Independence died today. Bob died a couple Sunday’s ago. No way to really fathom these breaks in the continuum. The easiest thing is to write if off as farm life, a coming and going among the bovinity. Rents in husbandry. But what about losing a father? I have been chicken about really approaching that in words. The chicken dying today, that fantastically handsome, sleek black, proud and young Independence, the only completely bred and born chicken of the Skyfarm effort, child of the winsome Cecile, our friendly and fervently broody hen who’s mothered so many that weren’t hers – even the heirloom Shaker turkey! – and that sultry cock, Blackie, dropped here in youth by friends who found him roadside, friendly and lovely and looking for the world like a little black bantam hen. But he grew, and one morning he chortled. And the next he crowed. No hen that proud buck. We kept him a week until his early crowing consigned him to a give away to the flock of roosters at our secret integration site up near the mountains of Alta Dena. Over the fence he went to mingle with his own and predawn quiet was restored to our tranquil Skyfarm. But in that week that he was a man he did his duty and soon wee Cecil was contentedly on her very own faintly beating egg. 28 days later, on the 4th of July the little shiny ebony Independence was born. The slight gentility of her Silky mother and the jet black tall comb crested strut of her father. A perfect mix. And now a year and a half later she just went feet up.
Ilse had fed them all this morning at her farmer’s sun-up rounds and everything was fine. Then by 11 when Ilse when out to give the carrot tops to the girls she was stiff as a board. What did her in? There was no markings of any kind of mauling and nothing is getting into their pen, Ilse just battened down the perimeter with a fresh peppering from the staple gun. But she was gone.
That’s the lesson of the farm. And you can expand that metaphor as far as you like. There is a time for all things to go, and in that time they simply go. The less suffering and fanfare of the maudlin aspects of fading away the better. And it seems Bob understood this. They gave him a prognosis of two months before he was bedridden, a year or two before he would expire. He embraced a much more succinct version of the failing future; within 3 weeks he left in his sleep. Relieved of all pain by plentiful medication and with all the necessaries of will and explanation of how to pay the taxes and terrestrial woes tacked up in Oma’s office, he took his leave, being the faintest burden he could be. “Do Not Resuscitate” was on the fridge. He was jovial in his stoned stupor. He said proud things to people as best he could, it was getting hard to understand his speech for the garbling and sedation, but he was out of pain and onto another plain.
His great loves were his work and his family. He was a man of huge mind and in retirement his work had become his mathematical inquiries and his readings into the economy and its politics. His family was his beloved wife of 55 years and the progeny that came spreading out from that union. I photographed them together this summer and the unity was amazing. He was grumpy for all the pain in his lower back that had yet to be diagnosed. But he was so handsome in the photos, being that white haired marvel Opa to his wife’s winsome, almost girl-like playful Oma.They canoed for us, they pushed their antique bikes up through the ferns to the rail trail. And he sat with his granddaughters with a book to read and ice cream as we did make-believe and I directed them. The only worrying elements were his strained energy, his be-grieving back, and those yellow teeth gone so into discoloration they presaged death like nothing else. We were all worried but we didn’t want the dots to connect. Not yet. There still had to be so much time left. He was hale and dedicated to such a healthy lifestyle, and there were yet courses of treatment to complete and a surgeries to dispel the cancer. But that ache in his back…in a back that had not been a bother to him in his almost 80 years. That bad sign was one we didn’t want to accept, didn’t want to embrace as a possibility. The week after we left he had the CTSCAN. It had all moved into his spine. It was bad.
And then, almost easily, with the minimum of fuss and only two nights in the hospital, he came home and saw all his children at his bedside and then he left. All stoic courage and handling what needed to be handled to the very end. He was not chicken about anything. He had foresight and control to the end. That was Bob, great concentration. Like his piano playing, a rollicking and effortless execution.