Animal Stories

The Memory of Light

By Joanna Lucas, Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary
October 2012

Peaceful Prairie calf veal

The day when his life capsized started like any other. He greeted the small world of the pen where he had spent most of his 120 days on earth, in the usual way, carefully walking around the yard's perimeter, feeling the familiar lines, curves and corners of its borders, brushing his shoulders against the hard wire fence, mapping the cracks, bumps and grooves underfoot with the tips of his hooves, and slowly heading towards the spot where his mother came to see him every morning. There, he stopped and waited, patiently scanning the air for the contours of her sound-face, listening for the grand tuba of her voice, or the muffled drum of her hoofbeats, and sifting the breeze for hints of her scent-face, the better to extend the pleasure of her company by anticipating her arrival.

Pierre was born blind, consigned to live in a world where there is no perception and no memory of light, a world of pure sound, scent, touch, taste and feeling, a world which he knows, as he has to, only intimately, only by the intimations of scent, sound, touch and taste, without any of the distancing afforded by sight. A world he inhabits, as he has to, with imagination, not seeing, but envisioning that which he can never experience; with infinite attention to the meanings, messages and intentions of others; and with the courage to hope.

His mother reached above the fence that separated them and licked his face, his forehead, his neck, cleaning, instructing, scolding, loving and kissing him with every lick of her raspy tongue, while he tried, as always, to suckle, baby that he still is, and he nuzzled the fence along the vast plain of her flank, looking for her udder, puckering his lips in anticipation, trying, and failing, to reach the soft nipple through the wires, and having to contend himself with just standing there, close to his mother's heart, consuming the nourishing substance of her love by touch, scent and sound alone.

And then it happened. The gate of his pen groaned open, heavy bootsteps announced the approach of a strange man, and a scattering of gravel sprayed his knees as his mother charged into the pen, while a silent force pulled him by his halter and lead him over strange ground to the coffin of a trailer that smelled of fear, the fear of the many who had been confined there before him in isolation from their families, and driven to auction or to slaughter. As the truck drove off, drowning his mother's sweet scent-face in a cloud of bitter exhaust fumes, and erasing her voice in the rattle and roar of the engine, he was gripped by dread. If he could imagine darkness, it would sound, smell, taste and feel like that moment.

And that's how his new life began, in the clutch of profound loss, fear and helplessness. It was the day he escaped the execution that inevitably awaits "unprofitable" youngsters like him who are farmed for their flesh, milk or eggs, and who are routinely killed by the cheapest means possible*. It was the day he was brought to sanctuary.

But the bright new world he was entering now, at the end of a terrifying trailer ride, didn't feel like a bright new beginning to him, it felt like the end of everything he loved, knew and trusted, it felt like fear, sadness, absence, bewilderment and despair. He was lost and alone in a strange place, with no guide, no way home and no trace of his mother, no scent, no sound, no thought of hers anywhere. He arrived in a heap of hiccuping, silent sobs. And nothing could console him, not the soft voices, sounds and scents that rose all around him to communicate the inhabitants' peace and tranquility, not the substance of their fluid, free flowing, peaceful thoughts and feelings--that cloud of knowing that surrounded him now and informed him more precisely than sight, and deeper than knowledge--not the kind man who was now gently stroking his back; not the big, jovial steer who was welcoming him at the open gate of the trailer, voicing encouraging grunts as if waiting expectantly for the new baby to emerge into the light, like a midwife poised to catch a crowning infant; not the big, boisterous cow who rushed to greet him, soothe him, and breath her benediction through the trailer window... Nothing. He was choked with the deep, suffocating fear that opened its dark umbrella in his throat, knocked the air out of his lungs, and made his knees buckle, and he wanted only one thing, young child that he is: to be with his mother, to hear her voice, to breathe her warm breath, to drink his fill of the love, nourishment and reassurance of her milk.

Peaceful Prairie calf veal

Pierre remained hunkered down in the farthest corner of the trailer, hugging one of the straw bales that were put there to cushion his ride, and trembling from every inch of his tiny body. Once in a while, he let out a feeble cry, the smothered sob of a lost child. After each one, he paused and listened intently, pressing his ears forward and waiting for a sound, a whisper, the hint of a response, scanning the sound print of every stray rustle caught in the nets of his ears, listening with such focus and absorption, such exquisite discernment, that he seemed to be listening with his whole body, grasping at the straws of any sign of familiarity in the overwhelmingly new and unfamiliar world he had landed in through no choice of his own. But no response came. He waited a long, silent while and then he ventured another cry.

Peaceful Prairie calf veal

But this one was different. It didn't seem aimed at anyone in particular. Maybe it was only meant to release some of the turmoil roiling inside him. Maybe it was a call waiting only for its own echo, a sound-probe of sorts sent to the objects (and persons) of the new world to help him locate himself by the sound waves bouncing back at him. Maybe it was simply his way of presenting his sound-card, his sound-face, to the residents of this new world and, with it, his readiness to face them. Whatever its purpose, it was issued with great force. And, as the trumpet of his neck extended towards the sky, and his mouth opened in a soft funnel, the buds of his teeth flashed their blind light in the darkness of the trailer-eight tiny incisors spaced wide apart, small, bewildered little milk teeth erupting through the bone bed, each as fragile and unstoppable as a crocus breaking through the ice, each as deeply connected to the sensitive root nerve of its being, as to its darkness-piercing purpose.

Peaceful Prairie calf veal

And then he took his first step. He walked into what was the darkest day of his life, aglow like a firefly, illuminating his own way, guided only by the light of his heart, as if that was all the light he needed. 

 

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