It has begun. With all of its attendant drama, joy and heartache. Lambing 2009. There are five lambs in the kitchen. One, the biggest lamb born this year. I pulled him out just in time. He is now two and a half days old. The swelling around his face from his neck having been squished, locked in his mother's birth canal, is almost gone. His head is normal in size. His cheeks are slightly jowly. He eats like he is starving. And I try to keep him from drinking too fast. They are prone to stomach aches. A lamb his age shouldn't have more than 24 ounces a day. He takes over thirty. The troubled Horned Dorset twin is here as well. Quite unwilling to eat is she. I tube feed her once a day. She takes part of a bottle on her own three more times and, tonight, nibbled on the second cutting hay I've brought in the house. One little lamb, a blue braid around his neck, seems well to me. But he was a bit cold when brought in. Another, sporting a green braid, also was cold. And a pretty little female was not responsive when I brought her in from the barn. She is now.
I suffered badly from the cold for four days last week. The wood was wet and it was impossible to start a fire. One day it took until 6:00 in the evening to get the kitchen up to 50 degrees. The next day I gave up and went to bed at 3:30 in the afternoon. In desperation I took the wood stove apart and cleaned it. Yes, I was able to put it back together again. Two sections I had not known existed were packed solid with ashes. Once emptied, the stove drew once more. As it does now. A miracle occurred and some wet but seasoned wood arrived one day. I had it split even more finely and it burns quite nicely now.
The lambs are asleep, huddled together next to the stove, their bellies full. The clock nears the hour that I return to the barn, I came upon an ewe freshening around four this afternoon. She was straining. I rushed to gather up another lamb just having been born a few feet away, turned my head for a moment, heard the old familiar little tin horn sound, looked back and there it was! A tiny Friesian-cross lamb. Its mother and two of its aunts in a frenzy of cleaning it clear to the mucous and afterbirth surrounding its face. I suspect it is one of two or three. Its mother required a great effort to push, pull, entice, drag her into the mid-level of the barn where the mother sheep and their babies are living at the moment. A one-handed effort at that, one arm engaged with holding the tiny wet lamb. The big Dorset ewe whose big lamb dropped mysteriously by the door to the barn proper is a fighter. I got her lamb under my arm and dragged her as well out of the wind into the middle floor. This included some interesting slip, fall, spill, maneuvers on my part. However, we made it. Barely. She tried to fall to her knees at the stone stairs. Or rather she did fall to her knees at the stone stairs. I opened the door and another ewe tried to force her way out. "No. No. No", I yelled pushing one back in, pulling one up the stairs having tossed her precious bundle of joy onto the straw inside. At that minute the reluctant ewe realized her young offspring was, indeed, inside, and leaping to her feet jumped up the stone stairs and scrambled inside. I shut the door. Adventures!!
The snow is beautiful this year. The cold is not. It may be the worst I've ever known. It has only been the kindness of friends that has even remotely kept me going this winter. The logger who was supposedly cutting down trees containing fifty-five face cords of wood for me from my forest has still not shown up. A new excuse each week leading to the following week and then to the week after. He will not get my recommendation, even though he thinks he shall. The man has another guess coming.
I am in tiny ways recreating a room in this house. It is both a pleasure and a frustration. The room had some very nice very plain stenciling on its walls that I did when I first came here. It was from one of the Carl Larsson books about the house that he and his wife created in Sweden. The color is no longer suitable or rather, does not "work" with the small sitting room that is next to it, waiting behind French doors to be born. I want the sitting room to be the most unexpectedly decorated room in the house, and have been saving and buying things for it for a year or two now. But the color that the walls are insisting on turns out to be a butterscotch kind of color. The idea is not a new one. Two of the many layers of wall paper that I have taken off have primarily been that color. Therefore the pale blue of the ribbons and fleur de lisle on the bedroom walls simply will not co-ordinate with a highly decorated butterscotch colored room. I've cut a stencil to white out the blue and mixed a half a dozen shades of pink to redo the bows. None are right. Either too dark or too pale and not pink enough by any means. They fade out to the eye if they are too light. Stand out as a terra cotta color if too dark. The room I am currently engaged in redoing is mostly white in color. White lace curtains. A white counterpane. White walls and ceiling. A white painted bed. And soon to be painted white wooden chairs like the ones in French café's beside a white lace table cloth covered little occasional table. The walls need a scrubbing in places. The floor is begging to be mopped and waxed. Aside from the electricity the room needs four uninterrupted hours from me, and five or six with a stencil brush. I'd also like always in it a vase of flowers. Carnations. It has taken me a long time to fall in love with Carnations. They cover my favorite Liberty china curtains that I made when I first came here, but even seeing them every day didn't register in my mind's eye, how truly lovely a flower they are. Then one day I noticed some in a grocery store. The colors were beautiful to my eye. I bought them. They lasted seemingly forever. An added attraction. And I've loved them ever since.
The kitchen is silent but for the quiet breathing of Nelly dog and Glencora MacCluskie, also dog, and five bottle lambs all next to the wood stove. The lambs, at least. Nellie sits on my lap. Glencora is under the kitchen table. The room is closer to being the way I want it to be than it has been for quite some time. The famous prune brioche sits on my baking table, this time made with apricots. Couldn't find the prunes. It needs to rest before being sliced. Perhaps it shall be for breakfast. A sense of calm fills the corners of the room. NO one was born tonight. It is 4 degrees above zero outside.
I went into the barn this morning with trepidation in my heart fully expecting to find the Friesian-cross lamb quite dead. He wasn't. He is fluffy and curly and lively and a delight. An unfortunate set of characteristics. He's what I'd like to keep but won't. Also running around was another just like him. Too hard to catch. Perhaps his twin. It is the only other one down there without an identifying ribbon on his neck. So, as I thought possible, there may have been another. The big, chunky, active, fine looking one lay dead. Abandoned by his mother.
This life is inexplicable. I was asked the other day why I do it. It is for this evening's trip to the barn, flashlight in hand, finding everyone alive and well. And for the moon rise that greeted me when leaving the barn. And the pile of lambs around the wood stove. Somehow the order of things and my part in it is returning to me. I wasn't here last winter. Or at least I wasn't in the barn, but sick upstairs. And so there is some distance between me and the continuity of what had been for the past eighteen years. But tonight, the roar of a fire just beginning to catch, the taste of a cup of hot chocolate, and the particular kind of silence that occurs between the sounds of the fire is bringing it all back. I have begun to dare to hope again. My good friend Liz Gruen once told me I didn't trust hope. Well, Liz, now long gone into God's Hands, I know you can hear me. I have begun to hope again.
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