of marshmallows and some patience. To my surprise, days went by without capturing the raccoon. Each day I would steal out of bed early to check the large trap and find that the marshmallows had disappeared. Each evening I would place still more marshmallows at the end of the trap just behind the spring plate that when stepped upon would drop the gate and trap the raccoon.
To my amazement I continued not to capture the raccoon but continued to lose the bait. Finally I determined to make a closer inspection of the trap to determine why it was not functioning correctly. To my surprise, I found wedged under the foot plate, not one, not two, but three limestone rocks. Something or someone had placed these stones strategically such that it was impossible for the foot plate to be depressed and close the trap door. Meanwhile I thought one fat raccoon was wandering about my property with a big sticky marshmallow grin on its face.
Now I ask, has anyone ever seen a crafty raccoon clever enough to disable a live trap? I know they are smart but really… To make matters worse, following removal of the stones and re-baiting of the trap, never again has the trap or the bird feeders been hit.
I believe the raccoon and I have established a truce of sorts at this juncture. The raccoon seems to have given up on the bird feeders and I am about to return the large live trap. Now perhaps I can focus on other somewhat more productive pursuits. Besides, maybe Big Foot still lurks out there somewhere in Live Oak Valley.
What a strange year, this year of Cobid-19, has become. This novel coronavirus has altered everyone’s lives to a degree that I cannot recall ever happening before. While self-isolating for months on end doesn’t compare to the sacrifices made by parents and grandparents during World War II or several other disruptions during the history of the U.S.A., somehow it has still taken a heavy toll on many people.
Recently I spoke to my good friend, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Tom Norris, about this psychological toll on our collective equilibrium. Tom has quite a story to tell. He was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam war and spent five and a half years in various POW camps in North Vietnam. Tom like other American POWs suffered from isolation, poor food, beatings, and various illnesses. Tom is surprisingly open and speaks about his travails but admits that until recently most folks couldn’t understand the impact that a loss of personal freedom has on the psyche of a person. Tom is willing to again speak publicly about his experiences because he believes people will now better understand the impact that the loss of personal freedom has, having experienced it from the self-isolation caused by Covid-19.
Certainly the limited deprivations for most of us during Covid-19 are nothing like those of our Vietnam POWs, but recent experience during the Covid-19 pandemic of not being able to socialize, travel, hug, and attend public events has diminished spirits and caused widespread depression and anxiety. There has been a collective angst during the pandemic for many. Hang tough, this too will end.
Toasting the new Ranch Sign
Fortunately life goes on at the ranch in spite of the pandemic. Spring calving season has come and gone. Cattle prices have fallen due to meat processing plan closings due to Covid-19 and resulting in too many animals in the feed lots. I’ve held onto my yearlings longer than usual, waiting and hoping for a rebound in cattle prices. As such the herd has grown but with plenty of good grass due to Spring rains, all is good so far. Our calf crop has been particularly good this year. The calves are called “smokies” as they are Black Baldy/Charolois crosses.
2020 Spring Calf Crop
My time during the pandemic has been variously spent doing re-writes for my book on Hitler’s health and its impact on World War II, ranch duties, planting a garden, and attending a slew of Zoom meetings. The feeling of restriction did bring about a Covid-19 beard. Am not sure I can explain how this personal protest benefits anything, but somehow it felt like an appropriate expression of my personal angst.
Tom with Covid beard atop Dandy
The bright spot for Trudy and me has been the birth of a grandson, Teddy O’Neal. Yes Katie and Kevin had a child that tempted us out of our seclusion and prompted us to take a trip to Dallas. The proud grandparents were not allowed into the hospital where Katie delivered, but were waiting at home when the expanded family returned. What a treat! New life during the pandemic when tragically so many others have lost their lives. Teddy beams a beacon of hope.
Teddy O’Neal, new life
Teddy and Oma Trudy
I stayed for five days but Trudy stayed on for almost three weeks. She mainly cooked and cleaned but also helped with the 4 am feedings. Needless to say, we are thrilled with little Teddy. The parents while sleep deprived are holding up well. New life, what a treat. Welcome to the family, little guy.
Teddy and a visit from our son and his family have gone a long way to relieving our symptoms of lack of energy, loss of motivation, and general sense of feeling blah. I suppose we are all social animals in need of love, interaction, and outside stimulation. At least that is the formula for happiness at Medicine Spirit Ranch.
So life goes on at the ranch even during the pandemic. Over Memorial Day weekend, we enjoyed our son Andy and his family, and nephew Will, his lovely wife Clare, their one year old, Sherman, and their two Golden retrievers.. Yes, we loosened up on our self-isolation. Part of the fun was watching our grandson, Graham, frolic in the pool with the two energetic Golden Retrievers. This proved an effective antidote for the side effects of self-isolation.