The sheep got out this morning. I knew it before the sheriff's deputy came to tell me. Politely. I had heard the sound of a car horn blasting a little earlier. It is that time of year when all livestock tend to break out. Greener pastures, etcetera. I live at a point where two worlds converge where only one existed for more than a hundred years. Farm country. At least it was. Upstate New York. The western foothills of the Catskill Mountains. The old stone walls on the back of my property dividing meadow from pasture have vertical stones on the top, indicating that they enclosed sheep. A long time ago. I don't use those pastures because they have become hunting grounds for the coyotes who have invaded the woodland that has replaced some of the fields. Cows grazed summers on the lower pastures. Sheep on the upper ones. And now the hills surrounding my farm are no longer cleared. Once, a hundred and forty years ago, before they were turned into pastures, they were covered with hemlock that was cut for logs and tannin and floated down the rivers to Philadelphia were they not turned into lumber in the many saw mills along the way.
This morning was lovely. I took a hot cup of coffee with me as I walked the fence along the road. There, clearly evidenced by their droppings, was the spot from which the sheep had, all hundred and sixteen of them, escaped. The sun at that moment broke over my hill, and the autumn colors, so reluctant to reveal themselves this season, were glowing. A concession from Nature. Or rather, a gift. The breach in the fence had been mended by a new neighbor as a gesture of kindness. In respect for the gift I didn't stand over him watching to see if it had been built correctly. It would have been better if I had. For me, that is. But not for his ego. In order to secure the lower part of the woven wire he had piled large heavy stones. In effect they lowered the height of the fence. And created most convenient steps on which the sheep could most easily climb and scale the stone wall shoring up the road.
I raised my hand to wave at the people driving cars and trucks on their way to work or to school in the village near which I farm. Some waved back. Some didn't. Once, everyone knew me even if I didn't recognize more than the shape of a familiar truck, when dairy farms lined the lovely country road where I live. And cows broke fence as well as horses, and the occasional pig, the frequent goat, and even sheep. Oh, the beef cows and their calves do escape with regularity from the property next door which a city woman rents. And the pet miniature horses from a neighbor across the road as well. But it is my sheep with my profound regrets who can, despite their peaceful nature, create havoc on occasional mornings, for the drivers who don't remember this is farm country. Or are too young or too new to ever have known. There are newcomers who earnestly organize groups to "save our country landscape and rural way of life", who are too new to remember all of the farms that are gone. Ten dairy farms on my six mile stretch of road. My farm, nearly nineteen years in operation, is not included in the vanishing act, although it did once house a dairy full of cows. I'm a "new farmer" here. Oh yes, there is the woman from New York who summers in Ireland, I've been told. Who has a foreman and two hired men to tend to her beefers next door. And the people who have six alpacas down the road. They don't live here either. And a dairy barn that was turned into a fish farm. But these things don't last. They never do.
The trees have turned their leaves into gold and russet and ochre and orange. They have returned to these hills, once limiting themselves to the line fences and hedgerows surrounding pastures where once cows and sheep and goats could graze at will. I don't want my sheep to get out. Oh, they're very orderly about it. Occupy the road for a few minutes. Go into the neighbor's field in one spot, and stay there until I bring them home. The custom here was each farmer, and every neighbor was a farmer on my road, was responsible for one of the line fences. The laws of this state require that line fencing must be built to contain the most difficult animal on either side. Neither custom nor law are observed in this neck of the woods, farm country any more. And I am left to, imperfectly, but to the best of my ability, maintain the two miles of perimeter fencing around my farm.
Farm journals are beginning to feature editorials saving we farmers have to begin to educate the general public about farming, about a way of life that was familiar to most people. "Oh my grandfather farmed it. I spent summers helping to put in the hay." I wonder if the people racing down this peaceful country road on their way to work, or the college can say that. And know to slow down when driving past my sheep farm. For the sheep do get out, you see. I wonder.
The Grandpa Ott's morning glory bloomed today, in a pot in the kitchen window. I don't know why I've not thought of doing that before. Planting annuals in the house. Autumn. Winter. The colors of this relatively blue flower are indescribable. I've never seen them before. A deep blue that is neither purple nor is it magenta. But the artist had dipped his brush in both colors before he touched the blue pot. It is enchanting.
