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We shipped our calves over a month ago and I only now sit down to write about it. Not that I haven’t had the time or the desire, but because I once again had to process and accept what happens on that day. I captured many images on October twenty-sixth, but this one strikes a painful chord with me every time I look at it. And it’s not just the lone bawling mother that eats at my heart. Although classifying her as “lone” is hardly a good characterization since the mother cows rotate themselves to the front of the herd and then back again, each one letting out a forlorn sound that fails to bring to them what they are after. She represents many others with the same sentiments.

The heartbreak and hope she projects also includes the landscape in which she is in. The West (and Montana in particular, from my perspective) had and still does have a wealth of writers that refer often to the importance of place and the impact it can have on shaping who we are. So when I look at this picture, I don’t see just a lonely, anguished cow (how’s that for personifying an animal?), but I see a landscape that has multitudes of experiences that lead to where me, and my family, find themselves today.

I see an old fence, strung many years ago, now rusty with age, that holds the cow-calf pairs on their last evening together. I see russian olive trees in my favorite creek (crick) that are symbols of the 19th and 20th century settlements of this land for they are not native, and they do not belong, but they add texture and life to the landscape. I see a prairie that extends for miles before you would find an inhabited homestead. And most favorite for me I see the fringes of the Sheep Mountain divide, which, on days where the cloud cover and sunlight are just right, remind me of the rolling Appalachians of my youth.

Most of all, though, I see a landscape that has incomparable beauty and heartbreak, all at once, all working together to make life a beautiful and fulfilling experience. I play the role of part-time rancher’s wife willingly and mostly joyfully throughout the year, but on this one day, I tend to withdrawal a bit from the action and prefer to take pictures to keep my mind on something else. I am, after all, a mother. Her pain is my pain on this day and once she forgets and her babe forgets, I also move on, ready to start the beautiful cycle of life all over again.

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