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February 2009

More than once have I been startled while writing at the kitchen table by the old familiar smell of scorching wool.  I'd then rush to the stove.  Pull her away and immediately pour a glass of cold water on her fleece.  Lambs.  Lambs.  Lambs.  Maddening.  She is, bottle fed, much larger than her twin sister.  Still nursing on their big old Horned Dorset dam.  The milk and eggs diet I've been feeding her seems to be successful. She eats second cutting hay from a burgundy painted basket in the wood room where the bottle lambs have begun to spend the day.  Evenings are spent in the warmer kitchen.


            There is another tiny lamb in the kitchen this evening.  An accident victim.  The bell in my mind that, on occasion, says go down there now, and I went to the barn on an off time. There, trapped under something quite heavy was, does this have to be so frequent a part of the story, one of my more charming little lambs.  She is one I've told you about, whose mother has the voice of a foghorn.  She wasn't moving.  I was certain she was dead.  Left the lower gate open while racing to lift the wood off of her.  Of course some sheep raced up the stairs.  I followed with the limp dishrag of a lamb in my arms.  Called Glencora to drive the renegade sheep back downstairs.  Closed the new remarkably efficient trap door on them and hurried to the kitchen.  I tubed the lamb with some dissolved baby aspirin, espresso coffee, milk and corn syrup.  Five hours later there was a sound from the fleece lined basket.  Alive!  She's been bottled.  Climbed out of the basket dragging one leg.  Shall live.  And managed to stay standing for a minute or two after I helped her up.  With any luck she will only have a bad bruise.  No bones seem to be broken in her legs.  I hope none are broken in her back or hip.  She is a lamby kind of lamb.  One ear flopping. Chunky.  Nice.  I'd find her curled up in odd places in the barn, her mother not far behind her.  She always has made one notice her.  Her name shall be Pricilla MacGuillicuddy if she makes it. Pricilla.  Farm life is often confusing.  Bittersweet. 


            This is the time of day that requires courage.  The moment between day and night.  The day having provided its own version of no longer remedial problems, and the night rapidly moving in with its own newly created version.  It is nearly dusk in these waning days of winter.  By the time you are reading this we shall have passed the mid point mark between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  It is a sliding scale downward after that.  To what?


            I've always loved the word Candlemas.  And forget, on a regular basis that it is the name of a holiday celebrated on February second, commemorating the mid-point of winter.  Michealmas is easier to remember.  That is September 30th, a holiday that is reflected in our own Michealmas daisies, the New England Aster, transported to the "old country" from here but it is Candlemas that I struggle to remember.  No clues there.  Tonight the query sent me racing to Carol Field's Celebrating Italy. Sure enough!  In this remarkable history and narrative combined with recipes was enlightenment.  As well as some special dishes to prepare for what we call Ground Hog Day.  I prefer Candlemas.  Oh were I able to carry closer to the forefront of my mind all that exists buried deeply in layers somewhere.  I have within me the ability to create the most interesting of lives, and yet allow my mind to be clouded by worry.


            There is a very nice fire gleaming in the fireplace.  The first since Christmas.  It has been unusually warm outside, a decent, quite respectable 30 degrees most of the afternoon.  Some firewood arrived.  To my amazement.  Dry enough at that!  The living room temperature rose to 38 degrees in three hours!  I can actually sit in it.  Yesterday's lamb has lived.  And today's lamb is huge.  Her mother in her infinite wisdom ensconced herself in the mid level of the barn where I've housed mothers and their young just before she freshened!  How she escaped the barnyard where she was living is utterly beyond me. 


            I had nicely braided some I'm-keeping-you necklaces for a pretty pair of ewe lambs and their dam, and a "maybe" braid for a Friesian ewe's little ewe and her mother and went down to my "mom's" room to dress them.  There was still another lamb! Her deep voiced roar is a familiar one to me.  She is a plain sheep.  Ordinary.  Not particularly beautiful in any way.  A sheepy kind of sheep.  And, an excellent mother.  If her nice, chunky little lamb with the yellow tinge on its fleece, indicating, by the way, a difficult birth, is a female, I was too engrossed in catching and putting necklaces on the others to check this little one with the crumpled ear, I'll keep her as well. 


            It is getting to be that time again, the time to choose who shall spend their lives with me here on the farm.  Or perhaps it is really I who shall spend my life with them.

            My favorite died in an accident that was, as in all true accidents, unforeseen and unpreventable. My ancient Horned Dorset had a daughter three years ago, who, only this year began to develop horns.  Her sire is a Fresian cross, William Greenleaf Sire, who has a very fine set of horns himself.  Last summer she sported what was on one side merely a spur, the other, a rounded inconsequential slightly larger one.  By this winter they had become a pair of rather odd, rounded, thickish, somewhat unattractive looking protuberances.  She was in the lambing level of the barn.  I had thought she had lost her lamb because, until yesterday, I'd never seen her with one since the dreary night that I dragged her inside with it a couple of weeks ago.  She is a wild creature in her nature, and like her mother, or like her mother used to be, quite wary of me.  In other words, one of the untouched by human hands types.  Yesterday, to my despair, I found she had tangled one horn in the marketing necklace around the neck of my prettiest lamb.  It died.  Sometimes I can't stand it. 


            My only remaining black fleeced sheep has worked her way into the lambing area as well.  She has been filling out and seems to be bagging.  With any luck I'll soon have a lamb out of her.  The lost her summer lamb.  Another favorite.  Summers are a treacherous time here for lambs on this farm.  I'm pleased to see she has been bred back. 


            This winter has encompassed a relentless missing component.  Everyone I know has been complaining, bitterly.  There has been, however, an element of hope entering into the farm.  The barn, at least two thirds of it, has been hoed out to the ground and is in the process of being redesigned and rebuilt.  When finished, it shall function far better than it did before it lost its South wall, a long time ago.  Three winters of the manure pack has been spread on my fields, something for which I am deeply grateful.  Perhaps I shall see some rich new growth emerging because of it.  But even more important is the redesigning of the interior of the barn.  And that is of great interest to me.  One half of the stanchion enclosing the aisle has been removed in order to complete the excavation of said pack.  I haven't thought through the best way to organize the space, however.  Tomorrow I hope to have a consultation with my barn expert about its possibilities.  There is now a wide open area about thirty by twenty feet that can be reconfigured.  The new north side doors to the barn shall be built in the same style that the two big main doors were originally constructed.  I want them to look as if they have always been there.  The only variation shall be a practical one.  A people door.  I need a quick mode of entry rather than having to open ten foot wide doors and risk letting the whole flock out.   At first I thought it need be only as wide as my shoulders, but I was reminded that it needs be wide enough should I be carrying a bale of hay in my arms to get through as well.  I am more open to suggestions than would appear.


            Fiona Fitzgerald has joined me in the living room.  Lambs love to run and jump in the evening.  I've loved to watch them race around the barn in a big circle, stop a moment, turn around, and run run run in the same big circle once again.  And run away.  The tiny bit of hay sticking out of a bird's nest in a ram's horn decorating the coffee table has been an endless source of fascination for her.  I moved it to the mantle before she destroys it.  Her coat is covered with honey, colored patches, a direct result of her love of the kitchen wood stove.   


Sylvia Jorrin

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