Back To The Start
This morning as soon as chores were done and the farm seemed to reach a baseline of homeostasis - I threw my day pack into the back of my truck and Gibson and I headed to Vermont. It was a grand day, the weekend of the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials - of which I have been attending since the very first summer I lived in Veryork, over five years ago. It was an important day. The girl (and she was a girl) who showed up at that trial years before rented a little cabin in Vermont and desperately wanted a border collie and some sheep. She showed up at Merck cow-eyed and bushy tailed. And over the next four years would go from volunteering at trials and attending beginner clinics without a dog at all to getting her first puppy and taking lessons with wonderful trainers in Massachusetts and New York. Gibson grew up to be the dog of my dreams, the dog I needed, and while we have never entered a trial and he can't even do an outrun—we work together every day on this farm. I depend on him.
A lot is going through my head tonight. Some of it is guilt. I wanted to be one of those handlers down in the trial fields so badly, and I still do, but the reality of driving three hours round trip to herding lessons, working (at the time) a full time job, and writing books and running the farm became too much. Then Merlin came along right when time for herding lessons came back and I was out on trails and with the Draft Animal Association. Basically, I dropped the ball. I felt guilty because I know Gibson could have been a dog at this trial had I put in the time and effort. I watched the handlers around me, many of which I know by name, still feeling that awe. But also feeling that if I had a tail it would be between my legs, because in my head I have let them down. The trainers who started us out, the folks in NEBCA, the readership on the blog...
Amongst all these swirling feelings of trial excitement and regret, I felt that old excitement again. The feeling of just starting out into the Society of Lamb & Wool. The thrill of being asked to help keep score with the judge. Talking with handlers, explaining to tourists how the trial worked, just being engaged. With Gibson at my feet and a morning of chores under my belt I started to feel less like a failure and more a part of this world. I was not a trial handler. But I did live with the finest border collie in the world, and at four years old maybe he still can train for the trial fields? Old dogs/new tricks and all that. Someone asked me if my dog was competing today? I pointed to a dog in the trial field. Out there a sleek, 35-pound, dog was expertly driving sheep through a gate. I said "That is a precision instrument." Then I pointed to Gibson. "This is a hammer."
On the ride home from the trials—Gibson riding shotgun as always—I thought about the blog a lot too. Had I failed the readership the same way I failed the herding community? Had losing that beginner's mind, that excitement, that thrill of learning to bake and garden, raise chickens and sheep, and all that just left like magic sucked down a drain? I went from wanting a farm so bad it hurt to finally getting one of my own, then desperately trying to hold onto that farm. And I think in the struggle I have lost sight of some of the simple joys of digging up new potatoes, cooking a simple meal I new as a seed, and the amazed wonder at reclaiming country skills. I realize now, as I am typing this out, that my guilt was not about never walking up to the post with Gibson and saying "Come By," not really. My guilt was based on becoming the woman who forgot what the girl felt on the trial grounds. So I am going to try and find her, ask for her help, and go back to the start.
This evening ended with Gibson and I back at our farm. I opened the sheep paddock up and let the flock out to graze on the new pasture on the hillside. The grass was tall and lush and that amazes me because just a few weeks ago it was mud and rock. Overgrazing had destroyed it, topsoil slid off it and pooled in the driveway. It also looked hideous. "Welcome to Cold Antler Farm! To your right, notice the giant Dirt Hill! What DREAMS are made of!" but now that mistake is fixed and the sheep all doing well. Gibson joined me, acting as the electric fence - only zapping at the sheep if they left the grazing area we had allotted. But mostly the sheep just munched, we just sat and did what shepherds have done for thousands of years: watched. And in the sunlight, on my own deeded land, with my own flock, and this fine dog I didn't feel like a failure anymore. I felt hope.
I mean, if a landslide can turn into a pasture such as this; I can grow better, too.