Read Sylvia's Farm Online

Authors: Sylvia Jorrin

Sylvia's Farm (10 page)

Three new sheep have arrived. A yearling and a pair of two-year-old twin sisters. Romney-Finn crosses with some Dorset blood. One has the thick, long, dark Romney fleece. When they came, they panicked a little upon leaving the truck, and one literally took to the hills. She raced up the hills of my neighbor across the road, up and down, and around my neighbor's house and pigpen, to the fascination
of my neighbor's dog. A grand adventure was had by all. Some skillful handling brought the sheep back across the road, down the slope, through a gate I haven't used in a year. Off she went to join her new flock. The new sheep haven't been named. They shall be. Their names simply haven't occurred to me yet.

From the start they have stayed together, a tiny flock, giving comfort to each other, with memories of their prior home. This morning they were in Sheep Meadow with the other sheep, goats, cows, and pigs. I crossed the beautiful new bridge under its canopy of apple branches and walked through the flock on my way up the hill. “Cahm ahn,” I said, “Cahm ahn.” The new black sheep started toward me. “Cahm ahn.” And led the flock single file up the hill to the summer pasture. The morning grass was thick and lush with dew. The shadow of the mountain darkened the meadow. Tall trees at the edge of the stone walls sheltered us. There is ample grazing for them up here.

The goats separated from the sheep and followed me when I slipped into the woods. The sheep stayed in the meadow, intent upon the thick rich grass. I wanted to see the huge old apple trees by the stone wall surrounding my little woods. To see where they have been going, of late, in the afternoons. The trees were thick and dark, arching over the walks and quiet places they have made. The goats followed me down the hill.

Bringing the sheep to pasture has been part of a shepherd's life for thousands of years. I have been getting better at it as time goes on. This year I've been singing to them. They don't seem to mind my voice. And this year it has been a gentler experience. They have begun to follow me, nearly single file, at a steady pace, rather than the gallop they sometimes used to do. Sitting with them in the pasture gives me a chance to see how they are. Who is fat enough, who is thin, who is bagging. Three look as if they shall be coming in
soon. I've drawn bright shocking pink stripes down their backs so they can be spotted more easily. Some of the older ewes look big, too. But they are not bagging.

My friends in Hamden have taken some of my sheep for the summer. They love sheep. It is a relief to my pasture as well. Theirs have had a good boost from fertilizer and lime and look really good. The sheep were terrified in the barn as they were caught and brought on the truck. The second of the two truckers, a man and his fourteen-year-old son, were particularly gentle with them, but fear had already set in. Some of my favorites are over for my friends to enjoy. Patricia Fitz Roberts and her brother Prinz Rickart, Hope McKenzie, and my Cornell Finns. Six ewes and one fine Finn ram belonging to my friends went, too. They live here part of the time. Two lambs I bought from another friend are also there. To be tamed and treated as special. Thank you, Liz and Arthur.

The brush that has jumped the stone wall around the woodlot is going to provide a new fence to surround the barnyard. I saw a picture in a decorating magazine of a farm fence in Austria-Hungary. It was made from saplings woven, still green, through those horizontal bars. I want that fence. As the green wood dries it becomes a force to tighten the pressure on the horizontals against the post. My newfound carpenter and his son will go up to the woodlot on their four-wheelers, cut down saplings, except for the oak, and build it for me. For us.

The chickens arrive in a day or two. I hope to be ready for them. Twelve chickens and three chicks. And the famous Tucker. Tucker is the world's most glorious rooster. His feathers gleam and shine all of the iridescence that a rooster can sport. I wanted him from the very moment I ever saw him. He belonged to a good friend. And it was wrong for me to want him so badly. But I mixed the feelings with admiration and a sure knowledge that I'd someday have one of
his boys. It is dawn. Tucker must be awakening now on his home farm. But in another day he shall find himself on mine.

This is that watchful time. For what happens in the summer affects the winter and the life that is lived then. I watch for signs of parasites and foot problems. For the overall condition and for the healthy shine on the sheep's faces. I watch to see who is tame and who needs some extra attention. And watch in that silent watch that I've learned is the essence of being a shepherd. A watching that uses no words to accompany or describe it but places the images of what is seen like flat sheets of tissue paper in a drawer ready to wrap gifts to be opened in the days and nights still left to be on this farm.

