Friday, May 26, 2006

In Her

In her eyes I see the happiness
In her smile I taste past tears
In her touch I feel the loneliness
In her laughter I hear her fears
In her hair I smell the flowers
In her lips I come undone
In her love I feel the powers
In her beauty pales the sun
In her hands I see hardships
In her voice I hear the love
In her arms my heart skips
In her lowest she's above

December 1999

Friday, May 19, 2006

Remnants Of a Past Life

Along the banks of the Buffalo River, there stands an old cabin that I have visited many times over the past twenty years. Its weathered boards are still fairly sound on the main floor but I haven't tempted fate by climbing the stairs to the second floor for perhaps a decade. During my initial visits, there could still be found some remnants of a past life here and there but the increasing numbers of people hiking past has mostly taken those. Unlike other abandoned cabins of the Ozark Mountains, this one is fairly well known.

An old woman had lived there continuously since 1912 and spent the last 23 years of her time on the 166 acres of river bottomland, alone after her husband passed away. She lived without electricity, telephones or plumbing but found ample comforts in raising her few livestock or tending to her large orchard and garden. But in order to preserve one of the best wonders in the Midwest against certain destruction by damns, a national park was created around the wild and scenic designated Buffalo River and her land was needed. The government bought her out and she was given a date upon which she had to be moved out.

Some say the stress of moving and as she put it, "...givin' up all I've got, all I've ever had," was too much for her. She moved out in late February of 1979 and two days later was hospitalized with a small red pimple on her forehead that had been there for 40 years which had turned into a malignant tumor. After she was released from the hospital, she would live another five months and then was gone though her cabin still stands as a reminder of the past.

Perhaps only a half-mile away, stood another cabin off the trail and out of sight. I only discovered it by chance when I was pioneering a short cut by bushwhacking down the side of a bluff. It is the same age as the other cabin but has experienced a totally different fate. Where the first cabin receives a lot of visitors, the other one doesn't other than myself and perhaps the occasional deer hunter walking through the area. By the time I discovered it, the floors had fallen in but you could still walk around inside and sort through numerous remnants of a past life. The walls had been "wallpapered" with newspaper from the early 1900's and made for interesting reading. Old tools, rusty and frozen, teased the brain as I tried to decipher their use. To my knowledge, no history has been written about the previous occupants and so I have only my imagination to fill in the blank pages.

After ten years of visiting this cabin, the roof finally caved in, meeting with the floor joists and preventing entry. Another decade would collapse the walls on top of the roof, leaving behind a pile of boards and rusty tin that is quickly being swallowed by the forest around it. The old root cellar has collapsed and is almost silted full. All other traces of building have long since disappeared. Soon, even the last traces of cabin will have rotted away and the tin will be buried under vegetation.

The Ozark Mountains are full of these abandoned cabins along old roads that are indistinguishable from the surroundings except for a level bench on naturally sloping mountainsides. Trees some thirty years old now fill the roads where small engined trucks used to grind up the steep switchbacks in reverse. In areas, erosion has wiped the slate clean, leaving no traces behind for hundreds of yards. I have often dreamt that if time travel becomes possible, the first place I would visit would be this area of the Ozark Mountains around early 1900's when they were vibrant and full of life. Back before all that remained were remnants of a past life

Monday, May 15, 2006

Shining On

I was looking at a photograph
Taken in a world so very far away
Sunlight draped across your hair
A smile radiating from your face
Your love shining on

Remember that wind swept mountain
Overlooking the emerald sea
Where I proposed to you on a knee
And asked you to marry me
My love shining on

The fire between us is burning brighter
With each and every passing day
Our first child will soon be here to stay
But one thing will always be the same
Our love shining on

May 15, 2006

Thursday, May 11, 2006

To Believe In This Living Is Just a Hard Way To Go

After surviving the 80's when farmers were forced off the land in droves, my parents decided that they needed to diversify their risks and get into the livestock business. Hog prices at the time were getting higher everyday as "The Other White Meat" advertising campaign was taking off and thus it was decided that raising hogs was the solution. That spring in 1989, my father, brother and I walked up to the end of the lane next to the gravel road and began putting flags into the dirt to layout where the buildings would be. A few months later the dirt work was done and a year after that, we began construction.

The hog operation was to contain 120 sows, a handful of boars and a farrowing/nursery building that could farrow 20 sows a month at two-week intervals. Not huge but not small either. We converted an old hay barn behind the shop into a gestation building where the sows could hang out when not giving birth and generally live it up with the boars. Call it a flophouse if you will.

As a teenage, my modified chore assignment now included the flophouse that I was to clean on a daily basis and make sure all the 'girls' and the handful of 'boys' had adequate food and water. This was largely manual labor scraping out the pens and then carrying and slinging 120 lbs worth of feed in four 'five-gallon' buckets. With my younger brother helping, it took us about an hour every morning. My father helped out occasionally but mostly worked on getting the rest of the day organized and my mother was in charge of the farrowing house and nursery. Most days I didn't go up there unless there was other 'pig work' to do.

