The usual peace and quiet on our farm has been anything but the last few days. The time has come to wean foals from their mothers and they are all protesting loudly about the separation, day and night. This is always a difficult time every year, rattling my senses more than usual because I am in the process of being weaned as well. Their cries echo deeply in my unsettled heart. As the mares stand at the field gate calling to their babies stowed safely in the barn, I know they want them back for their own comfort–mostly to relieve swollen painful udders. They also need to know their babies are safe and content. This feeling I know all too well.
We’ve recently delivered our second child back to college, even farther from home than our first child chose to go. It was a difficult leave taking in many ways, primarily because I wasn’t as prepared as I hoped to be. I still want that comfortable feeling of knowing my children were tucked safely under my wings. It just doesn’t seem possible they don’t fit there as easily as they used to. My children certainly understand that better than I as they are the ones feeling crowded and anxious to leave, ready to embark on independent adult lives.
An unexpected preparation took place recently when we took several of our Haflingers to a regional fair for a week’s stay. We moved into covered outdoor stalls that stand empty 51 weeks of the year, but for this one week, the stalls are decorated and built up with fluffy shavings, and the horses shined to a gloss. The night before the fair was to open, I was sweeping the area in front and discovered a barn swallow’s nest had been built in the rafters right above where the public would be standing to pet our horses. The pile of bird droppings had heaped high on the cement and the nest was full of chirping fledglings all prepared to produce more where that had come from. It was an inconvenient and potentially messy spot for a nest’s front porch so I carefully lifted it and its chirpy contents from the front rafter and placed it on a back rafter above one horse’s stall. It was a minor move of about 10 feet, but that proved to be a major obstacle for two dedicated swallow parents who had five noisy hungry mouths to feed. I hoped I had not completely disrupted this little family’s world.
It took about an hour for the swallow parents to decide they couldn’t bear to listen to their displaced babes’ cheeping any more, so they swooped into the stall with insects to feed five gaping mouths, putting aside their indignation at the semi-eviction and the objectionable human and horse smell all over their home. They felt compelled to care for those offspring, no matter what the dangers may be.
It became quite the show stopper during the week as people leaned over the stall gates to pet our horses and a swallow would swoop right past their ear on its way to the nest. We watched those five babies grow fluffier over the course of the week, and several times had to rescue one or another from a horrible fate under a horses’ hoof as the birds bumped and jostled each other out of the crowded nest. By the end of the week, they were not yet flying but they were able to sit independently next to the nest on the rafter beam and a few days later when I went back to check on them, they were already gone, the nest feather-lined and poop filled, looking a bit forlorn and terribly empty, no longer a comfortable fit for a family that had outgrown it.
A barn swallow is more resilient than I am about letting their offspring go. Even my mares are slowly settling into the knowledge their youngsters are now on their own and perfectly capable of taking care of themselves in the big world. I am not nearly so settled with my children’s transition to adulthood. Yet I know it must come. It’s not just about the inevitable resolution of the uncomfortably swollen udder, but in time to feel the calm and quiet fullness in the heart of the wholly weaned.