The sage I planted last week has not germinated. I hope it does. The years I've had sage in pots on the kitchen windowsill made it possible to make a shepherd's soup, twelve cloves of garlic, whole and unpeeled, chicken stock, ten leaves of sage and an egg if I had it. It would seem I shall have eggs this autumn-winter. It is a winter soup popular in the south of France, and a winter soup here as well. Supposedly it gives shepherds strength to work and wards off colds. I don't know about the colds, but can guarantee it gives sustenance and strength.
The Buff Orphingtons are laying. The Aracanas are not. Yet. However, there were four eggs today. And the day isn't over. By the weekend I may even have some to sell.
Tomorrow Cornelius, goat herd sire, shall return to the farm from his extended vacation at a friend's. That means my older Toggenburg goats shall kid sometime after 148 days from tomorrow. That brings us into late March, early April. It would have been nice to have kidding earlier in order to have milk for the bottle lambs in the winter. However, later kidding has its advantages as well. It is better for the kids. Warmer. Et al.
The carriage house farm where the goats now live has always been a special place for me. Each year I hope to improve it. Last year's hopes remain unfulfilled. This year's won't, I hope. With any luck, read, with no interruptions, I'll have the indoor chicken coop mucked out. The walls relined. The opossum caught and transferred to a good safe place. For it. And the nesting boxes appealingly lined with straw. There needs be a miracle to bring the water line in, however, I've learned of a shoulder yolk I might be able to buy to help me best carry the water to the goats who live there winters. It is in the plan to house all of my breeding stock ewe lambs in there as well. I've always wanted to separate them from the main flock, in the event that they may freshen with difficulty and require that they be away from the interference of their dams and aunts. It is far closer than the barn for me to run to should there be sounds of distress from the baby monitor that I hook up to the kitchen in the house.
This is the beautiful time on the farm. A time where every moment counts. The command in the back of my mind is hurry, hurry, hurry, for winter shall soon be upon us, rather than hurry, hurry, hurry to put out fires that result from not being prepared. The sheep are in good condition this autumn. Round and well filled out. Two East Fresian crosses are bagging. They are older, and may bag up early, and so I'm watching but not confining them. It could be a day or two weeks before they freshen. There has almost never been a lamb born here in the fall. It is a great rarity. Last autumn was the exception when a set of twins was born in November. The first year I had sheep an autumn lamb or two were born. And never in between.
The hard part about this season is also, in a way, the easy part. It is hard to look around and know it is only I who can make things ready for the winter. A terrible burden, as a matter of fact. Reproach, guilt, can be the result of a day spent inefficiently. There is only myself to blame for anything that goes wrong. And I am the harshest of judges. However, even in this year of great struggle on all fronts, I have made inroads where there haven't been before. And can look around me and say only a day's work to finish the lambing room, the mid-level of the barn, the carriage house stalls. And there are some new things here to lift the shroud of worry. Today, things do not seem impossible. Formidable but not impossible. My dog is beside me in the green velvet chair in front of the fireplace. The chair is a case in point. Its right arm collapsed one day. An eyesore. Another impossibility. A frustration. Another thing. Still another thing. However, it made room for the dog to squeeze in beside me. A perfect fit for a Border Collie. I may never fix it.
I went on my annual holiday a day or so ago. A busman's holiday. To the New York State bred ewe sale. It was a glorious day. And I came home with a renewed sense of energy and awareness. My perspective shifted slightly. But just enough to see things in a larger way as if through lenses of a different color and magnification. While there was no yarn worth coveting (although I later learned there was an additional pavilion with yarn), it did inspire me to knit. When I came home I immediately searched out all of the yarns that
dyemaster par excellence, Dianne Berquist of Rip Rap Meadows had dyed and I had bought over the years. One peachy colored sweater with a high percentage of Angora goat wool seemed to be near completion. And so I finished it! Remarkable that! A new hand knit sweater that I didn't have to knit this autumn.
Only needing to be washed.
This is the rich and full time of year. I welcome the chill in the air and the warmth of the fires and reconnecting with the barn and carriage house in another way. We shall work it out, all of us.
The sheep. The chickens. The goats. The donkey. The dog. And I. We shall make it happen.
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