The easiest of the pig work was monitoring the sows actively in labor. The gestational cycle for a sow is three months, three weeks and three days on the money so it was pretty easy to calculate. To increase the odds, we gave them a shot of oxytocin on the day before they were due to induce the labor and make it easier to time the births so the next group could be moved in on time. As a sow was giving birth, there was little to do except check in every so often to see how she was doing. If she was a first time mother, you had to check in more often as they tend to get more agitated and were forever jumping up and down. A more experienced sow simply lay down and shot the piglets out. Occasionally there would be quite a space of time between piglets and so I would put on my long rubber gloves and do a check. More often than not, there was a piglet that was caught up in the birth canal and would need to be pulled. Other times the sow was just to tired to do much pushing and so we would assist in the rest of her delivery and/or give her another shot of oxytocin to give her some more energy.

Once the farrowing was over with, there was little to be done for a few days except watch over the newborns. At about two days of age, we would clip their eyeteeth so that they wouldn't chew up their mother or their sibling's tails. Somewhere around three weeks old, they would get their tails docked, their ears notched and if they were male, their "family jewels" removed. The tails were removed to prevent others from chewing on them as they got older. The ears were notched to identify them in the future. For the most part, we only did this to the female piglets that had good genetics (i.e. good nipples and lots of them) that we were going to keep for breeding purposes. The castration was done to ensure the male pigs weren't breeding when they shouldn't be and it is sometimes thought to give better characteristics to the meat after slaughter. (Terminology Note: Female pigs that have yet to get pregnant for the first time are called guilts and male pigs that have been castrated are called barrows.)

To castrate the boars and turn them into eunuchs (barrows), a device was attached to the side of the farrowing crate that would hold the pig into place by clamping around the rear legs. It is very much like a vertical version of the human birthing beds these days and could lock the legs in the spread out position. You would pinch the "jewels" between your fingers to plump them up and with two small incisions with a sharp scalpel, pop the "jewels" out before cutting them loose. All of the various wounds would then be sprayed with iodine to prevent infection and they were turned loose in their pen until about aged three weeks.

At age three weeks, they were weaned from their mothers and put into a nursery where they were put on special feed to help in the transitioning process. They would stay in the nursery for a month (until the next group of weaned piglets was getting ready to be moved in) and then sold as feeder pigs that weighted around thirty to forty pounds. Later, we would build a finishing building where feeder pigs are put and raised until they reach around 230 to 250 pounds and were then sold for slaughter.

My parents raised hogs for about ten years before selling the buildings to a local company to use for raising weaned pigs to finish weight. The farrowing building was converted into just a nursery along with another nursery building built and the flophouse was turned into storage for some of my father's equipment. When the nursery buildings and the finishing house finish the end of their useful lives, they will be emptied, pushed in, burned and buried. The era of my parent's livestock adventure will thus come to an end.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Confusion, But Not of the Gender Kind

“Your baby girl appears to weigh about five pounds and the due date is predicted to be June 10th,” the ultrasound technician told us.

What? We had our third ultrasound yesterday to figure out whether or not our baby was due on June 17th which was our original due date or June 28th which was the modified due date after our first and second ultrasounds. Now they were telling us that it was a week earlier instead of two weeks later? Confusion. So there was nothing to do but wait for the doctor to look at the results and give us his opinion. He was after all, the one who changed it to two weeks later in the first place.

When Doctor B came in, he said right off the bat that he had no idea what the due date was. He said that our baby was in the 85th percentile and only after I asked him did he clarify his statement to say that it was the 85th percentile for weight among babies the same gestational age as ours assuming a due date of June 28th. After questioning him further, he said that for June 17th, our baby would be in the 50th percentile but said it with the tone that it was a bad thing. Doctor B then went into ass covering mode and said that he was keeping the due date as June 28th but that we would go about our appointments and other procedures as if it really was June 17th. We walked out not knowing really anything more than when we went in but we did get another couple pictures of our daughter, gender confirmed for the second time.

On our way home, I started reviewing things in my mind. Ultrasounds produce a due date based upon some measurements taken by the technician. It spits out a date based upon averages measurements taken across a statistical sample of babies around the United States. In the early stages of pregnancy, it can be fairly accurate but our technician at the time has been really quick at taking all the measurements where as this recent nurse took lots of time and redid several measurements twice when the first one didn’t look good enough. But in the later stages of pregnancy, genetics kick in and can skew the results. Our result of June 10th was still based upon averages but since I am taller than average, my daughter could possible skew the results to appear earlier than in reality. Okay.

So then I got to thinking about the meaning of 85th percentile. To me, that means that of every 100 babies, my baby is bigger in size than 85 of them, which would indicate that the due date of June 28th is later than expected. The 50th percentile result assuming gestational age of a fetus with due date of June 15th seems like we are right in the middle of the statistical table or average and yet the doctor dismissed this as bad. One would accept that the doctor knows best except my wife is also a doctor and knows these things. Doctor L, whom we met with last week and who said that all his measurements show the baby is more likely due on June 17th and thus arranged this follow-up ultrasound, also contradicts Doctor B’s findings.

So my wife and I have come to the conclusion that our real due date is on June 17th and that Doctor B thinks he made a mistake but because of all the tests, etc. that the false diagnosis caused us to retake only to get a false positive diagnosis for spinabifida and worry about for over a week until it was discovered to be a false positive, is now covering his ass. Why else would he “pretend” our due date was June 17th just to be on the safe side? When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter. The baby is going to come when it is going to come. But if we end up having to get a c-section because the doctor over estimated the due date simply to save face, I’m going to be a little bit miffed. So according to some doctors, all my research, comparisons to birth calendars based upon conception date (which we also know), our due date is June 17th. Doctor B says June 28th. For either date, there isn’t a lot of time left until we find out who was right.