Friday, August 29, 2008

fiddles, fires, and fleeces

This morning when I was outside doing normal-outside-morning things, I heard the strangest noise. I've heard it hundreds of times, but regardless it always throws me off. The young roosters are learning to crow. Long before they can crack out a cock-a-doodle-doo they cough out these pubescent moans and groans. My cabin sounds like a bunch of loons after a hard night. You can't help but roll your eyes. A three-day weekend is coming up, god bless it. It'll be a busy one too. My friend Sean, who hails from the Midwest, is stopping by for a visit. Sean might be the only person I know more into folkways than I am. As a matter of fact, he's building a wooden boat right now in his Illinois garage. (Take that inflatable rafts!) I'm hoping he'll help me set up some electric netting for pasture rotation, trim hooves and score the sheep (check their weight.) When farm chores are done, I think together we'll head over to Shelli and Allen's labor Day weekend jamboree. Their hosting a 3-day camping event at their farm. It's an annual shindig they hold for all their city friends. There will be musicians, and bonfires, and sheep. A triple threat of awesomeness. I'll be bringing my fiddle and dulcimer and a good attitude about meeting new people. Sean also plays the fiddle, so I hope he packed his for the weekend.

The sheep are doing just fine. They're a pleasure to have here at Cold Antler. There was one incident with a neighbor's dog but the sheep were unaffected. They didn't even flinch when the black dog ran right up to their fence and barked. good sheep, them.

Have a great holiday weekend folks. Take care of each other.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

give fleece a chance

The sheep have arrived. While the coffee's brewing on the stove and it's still too dark out to be morning, I'll tell you all about it. I'm writing this at 5:18 AM, I just came in from giving them their morning hay and grain. Sweet Sal, the most gregarious of the trio came right up to me. Marvin, followed right behind. Maude.... Well, Maude was hungry but doesn't trust me. (She's the one in the car photo post below.) She's the only purebred of the lot (the boys are half Romney.) Maude's a Border Leicester Ewe, and the only hope for lambs come spring. She's a true sheep too. Cautious, alert, and slow to trust the schmuck who loaded her into a station wagon and kidnapped her for some countryside joy ride. I can't blame her. Maude and I have work to do.

Waiting for the workday to end yesterday was pure hell. Of all the days to have to sit in a two and a half hour meeting, yesterday was the worst. I was wired all day. I just wanted to be in the car driving to Shelli and Allen's and loading wool into the car. When I broke out at 4 PM, I cranked up the fiddle music in the car and hit the road. In a few hours, I would be a shepherd.

When I did arrive at the farm, loading them up was easier than I thought it would be. With the help of Shelli, Allen, and a coffee can of grain we got them into the Station wagon. We had to throw on halters to do this (some poorly, as you can see by the photo of Maude below) but we got everyone in. Closing that back hatch with a car full of sheep felt damn good.

The drive home was downright pleasant. There was the occasional 'baa', but Marvin laid down instantly and Sweet Sal and Maude stood close to me, often sticking their head right between the front seats like Jazz and Annie do. I'd reach up and scratch their chins. Their sideways eyes blinked at me, confused.

On the drive home to Sandgate, I drove past a farm with a loaded hay truck and a few barns. I pulled up next to a blue pickup that I assumed was the honcho. He was. He saw me pull up with three sheep in the back and laughed. I yelled "Do you have hay?!" and he guffawed back, "Yeah, Do you have sheep?!" and we agreed I'd come back that same night to load up with some second cut hay for my flock. I had some first cut a friend gave me, but second cut hay is greener, richer, and fresher. I couldn't believe my good luck. The four of us puttered home.

Unloading went fine with the boys, but Maude, bless her heart, panicked. She bolted out of the car so fast I could barely hold onto the halter rope. Instead of giving into the leash like the boys did, she bucked and lunged, causing the poorly fitted halter to slip like a noose around her neck and choker her. The first of many shepherding mistakes. She gagged and fell to the ground like a roped cow in a movie. She laid on her back, legs in the air. She was helpless and I quickly ran aside her and undid the halter, fixing it like a collar instead of a torture device. I stroked her head and told her to calm down. She was passive as a pup on her spine. I felt horrible. But she stood up, recovered instantly, and ran into the pen to meet her men and dive into the grains. I doubt she was over it.

