This is reprinted here without the permission of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, and is just one of the many, many stories of heartbreak publicized on their site. If you care about animals at all, especially after reading this, please visit them and do what you can to help. Because if we don’t, who will?
A Place to Live
He shows up every morning, this small, slight, inky-eyed child. You can see him teetering across the prairie on his absurdly long legs, toiling across tough, tangled, thirstily terrain on his pale hooves, struggling to cross the field that separates the neighboring farm from the sanctuary — a nub of a child, pushing forth on his spindly bug legs, in his tiny bug body, with infinite bug determination — so scanty against the hulking earth, so tender under the bleak sky, so unprepared for the demands of the journey, yet so determined to undertake it. Nothing deters him until he reaches his destination: a thorny scrap of scorched dirt on the sanctuary border where the fence wires are slightly bent, stretched and loosened. There, he stops with a sigh in his body, with a hitch in his shoulders, as if tossing an invisible burden. He gazes into the green distance, swaying gently from side to side, shuffling his small feet, sniffing the breeze for news of the free animals, focusing exclusively on the remote spot where he last saw the sanctuary cows disappear the day before, and ignoring everything else: the thirst, the hunger, the blistering sun, the burning prairie winds, the stings of angry fire ants.
He comes a long way to get to this thankless place. There are mean fields to cross and gaping ditches to sidestep, and snarls of barbed wire to wrestle, yet he makes the trek every day, in all kinds of weather, without fail and without complaint as if that bitter spot on the sanctuary border can give him something he cannot get anywhere else — a refuge, a remedy, or at least a reprieve.
He is the sole survivor of a “grass-fed beef” herd. Left behind in the commotion of “auction day”, in the terror and thrashing of families being torn apart, in the deafening roar of mothers and children calling out for each other and, most deafening of all, the cries of his own mother being beaten, shocked, dragged into the truck as she begged for his life and hers.
He’s here now. Standing there, in that forsaken border patch, with something resembling faith, waiting quietly, patiently, perched on long legs that stretch down like roots, straining for the deep waters, reaching for a new life. Once in a while, he extends his neck, throws his head back and opens his mouth as if to bellow out a mighty cry, but no sound comes out, only a series of hissed, raspy breaths, the voiceless sobs of a child who cried himself mute. He keeps calling his soundless pleas, mouth open in silent despair, eyes widened in anguish that verges on sound, as if someone can, will, must hear him.
And someone does. A barely audible response in four different voices comes from the far reaches of the sanctuary: Juliette, Ember, Justice and Bumper. And, with that one faint, barely discernible sound, everything changes. His eyes glisten, his shoulders straighten, his body shimmers with anticipation. He becomes larger, stronger, brighter, steadier as the sanctuary cows amble slowly towards him, bringing the windfall of their loving presence to his lonely existence.
And, finally, they’re there. Within his reach! They stick their long necks through the fence, bending and stretching and loosening the wires in the process, they bring their large, generous, benevolent persons into his lonely existence, they surround him with something that feels and heals like love, they breathe him, they lick his sad face, they moo sweet, reassuring things in his ear, they caress his mute throat with their raspy tongues until they love a small sound out of it again—a whisper, a whimper, a sigh of relief, perhaps not relief from sorrow but relief that his sorrow is finally heard.
He responds to affection with affection, to warmth with warmth, to joy with joy. He nuzzles Ember’s face, he rubs his cheek against Juliette’s neck, he tries to attach the entire length of his bitty body to Justice’s ample side. He basks in the warmth of their nurture and protection, he freezes in delight. This is the substance he needs more than food, more than water, more than shelter, more than the comforts of the body when his soul is in turmoil—this substance that feels like love. He lies down on his side of the fence and they lie down on theirs, inching as close to him as possible, their massive flanks and backs touching his slight, skinny frame through the fence. They doze off, they dream together for a while, sharing the living, happening moment, passing thoughts and understandings from mind to mind. And then, as if driven by an invisible force, he unfurls his lanky legs, leaps to his nubby feet, shakes his head, wags the wild reed of his tail, and starts running puppy laps up and down the fence, bucking, kicking, bouncing, leaping, playing pretend games, chasing imaginary friends. A child again.
He lives there. In that harsh, wounding place that batters his body and wrenches his heart. It’s the only place in the non-vegan world where he can get a meager measure of happiness, warmth, love, hope. The only place in the world where his heart ekes out a song. For a brief moment. Eventually, inevitably, Justice, Juliette, Ember and Bumper get up and walk away, back to their lives, called by the fullness of their own free lives that make their own demands, that call to be lived and experienced to the fullest. Juliette is the last to leave, she lingers a while longer next to this thumb of a child, perhaps reminded of her own lost baby, and of all the times when she left the safety of the sanctuary and ran back to the farm where her calf was caged and crying, and risked her own life only to bring him a measure of comfort. But, soon, she gets up too and ambles off with the others. He watches them walk away, quietly at first but then, when he finds himself alone again—alone in the blistering fields, alone under the shattering sky, alone in the bitter pit of his life, he resumes his mute cries, his chest heaving and wrenching with each new silent sob.
We try to comfort him but he rejects our offerings of food, water and affection. He doesn’t need human consolation, he needs human restraint, human decency. He doesn’t want what humans have to offer, he wants what humans have taken away for a taste of burned flesh—his home, his family, his future, the freedom to live out his life and pursue its wonders. His whole being is focused on the spot where Justice, Juliette, Ember and Bumper are slowly disappearing from view. When he can no longer see them, he folds himself in the tight curl of his body, clutching himself in his own meager embrace against the sadness that is to come, the sadness that is already there, batting its black wings at him, pressing itself into his pores. He furls himself into a tight coil but sticks the tips of his hooves past the fence, as if trying to get a small part of himself into the sanctuary. The bulk of his body is anchored on the farm but the tendril of his tail, the buds of his hooves, the nub of his muzzle make it into the sanctuary, reach, touch, live on the other side.
By evening the “farmer” will come and wrangle him back to the farm. By morning, he’ll teeter back over the field again, all legs and elbows, and he’ll park himself in that same blistering spot again, under the same withering sun, and he’ll issue his silent sobs again, pleading to be held, to be helped, to be heard. We’ll offer him food, water, affection knowing full well he’ll reject all, and we’ll witness again his faithful vigil at that spot in the fence where the wires are bent, stretched and almost ready to give, where the seemingly insurmountable barrier between two worlds has been loosened by such gentle and relentless straining, and struggling, and sobbing, and wrestling, and grasping, and yearning, and loving, and hoping, and reaching through to the other side.
© 2010 Joanna Lucas