That was five years ago.
When I think of that first day driving home a shepherd, my eyes start to tingle.
Because of those sheep I started the adventure of acquiring a sheepdog, having fallen in love with the majesty and magic of sheepdogs and their trials. I visited trials, trainers, attended clinics and emailed breeders. I found a dog that needed a home and realized I was not the home for her. She was returned to the kennel I adopted her from, a failure on my behalf. Instead I moved myself and three sheep to a farm I bought, our own home. Gibson was flown from Idaho and I picked him up at the Albany airport in a little red truck I bought for 2900 with a check I earned writing a chicken book.
That was four years ago.
When I think of him asleep on my lap as I drove north to Jackson, tears start to form.
As novice farmer and puppy, we learned as a team of beginners. So many achievements and mistakes were made. Lambs were born on this mountain for the first time in a hundred years. With the joys of new lambs the flock grew and shrunk. A stretch of bad luck and mistakes as a new shepherd claimed the lives of three beautiful Blackface sheep. All through these years, the ebb and flow of the flock, my three sheep from Vermont remained. They never grew ill. They only grew old. They offered wool, warm backs to lean against while spinning wool or reading books. They escaped, they bleated, they danced, and learned my voice. Gibson grew into a scrappy and resourceful partner, if a little soft and naive when it came to being taken advantage of. I can't blame him, after all, I am the one who raised him.
That has been the last three years.
When I think of all I have learned, loss, regretted and celebrated, tears begin to fall.
Four days ago I stepped outside shortly after dawn and found Maude, my oldest ewe, one of the originals, cast on her back and bloated as roadkill. I was certain she was dead. A friend was with me and together we ran to her side and realized she wasn't dead. We righted her and sheep burped out some gas. We carried her into the barn with fresh hay, grain, and water. I treated her the best I could and she started to recover. She went from bloated to relieved. She went from refusing food to eating. She went from eating to eating well. I have been checking on her every few hours and I don't think she will be with us much longer. I found her on her side. She was barely alive. I sat with her, my hand on her neck. I thought of how many years she would not let me touch her. I felt her wool and stroked her head. So much has changed in five years. My entire life turned in circles, a past life left behind, heartbreak, mistakes, stories, five books...Maude has been there for all of it. I told her how sorry I was. She didn't flinch at my touch. That is how I know she is dying.
That was ten minutes ago.
When I think of how much I came to love that awful sheep, I can not stop crying.