Bodies and burning

Our lovely neighbour, Pat, rang a few weeks ago to say that there was a dead Jersey cow in the river by the electric fence which attempts to keep her cows on her property and ours here.

Of course I had to go and see which one of my beautiful girls had left us.  It was our lovely Heidi, Mother to the gorgeous Patch.  She must have slipped down the steep bank (what was she doing there?) and broken her back or neck and drowned in only 8 inches of water.

I didn’t really cry.  Do we become immured to death eventually, seeing as much as we do?  Or is it that once the spark of life – the soul, spirit, call it what you will – has left the body, that person, animal, being that we knew and loved is gone.  All that is left is the flesh.  Flesh and skin we have loved, for sure, but without the animus or force of life, it is just a body to be dealt with.

Ged pulled her out of the river with the tractor and a chain and then pushed her into a big old pile of logs several owners before us left behind.  She forced us to light it up and feed it day after day, creating a beautiful clearing next to the bees, opening up the landscape near the spring fed dam.  I asked Ged to remove her horns for future biodynamic preparations, and they’re sitting on a tin roof over the calf shed, hollowing out.

On my walks on the other side of the farm I had a few whiffs of something dead as I turned down the track for home, but hadn’t thought to investigate.  Then Ged asked ‘have you seen Bonnie?’  I hadn’t and went looking.  I found her lying so peacefully with legs straight out under a giant tallowwood tree.  As beautiful in death as in life despite the maggots in her eye sockets.  Golden all over and with creamy hair like eyeliner round her beautiful brown eyes.  She was gone.  Another Jersey cow that we had bought and bottle fed and loved and nurtured.  Another body to be moved and burnt.

Ged pushed her into another old pile but with the fire bans everywhere we didn’t dare light it up.  I forgot to ask about the horns and he didn’t think to get them.

Two cows gone out of our small herd – that is a huge loss.  But more than that, these girls were our friends.  We knew them so well, loved them so deeply and now they are gone from us for ever more.  Poof!  Snuffed out, gone in an instant, with no chance for goodbyes.  Life is so fragile, nature so cruel sometimes.  We have no idea what happened to Bonny.  We will never know.

And then there was Gypsy, who I had renamed Mythri (Friend & Comforter) when Ged brought her onto the farm 6 years ago.  She was a huge (17hh) grey thoroughbred mare who he found starving in the last big drought on a friend of his father’s farm and rescued.  She was a wild child.  Terrifying.  She double barrelled the side of the red Pajero when it was still my road car and Ben was just a tiny baby.  She scared my two horses witless when she first arrived and they swam the river to get away and finally went missing and ‘bush’ for days.  She was a two faced bitch.  When she finally calmed down and I wasn’t so scared of her, she would be that friend and comforter to me when I was upset, but meanwhile she was vicious in thought and word and deed to my horses.  We had to keep them apart for years.  Two on 200 acres, and two on the other 200!

But eventually, on some very bad advice from a so called animal communicator, we put them together.  She killed Baby.  She was so foul to her and Baby couldn’t bear her life with Mythri in it so she got cancer and died. She couldn’t help it.  She was lovely in her heart but she had been so damaged in her early life and she was so jealous and bitter and she couldn’t bear that I loved Baby so much.  Baby had everything she ever dreamed of and she thought by getting her out of the way, she could have me and my love.  But it didn’t work like that.

She was a bully and the herd dynamic was so different whenever she was in it.  She and Brave would swim the river and end up on the Pitt Street Farmer’s place every time they were together on ‘the other side’.  And she had cancer.  First just protruding growths all around her anus and vulva and then a lump that got ever bigger on her throat gland.  It was all through her.  Lump after lump appeared.  The writing was on the wall.  But she looked so well.  Ged wanted to shoot her a year ago but I kept saying ‘she looks great, she’s fine, she’s happy, she’s well’.

But last week after the hoof trimmer had been I let her out with all the horses on the other side, and sure enough, within a day she had led Brave on a merry expedition to the mad, bad neighbour’s place.

We retrieved Brave easily but Mythri resisted all attempts at capture.  Ged went out alone on Sunday morning and caught her.  He said that when she did a poo she groaned with pain.  It was time to do the dastardly deed.  When he came home it was done and he was devastated.  He shot her in the same pile where Bonny was.  In the drizzle and dark that night we did our best to pile up a good pyre around her big grey body and get a fire going.

It has been my job this week to feed that fire which was neither big nor hot enough to get rid of such a big body.  I have seen sights this week that firemen, police officers and paramedics have all seen many times before.  Charred flesh.  That sweet sickly smell.  Bones in the ashes.

I have done my best by her, talking to her all the time, sending her spirit to the light, sorrowing over her body, together with my beautiful Bonny girl.

It has been horrible.  But somehow we just deal with death and the gritty reality of disposing of bodies.  Can’t let grief get in the way.  And what I have learned this week is that once the soul is gone, and just the body remains, it is just flesh and organs and bones.  And the spirit who inhabited it, looking on from the starry realms, would rather that it was made use of rather than just disposed of.  That the body had purpose in some way rather than being left in the ground to rot or using up valuable finite resources to be burnt in a building that will always have connotations of the holocaust for me.

At least Bonny, Heidi and Mythri forced us to get rid of other people’s old rubbish piles and clean up our land.  But still the waste of a life is harrowing.  Every death is a body blow and heart felt.  How and where and why doesn’t matter when faced with the soul-less body to deal with.  Just as many of we humans would rather our flesh and blood were used for the greater good when we are gone

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