Winter has stayed her hand, for which we are all grateful. Nonetheless, the goats have readied themselves, growing thick coats this year, little wooly bears, at least my two little brown doelings. They are all growing nicely thank you, benefiting from the grain and baleage, their condition not reflecting the poor quality of this year's hay. Yet. I've only two bottle lambs to date. Their mother, if indeed their mother is who I think she is, rejected them almost immediately after their birth. The eweling is East Fresian in appearance. It is impossible, however, to tell which combination of the desired genes she has inherited. The Fresian gene for milking ability. Or just the Fresian genes for a gleaming white face. I left them out this morning for a brief run around with the grown-ups. They live, most of the time, with a very nice, very ancient ewe and her twin lambs, both ewes, in a lambing jug. I don't want any of them to run their weight off, nor do I want a strain placed on this ancient ewe to have to produce more calories for her two daughters than are necessary for their growth.
Someone called me the other day inquiring about buying some lambs to be used for their shorn fleeces. She seemed very interested in sheep. Thought she'd have many more questions for me than she asked in our initial conversation and wanted to visit after Christmas. I hope I'm not too overwhelmed with lambing. I am, at least, I presume I shall be lambing soon. My intensely busy time. I have chosen a lamb for her, however, if she is serious, with a beautiful fleece. Long, curly, gleaming. A spinner's sheep, this little creature. Her dam is my ancient ewe. I've not named the lamb because she is certain to be sold to someone for their flock, unfortunately for me. There are too many yearlings here now to keep very many lambs this year. Although, with certainty, there shall be some who attach themselves to my mind and heart, and shall stay. The heart possesses the better part of wisdom, most times, I think.
Christmas brought books this year. And, in between my life as well as in the middle of the night, I've begun to devour them. Last night, at 2:00, I found myself in front of the fire in the living room with Ricki Carroll's latest version of her cheese making book. (Thank you Rosie.) It drew me into dreams old and new about my wish to make cheese here some day on a commercial basis. But what it gave me at 2:00, was a lot of ideas about making cheese now, as soon as a sheep is ready to wean her lambs or a goat or two freshens. Adelaide Merriman seems to be developing a belly and perhaps an udder of late. I worry about goats freshening in the winter. The sweetest little doe born last year had frostbite and had to be put down. Her dam had never freshened before and was so appalled at what discomfort she experienced that she jumped out of a two story window to get some distance between her and her kid. I found the pretty little thing, bright as a new penny, cuddled up in a pile of straw, looking alert and ready for life. By that time, Pembrook Worthington had tried to break back into the carriage house, realizing, just a little too late, what she had left behind. The kid looked fine to me, at first, having been brought into the house and put in a fleece lined box by the fire. A few days later, the signs became apparent and it was too late to save her.
I've tightened the carriage house enormously. It has a new double wall of tongue and groove, among other things. And have hopes that an old friend will soon become available to finish what he's begun building there. It shall soon be the perfect place in which to raise kids. The goats live in it now. I plan to put some young stock in there as well. Yearling ewes. The sheep shall keep it warmer for the goats. I have been bringing arm loads of straw from the lower level of the barn up to the carriage house for bedding. The goats do not seem to create the same refuse that the sheep do, and haven't created their own bedding. The sheep, unfortunately for me, do every day. I think to carry a big plastic garbage can down the hill to best carry the straw to the carriage house. That will do it.
The new year is about to begin. Human beings, it would seem, have a need to create new beginnings in their lives. A new year. A new day. Each is possessed of its own formally.
A new year carries more weight to it than a new day. A new year to me has always required a newly cleaned house. Especially a newly cleaned kitchen. Clean clothes. Maybe, just maybe something nice to eat. Some days, when I'm lucky, I ask myself what do I want from this day? When I am lucky enough to have a mind clear of distractions, and accompanied only by a manageable number of demands. Last night I tore apart a closet in the home art center. I found bags of cleaning rags in the back of the closet (it lies under a set of stairs). Bags of rags that had once been clothes belonging to some one of us in this family. I burned them. There was a piece of cut pipe I didn't recognize until I realized it had been intended for a second rack in the middle of the closet on which to hang jackets. We don't have much in the way of closets in this house. This little one is a luxury.
Two books I received for Christmas brought another message home to me. They were each about houses, more or less. One was being lived in in 1932. The second was a 500 year old family mansion that was being lived in in the 1990's. They both functioned, in varying degrees. But the central key was that in each house, the owner knew how to live in it. Mostly because the houses told him how to live in them. But also, because the owner was raised in a long tradition of being able to live in that kind of house, or more importantly, how to find out how to live in them. I don't know how to live in this house, and invent and reinvent the way to do it. Unsuccessfully I might add. The books, both of these, proved to be enlightening. The closet under the back stairs is in the home art center, a cupboard in a wide little hall, leading, when there was a door to my living room on one side of it, from the wood room, farm office, and two seater john to the kitchen, laundry room, the second biggest room in the house and now my dining room, and the downstairs summer kitchen. There are two doors, one from the kitchen, and one from the wood room leading to the back stairs. The closet is home to a vast array of my coats, among other things such as curtain rods and magazines. Some coats I never wear. Some I wear quite often. Some, I think I will wear, but don't. Oh, there are hooks in the wood room, of course, the very old wood room for barn jackets and sweaters. But the family has been not only reluctant to put their winter jackets in the relatively freezing cold wood room, but has simply refused to add theirs to mine. That means, sometimes, huge mounds of black and red or black and black down filled things, each with a life and posture of its own are all over the living room. Often. In the winter.
The two books were remarkably inspirational. I do need somebody, anybody, even if it is a long gone playwright living in a weekend house in England in 1932, or an American married to a Scottish Laird in 1990 to give me a clue, the merest hint of a clue on how to do it. In the twenty-eight years that I've lived here, I still don't really have a handle on it. And so, with a little shove from Beverly Nichols, the playwright, and Belinda Rathbone, an American, I realized, and then put into motion, to empty out the hall closet and create at least enough room in which to put everyone else's winter coats. Bravo. At last! Something.
What came to mind when I asked myself what was my requirement for the day, it was to make a home for myself. I've
not done that. And so here it is now a closet for coats. Coats that are worn and not wondered about.
Before going to the barn tonight I arranged the cushions in the green chair before the fire in an inviting kind of way, and brought in the fire wood to dry in front of the fireplace, ready to toss in when I came back from the bran, and, in some ways made, this evening, a pleasant place in which to return to, 9:00 PM. Chores done, 20 degrees outside, early winter, year's end. The fire makes its own song. I did not play Bach. I did pour myself an inch of Elderberry wine, one of my grandfather's recipes, took two raspberry creams from the box my son brought me for Christmas. To my surprise I lit some candles on the etched deer glasses I bought last year, and put them on the coffee table. And then, in this pretty, pretty room, I picked up this notebook and read the story I had written today and tonight, a story about barns and lambs and goats and horses and books and dreams and not knowing how to live. Yet.
P.S. Shortly after this was written forty-two lambs were born in four days, to be followed shortly by eleven more. Winter has arrived.
There are more stories in the Farm Stories Archive