The Sheephead Mountains stood like hooded monks in prayer that early spring midnight; Molly was due to calf and I, half asleep, braved the nippy air to check her progress. Calves seldom came when the powder dung of the stockyards was sunny warm. They slipped into life in the dark hours when Pacific Northers crossed the Sierras flooding the desert, and flooding the corrals. But tonight Orion chased the Pleiades across the sky as Cassiopeia and Andromeda draped the firmament with lantern-treasures. This cloudlessness brought water troughs caked with ice; the ground cracked as I walked. Climbing the fence, from the top rail I searched for my charge. Two hours earlier she had been fat and humped; quietly chewing and snorting frosty air, she had acknowledged me for an instant. I had left her feeling certain she was far from giving birth. But now with a panicked jump, I crossed the pen racing towards a little pile of darkness laid out afresh on the black frozen ground. Spring welcomes pretty things: the bee’s clover with its purple heads like lively ladies dressing up a field, the prickly pear’s splattered palette of colors brushing tapestries on a languid desert floor, the pea fowl’s parade of chicks—clowns and soldiers alike—sanctifying mama’s forty day set, the wiener pigs’ round, rosy and full bodies squeezing one another with playful exuberance against sty walls. So as I lifted the limp, wet, unfull body into my arms to carry it to the barn, I felt no weight
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