ROSE

T
HE OLD
ewe rose to her feet and stamped the front right one at me. Stamp. Stamp. She sighted the dogs with her good eye, or did she hear them first? A low rumbling sound came from deep in her throat. She faced off the dogs knowing I was the lesser of the two threats. After all, although I had brought her pain, I had also hand-fed her, and perhaps had brought some relief as well. The dogs, on the other hand, commanded her to move where she didn't want to go.

I had gone up the side hill to the edge of Sheep Meadow to search for her dead body. It was time, I thought. It had to be all over. The vet had come and couldn't help. I had called him twice. “This is not nursing care any longer,” I had said. “This is a job for a vet.” She had lost a horn. I don't know how. This Horned Dorset who was to become the mother of my future Horned Dorset flock. And the flies, so prevalent in August, had laid their eggs in the convenient hole left by the horn. I had penned her, treated her with Pine-Sol and peroxide. I dared not put tar on it for fear of driving the larvae that much farther in. A screwworm bomb is often successful, but I couldn't find one locally. Anywhere. For more then a week, there was a message left on my answering machine to greet everyone who called “… please get me a screwworm bomb.” The ewe stayed in the barn for a while and then began to hide outside. I treated her daily, while inside, with peroxide. The Pine-Sol seemed to irritate more than it helped. A week ago I found her. The skin had been
rubbed raw on that side of her head. The fleece was worn off her neck. She was in agony. She had begun to eat grain from my hand when in the barn. She also associated me with the dreaded wound and my unsuccessful efforts to help. It was then that I made my second call to the vet and begged him to come.

The next morning she was with the flock by the side of the barn. Her left eye was closed. Her neck was bleeding. I got a loop over her head and the remaining horn. She couldn't see me when I approached. She fought a little harder than I did. She is a little stronger and a bit heavier than I am. She is certainly a wily old ewe. Low-slung. Strong. All I wanted from a Horned Dorset. A fighter. Tough. The most powerful animal I've had in the barn. But I had one thing over her. While she was trying to save herself from the short-term agony she suspected she'd have to endure, I was trying to save her life. So despite the fact that she had it way over me in strength, I had it over her in power. I won.

I tied her to an apple tree and there she stayed until the vet's truck pulled in. The maggots didn't leave when he squirted a medicine in and didn't leave when he put an antiseptic on the wound. She kicked and fussed and he couldn't get close. “She wasn't raised here,” I apologized. “If there were only something to keep the flies off,” he said. “Can we use Ectiban?” I asked. “It works on the cow to keep the flies off her.” I hadn't used it before because I didn't think it could be used on a raw wound. It shouldn't be in the bloodstream. The vet said to get it. I did. The ewe stood still for me while I scratched it into her fleece and dusted her head. I talked slowly to her. She listened to me. It will never cease to amaze me. Ever. I really can never understand why it happens. Or how.

I slipped her out of her noose and off she went. Up across the brook. Up the meadow to the shelter of the cool dark stone wall. I saw her grazing there a couple of times. But she'd disappear before
I'd get close enough to check the wound. The day before yesterday, I didn't see her at all.

For the past three weeks, since she lost the horn, I'd felt a lingering sense of being out of control. A sense of failure. It crept into my heart when I least expected it and without warning. I didn't connect it with the ewe, just with circumstances beyond my control that were a bit too much for me this past month. Late yesterday afternoon, my grandson and I went elderberry picking along the stone walls. I'd been telling him about my grandfather Wolf's elderberry wine. And how I must gather enough berries to make some. A woman stopped me on the road to ask directions. She'd never been here on Elk Creek before. “How pretty,” she said, delighting in its loneliness. I knew any delight I had had left me. For a while, at least.

Time to find the ewe. Time to bury her. I'll be brokenhearted until I do it. I got a small bag of grain. Just in case. Steele, Samantha, and I walked up the hill. She was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, from behind the rock pile surrounded by a ring of seven young trees, there she was. Stamp. Stamp. Stamp went the right foot. Stamp. Stamp. Stamp.

