Sylvia Jorrín    Farm Stories     Interview     Photo Album     Bookshop     Appearances

February 2010

It is amazing how tiny a thing can bring with it a feeling of hope and promise.  Take an onion as an example.  Seed catalogues are arriving daily of late.  Many of them carry the same items at slightly different prices. And the copy describing each varies according to the customer to whom the catalogue is addressed.  One uses very plain and prosaic prose, addressing the needs of a practical grower and cook.  Another will include suggestions on usage.  And still another will include a recipe.  A "new" small flat red onion has been turning up in a number of catalogues recently.  The most flowery tells how to cook them, glazed in butter with a drop of sugar mentions braiding their stems to make them more attractive to sell at a farm stand.  Others just give instructions on how to plant them.  Closely for small round onions.  Two inches apart for wider flat ones.  Most companies sell seeds. A few sell "sets".  I'm buying the sets.  A lot of them.  They have captured my imagination as something lovely to raise to both have hanging in the larder and to sell.  They are Italian red onions.  Or at least have an Italian name.  In their pictures, they are very pretty.  Most practically they can replace the big red onion familiar in the market, half of which has been known to go to waste after I dice part of it onto a salad or sauté it with white onions, garlic and shallots to put on a crust with anchovies and olives.  A kind of French provincial pizza that my family and I ate in Villeneuve lez Avignon one fall.  Therefore all of the change emptied from my pockets when I do the laundry is being stacked neatly on a ledge on the kitchen wainscoting to be applied to the purchase of little red onions.  In sets.  The future lies in an onion.

            I am also planning to buy some more Hinnomaki gooseberry bushes.  I must, rather desperately have the color red in the back of my mind's eye, a response to being surrounded as we are by the white sky, white snow and thick white fog.  The fire has begun to glow in the living room fireplace. However, it is barely warm enough for the ink to flow from this pen.  I do know I've sometimes gotten things warm enough in this house, but I seem to have forgotten how.  Systems become evolved, discarded, revised, and then disappear into memory overlapping and indistinct.  I remember once having devised the "perfect" combination of clothes to wear indoors.  Or was it to the barn?  Or in which to sleep.  I now wear a thin, pretty, willow green down jacket in which to go to sleep.  And a white felted beret. Sometimes I'm wrapped in a long wide scarf as well.

            For some of the time this winter I put the heat on in the bedroom saying I can't take it and will deal with the bill when it comes.  It came yesterday.  So much for that.  There was a fan placed between the kitchen ceiling and the bedroom floor to draw heat up into the room.  However, it no longer functions and has effectively blocked my heat wishing to find its way to the room I sleep in winters.  Something needs to be done.

            Three lambs were born this afternoon in the barn.  A set of twins and a single.  Ram lambs.  The single is fairly small, quite bright, figured out how to snuggle in some hay, from an ancient mother who escaped shearing.  One with the characteristic Cheviot marks on her nose.  She is tame today and actually touched my hand with her face.  She doesn't seem to have much milk, however, his temperature is normal, therefore he must be nursing.

            The second ewe was something of a mystery.  I found her upside down against the barn doors struggling unsuccessfully to right herself.  Beside her, still in the sack with no sign of life was a very large lamb.  I righted her and tore the placenta away from the mouth of the lamb, put my finger down its throat to pull out any mucus wedged inside, freed its head and turned it upside down, all the while shaking it.  I swung it over my head to dislodge anything in its lungs.  It began to breathe.  Its dam ran back from the brook frantically calling to what appears to have been lamb number one who did come to her.  Both lambs are big.  Both male.  Both have very curly fleeces and to my surprise, both have very large thick buttons of horns.  The father might be the Horned Dorset ram.  Their dam has peculiar horns which have gradually emerged this year.  I think she is out of an ancient Horned Dorset I've had for some time.  She seems to have a lot of milk.  Her bag is large and well formed.  I have hopes for these lambs.

            The barn is full of bagging ewes right now.  And not enough lambs.  We soon shall see.  Easter is early this year.  And the lambs are late.  There is nothing to be done.  I'll try to feed them especially well, to grow faster.  However, I must admit I'm a bit worried.

            What is the essence of this life here on the farm.  I used to want a sense of order.  One step in front of the other.  A system of regularity.  A form to the life here.  There is a security in that.  But the order has been broken.  More than once.  And the principle issue is how to regain that.  Two winters, two lambings ago, I spent seriously ill, almost three weeks in the hospital and several more unable to leave the house.  Needless to say, even with hired help lambing was chaotic and unprofitable.  Last year the way I fed out hay created an equally chaotic situation that was also completely unprofitable.  This year shows more hope.  The sheep are safe in a warm and relatively comfortable barn.  It often is warmer than the house.  Water has not, as yet, become a problem.  I sheared late this year and shall continue the practice as it has proven to be successful.  Enough fleece has grown back, thick and tight to keep them warm and comfortable.  I even have to open the doors to the barn to lower the temperature.  I never thought I'd have to make that statement.  But it is I who has not regained or restored the sense of order that has been here sometimes.  I used to cook for myself so that when the shepherd came in from the barn there would be a meal to set on the table.  Sometimes I'd even have hot chocolate upon coming in from the barn, nights.  And a regular cappuccino on the front porch, mornings after chores.  I had an ironed cloth on the kitchen table and, some years, never went to bed without making the table top very neat, a cup and saucer ready for the morning.  Of late the struggle has been three fold.  The cold, of course.  I was raised in a household where physical comfort was treated as a given.  As long ago as that was I am impertinent with the thought this isn't supposed to be this way.  The lack of money is also a many layered problem.  How to survive the day is an effort that clouds my thinking about how to proceed in a fruitful way.  And my belief in myself and having the ability to not only preserve but also to go beyond that has been gradually and slowly eroded.  I have begun to accept the unacceptable.  Things that would have shocked me to be left undone are now noticed and yet not acted upon.  I walk by something in the house, comment on it being out of place, am discouraged at the sight of it, and do nothing about it.  Clean laundry in piles on chairs.  The kitchen table still banished in the mudroom.  Bread left to rise with the yeast in it dies and it is fed to the chickens.  What would I tell myself to do?  "Proceed" comes to mind.  Something a very loving man said to me as his gem of wisdom.  And so, today I rearranged my kitchen cupboard to my liking.  And am determined to bring in the long banished kitchen table after I starch and iron the cloth.  Proceed.  And I shall dream of planting Cippolini onions.  The red ones.


Sylvia Jorrin  

There are more postings  in the Farm Stories Archive

There are several audio journal entries in the Farm Stories Archive Supplemental section