The day had started out easily enough – it was hot, however a light breeze was coming in every now and then to cool both the horses and riders down. A half dozen young riders had tacked up their horses early that morning, warmed them up in the corral and ridden towards Oglala without a problem. One of our young riders noted to himself something interesting he observed with a cow when we were tacking up- but for whatever reason, chose not to say anything.
The horses, this time of year, tend to be a little more frisky than normal – not having been ridden for most of the winter and super charged up on the nutrient rich grass that covers much of the reservation in the Spring. And so, when the riders came back in – with no bumps or bruises, we thanked the horses, gave gratitude for a good ride and readied to go back to base camp, shade and ice water. . . until our wrangler noted that there was a cow lying under a nearby shade tree, looking mighty distressed as one tiny calf hoof and one miniature calf tongue appeared from its reproductive regions. Well, that neither looks comfortable nor the way it should be, we all noted.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is an extraordinary place for so many reasons. The bluffs, rolling hills, magnificent culture and historical significance have drawn so many for generations. The rural and remote nature of it is (for many) a breath of fresh air when the chaos of daily life begin to take their inevitable toll. Those same qualities also tend to help visitors learn to appreciate the conveniences normally taken for granted, one such convenience being…veterinarians. There are NO veterinarians on the 3,000 square mile Pine Ridge reservation. And so, when one sees a cow trying to give birth to a calf --- and the only body parts that are showing or moving are a tiny hoof and a tiny tongue ---- and mama is clearly in distress and not able to push her calf out, then one does what one does.
So, we grabbed a rope – two actually. One to rope and help hold mama down and the other to loop around the exposed hoof and pull. And so, pull we did.
Now, I’m not sure what a veterinarian would have done to rescue that calf and to help the mother. I’m not sure what the chances were of a live birth, given that the calf’s tongue and hoof had been observed three hours prior. I’m not sure if the calf is grateful to have been freed or angry that we didn’t let it stay right where we found it before we roped and pulled. I do know that the bellowing of the mother cow and the sweet and startled mooing of that calf when it came flying out covered in birthing fluid was among the sweetest and happiest sound I had in a long time..
I also know that I am grateful every day for the lessons learned on Pine Ridge; the experiences gained; the people – and animals – that we meet.
René Duamal once spoke about similar experiences and lessons learned when mountaineering and they seem especially applicable to my experiences, over the decades, on Pine Ridge: “You cannot stay forever; you have to come down again. So, why bother in the first place? Simply just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” And so it is.
Post Script-- Both mother and baby are doing great!
By Dave Ventimiglia
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