After the flock was safe, penned, and eating hay like they grew up here, I being ever the vigilant shepherdess, promptly left. I prayed my fences would hold and some dog wouldn't charge at them and cause them to bolt through it. Putting my faith in the day, I left my brand new sheep and went back to the Hebron farm for the hay. There I was introduced to Nelson Greene and another shepherd named Sarah. We talked and joked and Sarah egged on the retired dairy farmer (who hated sheep. I am quickly learning people either hate or love sheep.) By the by, If your curious how many large bales of hay you can fit into (and onto) a Subaru - the answer is 10. I was shocked too.

By the time I unloaded the bales into the garage, checked on the sheep again (they were still there), phoned friends and family, and walked the dogs - I was beat. I came inside to collapse with the dogs, but every few hours I'd walk back outside with my lantern, checking on the gang. They stood in the moonlight, chewing their cud. Observing the all.

Even though I wanted this so long, and was so excited to finally have it... it's too much to take in. The sheep are here but that reality is still so new and utilitarian I haven't soaked it up properly. But I do know walking out at 5AM to feed them under the waning crescent moon and the starry early Autumn sky was beautiful. Fall-down-the-stairs beautiful. And Sal came right up to me in the lantern light, and his fleecy face met mine. That felt good all over. There really isn't a better way to explain this. I am a happy woman.

Now, soon as this coffee is down, I'll go out and take some pictures and feed the birds. Rufus Wainwright is wide awake, and crowing to be let out. Morning is a very busy time here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

riding in cars with sheep

photo by katie kenny

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

white knuckles and a tarp in the back seat

So the sheep arrive here Wednesday night. After work I'll load them up in the station wagon and drive them the short twenty minutes back to my place. This will involve pulling the seats out of the back and laying down a tarp so the two (three?) of them can hang out. The animals will be restrained and hopefully calm. I guess we'll find out. I was assured transporting them in the car would be fine long as they can lay down and it's not a full day on pavement. It should be an interesting road trip. I am tempted to stop at a drive through and order four salads.

I have gotten quite a few emails from people asking me how I knew shepherding was the thing for me. I don't know if there's a satisfying way to answer that. I do know that ever since I've been making a concentrated effort to become a shepherd I've felt profound relief. For some people they might get that same feeling from a hard-earned promotion, a wedding ring, nailing the 4 minute mile, or anything that gives them a sense of milestone accomplishment. For me, that comes from focusing on a life outside with these animals. Yeah yeah yeah, marriage and a 4-minute miler's body would be nice. But it wouldn't be satisfying, comforting, or make me feel content in the world like shepherding can. How and why that is wired in me - I'm not sure.

I kinda like not being sure. It gives the sheep an almost supernatural ability to give me purpose and joy other lifestyles can't. Hell, that other lifestyles hinder. Their simple presence at Cold Antler will wash calm over me like dulcimer music did in Tennessee. Ever since the barns been I've even slept better.

A giant weight is being lifted off my chest as fences get installed and hays loaded into backseats. Just knowing hooves are hitting dirt here feels like I'm finally moving forward with my life. That feeling hasn't been attained for years. Not from jobs, not from writing a book, not from moving around the whole goddamn country. The lack of forward momentum has been shutting me down and off from the world. Not in a scary way. Subtle.

But with their arrival in my life I'm more happy, alert, plugged in. There's an irony in all this because people keep telling me livestock traps you in one place. For me, keeping lifestock is a release from so much. And If you can get that from anything that doesn't involve hurting yourself or others, hold onto it as tightly as you can with everything you've got. My knuckles are white.

So there's that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

weekend barn raising!

In two days my the entire sheep empire was constructed. Four brave souls spent the weekend at the homestead making it happen. Besides myself, there was my neighbor Katie (who supplied most of the tools and wood she rescued from the floor boards of an old Vermont sawmill) and my two friends (and co-workers) Phil and James. Together we raised a barn! We are sheep-ready now at CAF!

In 48 hours we were able to construct the sheep compound from start to finish. We built it, stained it, pounded fenceposts, put up fencing, installed the gate, built a hay feeder, and other odds and ends I can't remember. There was no way I could've done this without these people. I'm so lucky to have co-workers who not only have tools, but like to use them. While I might be I great with animals... when it comes to knowing how to lay foundations and use powertools... let's just say I'm learning. But I learned a hell of a lot, and even built the back wall of the shed by myself! So, enjoy the fruits of our labor folks. Here are some photos of my new reclaimed-wood sheep barn from start to finish.