The sixth anniversary of my mother's death is next week. Each year my heart fails me around now. Life does not seem possible. All sadness becomes too much to bear. The suffering ewe had become entangled in my heart with the sorrow I felt at the loss of my mother. But the ewe was alive. More than alive. The ragged bleeding skin was gone. And in its stead was clean pink new skin. A bit swollen, but flesh, clean, healthy. Her eye was open. There was not a fly to be seen. She stamped her foot at me and roared a deep guttural roar at the dog. I hadn't known how much despair had filled my heart until it lifted. And I was free once more.

This morning I took another bag of grain up the hill. She hadn't come close enough to me to eat yesterday's. I also took a small
thermos of coffee in case I had a wait. She and I had to connect today.

She was asleep under a tree I particularly love. It has a fallen branch across a stone wall. It is a perfect place to sit. The branch is just the right height for me. I was prepared to spend the morning if need be. She let me approach. I fed her grain in my hands. She has a funny Dorset face. Sturdy. Chunky. Homely. One eye is glazed. The other is alert. She ate all the grain from my hands. I climbed into the crook of the tree and had my coffee. I decided to name her Rose, after my mother. For the moment, all is well again.

RUGOSA ROSES

R
UGOSA ROSES
, magenta to cerise, are still in bloom on the beach in Connecticut. Not many, but a few, here and there among the leaves. The rose hips are almost ripe. Some have become the dark orange that sets so well against the green leaves. The rest are still wearing a touch of light green, graduating to yellow and orange. I picked a few, just enough to fill my pockets, and make a glass of jam for my daughter. Enough to make a memory or two. And I couldn't resist picking one perfect bloom to give my cousin Marilyn.

Into another pocket went a shell. I don't remember when I last walked on a beach. Silken sand. The ocean roaring into shore. A long time ago, I spent every summer day running on the sand, racing in between the waves. Children run into the water as waves pull away and run out again as waves return. Laughing. Tiny gestures of mastery and power. I'm faster than
that
wave. I'm faster than the ocean. We built sand castles and ate sandwiches and stayed out of the water, prisoners of our mothers' fears. We wore little leather slippers so our feet wouldn't get cut from the shells. I hated those little slippers. To this day I go barefoot beyond the limits of common sense.

The sound of waves coming in crashes into this still quiet room, where the only sound is that of the pen crossing the page. I used to hold my breath and count how long the space was between the waves. The beach had been a bit of ordinary heaven. A familiar pleasure, too familiar to be grand. But grand it seemed the other morning, picking rose hips and filling my pockets with them.

It wasn't my beach. It was my cousin's beach. Mine lay beyond the crescent of Crescent Beach, Niantic, at the place where the Thames River meets the Sound. On summer days, when we weren't at the farm, we'd climb into the big black Buick and drive to Ocean Beach. My parents chose a distant spot, “away” from everyone, on an inlet close to a tiny island, accessible in low tide. We were taught not to swim but walk, our heads held high like little turtles, bathing caps and sand shoes in place, laughing when a wave splashed over us but terrified in our hearts of being swept away.

When I got old enough to dare, I'd slip across the shallow inlet onto the tiny island, not more than a sand dune, I'm sure, and explore. The fear of the tide coming in between me and the safety of my parents spoiled it somehow for me, but I did it anyway. And never told my mother.

On the other days we'd go to the “fahm” and visit my grandparents and cousins. My cousins were lucky to be allowed to stay overnight, while we lived too nearby ever to sleep over. Although now I don't exactly know why we never did.

Two of my cousins and the son of one of them went to visit my grandfather's farm with me on the day of the rugosa roses. We remembered, with varying degrees of detail, our lives there and the lives that had gone on before. We exclaimed about what was still there and what wasn't, how much smaller it seemed to Henry and Marilyn who had last been there longer ago than I. The pastures had been allowed to grow over. Not even a memory of a meadow for a cow, or the potato fields, or the old well remained. There were secret rocks that marked the place beyond which I would not venture into the woods. Those rocks linger in the pasture. And yet pasture does not even appear in dreams in those scruffy woods any longer.

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