Sunday, May 27, 2012

and the day has just begun

I nocked my wooden arrow and raised the bow as I pulled back on the 35-pound bow. It's woven, waxed linen string amazes me. It is all it needs to send my arrow blasting 30 yards ahead of me. I hit the 4-point circle on the target and want to jump up and scream HEEEEEELLL YEAH, but I don't. I have four more arrows to go and this is a Royal Round, and another 2 rounds after that at other targets.

I'm happy out there. I'm wearing a long green Irish dress over a white chemise with a leather hip belt. On the belt is my tankard (igloo coolers of water everywhere, BYOT) a leather bag holding money, truck keys, and my phone, and the red favor of the house Lancaster. This event is based on The Wars of the Roses and everyone has to pick York of Lancaster when they sign in. I picked red, not because I'm a huge fan of the Tudor's, but because it looked damn good on my green dress. I shoot another arrow and it flies into the hayfield. By the end of the day I'll break one arrow and lose two more. It happens. Losing arrows is a great incentive to hit the target more.

It's 10AM and feels like 4PM. I got up early to do my chores and check on the ewe who was found caught up in the brambles after shearing. At sunrise I had walked out across the field with a walking stick in hand, Jasper at my side. The ewe was sitting up, eating grass and had enjoyed some of the water with maple syrup I offered her. I was so happy she made it through the night. Jasper nuzzled her, as he had since I cut her free the night before. An odd sign of friendship between two species. With the help of Bridget from Virginia (who had visited for shearing and spent the night in her bus in my driveway) we used the blue garden cart as an ambulance and carried the frail beast to a solitary pen near the other sheep. It was quite the haul but we got her inside safe with water, grain, clean bedding and I said a few prayers. Prayer never hurts.

With the goat milked, dogs walked, sheep in hospital, animals hayed, grained, and watered there was nothing to do but get dressed up and the truck kitted out with bows and arrows. I left the farm at 8:00AM and had already been working three hours. My breakfast was some green juice and a small bowl of granola with goats milk. I was fortified, armed, and in a dress for the first time in months. I felt a combination of excitement for the War of Roses down in Concordia (Albany) and worry about the ewe. But at this point she had nothing to do but fight. So I left her, cursing myself for not counting the sheep when they came in to be shorn. I just called the woolly mass in and penned them and in the chaos of preparing for company and the shearer arriving early I didn't realize one ewe was gone. A quarter mile away in a bramble, she was stuck. It was my own fault. One simple act: counting sheep, had made all the difference in her chances.

Bridget asked if I would write about it? Or if I ever held back events on the farm because I didn't want to share bad news? An honest question. I told her I would write about it. What happens on this farm is an open book. I make mistakes and I share them. When lambs die, dogs get sick, or gardens fail I write about it. When I fall off horses, am scared, or broke: I write about it. I don't think people who are serious about landing on their own farm someday just want the sweet side of farming. I think they want to know mistakes happen, animals get sick, die, and all I can do is learn from mistakes and not make them again. I know now I will never bring home one new lamb alone to this farm again (pneumonia). I will never eat a pig with a bright yellow-cyst-covered liver. I won't plant broccoli without a goose fence. I won't forget to keep mothering ewes well grained to avoid Ketosis (Lisette). But in two years here and 20+ sheep later I have only truly failed four in five years of living with sheep. May that number ever diminish.

I think about the ewe between arrows, but my mind goes blank each time I take aim. I'm not good at this, but I have learned so much. I learned how to string my bow and tighten the string too. I learned proper form and sighting and the types of bows and tools. When my second round was done and score sheets filled in to be sent off to our shire's head of archery, T'mas nodded and said I looked like an archer. He said that with the white rose of York hanging around his neck, too.

When I got home later that day I found the ewe dead. She didn't make it. She was frail, thin, weak. I carried her into the hearse that had been an ambulance hours before and moved her out of the pasture fencing. Too tired to bury her I covered her with some old wool. I had driven four hours, spent all day in the sun, came home in a rush to see to the dogs and goats and was just exhausted by the time that ewe was out of the pen.

This morning I buried the ewe in a grave under the compost pile behind the goat pens. She was set in the earth and covered with the well composted bedding and manure of the pigs from this past winter. By next summer the pile will just be black soil around the skeleton of a horned sheep. I'll fork it out, grateful for its wealth in the garden. I smiled a bit, thinking of those vegetables of the future. The amazing red tomatoes and brilliant pumpkins and almost laughed at the idea of death being an ending. This organic compost is as alive as any galloping horse or flying hawk. As alive as you and I. It's just the next form in the circle. Earth must be fed.

And when I have a beautiful vegetarian meal next summer of garden tomato sauce over roasted peppers and onions and how those vegetables were grown over the blood, bones, manure and corpses of a farm's livestock. There is no such thing as an organic "vegetarian" meal, of course. The vegetables just ate the meat first. It was their turn, simple as that.

I sighed when the work was done. The ewe under the piles of brown, wet, soil. The water yet to haul for the living. Hay deliveries to be arranged, a soapmaking workshop to plan, and in a few moments I'll be down at Common Sense for their Farm Festival and people will see the three lambs of this farm's crop and feed them bits of grain and stroke their fluffy heads and I will be so proud to be the person who introduced their parents, got them into the world, and found them this ideal home. I don't know of a more balanced life than starting your day with an ovine funeral and ending it with a lamb in your arms.

Whew....and the day has just begun....

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