I came in the house one afternoon. Sam looked like somebody had beaten him up badly. He was as white as a sheet and yet his eyes seemed dark. I thought somebody had punched him given the black and blue shadows around both eye sockets. His head sunk below his shoulders.
“What happened to you?” I asked. He said, “Nothing.”
More than a week passed before he spoke about it. He was sore. He could hardly move. Both hands seemed lifeless and still. He could hardly lift his coffee cup. His head hung low.
“Are you gonna tell me the truth about what happened?” I asked angrily one morning. The sudden change in his demeanor and mood scared me. All the spirit had been kicked out of him.
“I told you. I told you and everyone else. I fell over a rock,” Sam said.
I didn’t’ believe him.
“Why do you have to ask?” he demanded.
“Something is not right.” I knew there was more he wasn’t telling me.
“I got my hand in the wrong place while feeding that cow. Okay?” He stared into my eyes and I saw he was scared. “She pulled her head back and snapped my wrist. I pulled it back and she swung her head to and fro. Then she head-butted me and I did a backwards somersault and landed hard on that rock out there. I think I broke both my wrists. And my neck.”
His confession meant he had already made up his mind about what to do. Three years old now, these buffalo were too big to handle as domesticated pets any longer. He knew he would end up dead if he weren’t extremely careful. They were ready for to sell for breeding stock.
He didn’t want to do it. He had to do it. Within 10 days Sam had sold his black bull and three cows. Convincing them to get on the trailer was another matter entirely.
Sam spent days coaxing one animal at a time onto the trailer. When the buyer, George Reynolds, arrived with his trailer he brought six grown men and they brought black tarps. They tried to corral them with the tarps stretched between them, but George found himself squished between two cows and then suddenly dumped to the earth with four bison trampling him.
“Okay, Out of here. I’ll do it myself.” Sam responded to George’s fall.
Sweet grass and tender greens enticed the bull onto the trailer calmly at dusk. Sam swung the gate closed. He phoned George and he came and drove the bull away. He returned with the trailer after dark.
The next day the three cows kept their distance from the trailer parked at the gate where the hay bales came through routinely. As the sun began to set, the smell of fresh cut Timothy hay induced the dominant cow onto the trailer. Sam had sat patiently for hours waiting for the moment. She started chewing the fresh cut grass and the gate swung shut.
Again George drove home to Glenwood Farms with his new buffalo and returned the empty trailer. Sam desperately wished both girls would get on and we could be done with this. No such luck. When Sam took a close look at the trailer in the morning light he discovered that cow had ripped the metal gate and broken it.
Sam welded the trailer back together. He filled the front compartment with fresh cut hay and sprinkled a custom fitting ration of 16% protein on the floor. It got hot that afternoon. Those girls were not going to be fooled. They stayed away from the trailer.
Their paddock had no grass left; it was eaten down to the roots. There wasn’t much food available except inside the trailer. They didn’t trust it. Sam waited until long past dusk before he gave up. They chomped on the old round hay bale they had been using as bedding. They wallowed in the dirt and dust.
It wasn’t until it started to cool down with the sun setting the next day that one of the cows got hungry enough she walked onto the trailer for the sweet hay. Sam pulled the gate after waiting patiently for more than an hour. Premature. She bolted off.
Sam came in for supper. Just as darkness began to descend, he quietly went out again and waited. Slam shut. I heard it. The gate closed. With a phone call, George came to retrieve his trailer with yet another bison aboard.
The last cow was feeling her loneliness. She had tasted just enough green grass and experienced enough stress to give her a bad case of diarrhea. We had passed the fecal test, but I worried about her health. Too smart for her own good. She wasn’t going to get on that trailer. All the others had disappeared and she was the only one left.
Sam wouldn’t give her more hay or grain. She needed to be hungry to convince her, to coax her. There was plenty of water. Indeed it rained for two nights and the water trough flowed over. Sam got up into the trailer and called her. To no avail.
I took several beets and parsnips from last year’s harvest and threw a trail of treats from the middle of the paddock to the trailer. I knew within hours she would discover these treats and be on her way.
Cousin Tommy drove down the driveway in his pickup truck and distracted the cow from getting on the trailer. Sam had gotten so discouraged, he’d laid down to take a nap. The pain and exhaustion after struggling for days to accomplish this one very difficult task was getting to him. It was almost over. Sam told Tommy and I to sit still here at the table until he came back in.
Ten minutes Tommy and I talked about nothing. Waiting. Then I heard the gate slam shut. She was in. Sam walked through the door and went straight to the phone. Reynolds was on his way to pick up the last of Sam’s babies. When he drove away, Sam went in the house and went to bed without supper.
He spent the next day fixing fence and creating a passage for the fallow deer to cross over the buffalo paddock and onto the high grass in the big pasture. When he opened it up, he sat down and waited for the buck to explore. All three hung back in their barren, shady pasture near the large round bale of hay.
Sam came in for supper and then went back out coax them over with some grain. All he has to do is pick up those buckets and their heads popped right up. Darkness set in but the deer weren’t moving when we could see them.
At dawn I let the dogs out and immediately noticed the fallow deer in the high grass near the gate staring at us. Since the two does were pregnant I was curious to see if they had their fawns overnight. I put the dogs back in the house and walked all along the fence line looking.
I didn’t see anything and the three deer were peacefully grazing. One doe was noticeably thinner. I walked the perimeter of their previous pasture. There hidden between some branches near a tree trunk lay a curled up fawn. It didn’t even lift its head. It just stared at me. Then blinked.
I quietly tiptoed back to bed and whispered my congratulations to the new papa. Sam got up and had coffee. Then he put his boots on and went out to check on the new baby. He walked the fences to make sure there were no holes or places where coyotes or foxes could get in to the paddocks and pasture.
The next day Sam was certain the fawn had disappeared. He suspected a fox who had killed a Whitetail fawn up along the lane. The fox had two babies this spring and they were hungry. He walked through the tall grass and looked everywhere inside the fencing.
It wasn’t until late the following afternoon that I spotted the fawn in the middle of the pasture. You can’t see the middle section unless you get far enough away and then it requires good distance vision.
Two days later Sam spotted the fawn for himself. He fretted that the fawn wouldn’t make it. The truth is, he was sinking into sadness.
It rained. The grass kept growing fast and we waited for a second fawn well into July. The weather was unseasonably cool and rainy. Every time the rain drops started to fall I felt the silent sobs inside Sam’s heart.
When the clouds covered the sky, when the temperatures remained cool, when the sun didn’t shine, Sam slept. It rained. Sam slept. He went to bed earlier and earlier. He took a nap after several cups of coffee in the morning. I’d finding him napping in the middle of the afternoon. When it was time to get dinner on, Sam would lie down in bed and ask me to wake him when it was on the table. He’d eat and then go to bed for the night. He slept more than 12 hours a day when the daylight hours were at their longest.
Sam was practicing death. He wished he were dead. His neck hurt. Mowing on the tractor or the lawnmower required him to strain it further. The headaches made him irritable and uneasy. Everything he tried to do hurt his wrists. He stopped being stoic. He didn’t think he had any reason to get up in the morning anymore: his buffalo were gone. Sam knew they had broken him. I knew he had enough sense not to let them kill him.