In a little less than four days, the location of my measurement for the snowpack in the meadows went from twelve inches to dry ground. The date was April 20th. According to the wives’ tale, spring should have arrived on April 16th, but with the additional snowfall early in the month, the estimate missed the mark by a few days. However, when spring truly arrived a few days ago, it arrived overnight with warmth. The outer edges of the lawn appeared and turned green in what seemed like a matter of hours. The hyacinths, crocus, and jonquils suddenly appeared and have begun inching toward bloom. Drainage off the hillsides began rushing through the culverts under the country road literally in twenty-four hours. The ditch traveling through the barnyard flooded and two mallards found a temporary home. A pair of sandhill cranes stood in my neighbor’s meadow, the robin perches on the top fence rails, and a bald eagle flew above the cottonwoods over the Elk River near the arena. However, the most exciting sign of spring here on the ranch was the arrival of the first of our six foals last Saturday and the arrival of the second, Flo’s baby, today.
The phone call was from Pete. “Hey, Flo’s having her baby. She just started. The feet are out but that’s it.”
Closing out my document and grabbing my camera, I said, “I’ll be out.”
Peeking over the stall door, Pete and I looked at Flo quietly waiting for her foal to complete the birthing process. The sack had torn, he laid with his body half in and half out of his mother. Flo rested patiently, as if she were both a young mother and old mid-wife all in one: patient, alert, knowingly waiting for the natural process to take its course. The small foal, a buckskin, with a small white blaze, waiting for the next contraction, scrambled with his front feet at times, leaning to one side and the other working to release himself from his mother, the birthing sack still partially wrapped around his hips. Flo laid still, waiting and watching, looking as though she knew it would just be a matter of time: the foal knew what to do, she just needed to allow him time to make his way.
Within a matter of minutes, the foal had separated and had begun the instinctive process to stand and nurse. Through a process of trial and error, repeated attempts to throw his front feet out in front of him, steady himself, and then instantly gather up his hind legs, the foal eventually managed to stand, if all for a brief second the first time, losing his balance and falling. After a brief respite, he tried again and succeeded, his legs ever so wobbly underneath him, the neurons waking up and firing continually as he worked to master the steadiness to nurse. As he worked his way through this process, Flo carefully licked and nuzzled just enough each time to stimulate his nervous system, saying, “I know you can do this, you need to do this.” The colt finally stood, wobbled alongside his mother, and instinctively began attempting to nurse.
Pete and I left the two alone knowing once the colt was up and had nursed, the important milestones had been met. We don’t always see the live birth of our foals. But each time we are privileged to witness it, we remember that the life cycle is a powerful force, one in which there is this amazing miracle and gift of a new life.