Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Story from June 28, 2008

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 28 June 2008

I lost my shadow this week.

For the last several years, everywhere I went on the farm I was followed by Mary, a big black Coopworth & Corriedale cross ewe. She had a stately Roman nose, a beautiful topknot of tightly curled wool right between her ears & plenty of attitude to go with her looks. She knew exactly what she intended to do all of the time. She often talked to me when she saw or heard me outside. She sometimes didn't even lift her head from grazing, just maaaaa-ed at me as I walked past. Mary followed me through every gate, usually pushing me up against the fence post so that she'd have enough room. Whenever she was pregnant she would expect me to open the gate an extra arms length as she grew wider with each passing day. She also expected me to wait with the gate held open is she had a new lamb trailing behind her. I would not allow most of the sheep to act like that but Mary just had a way about her so that it was easy for her to get away with things. She'd occasionally follow me right to the door of the house but that is where I drew the line. The few times when her nose went over the door sill, I would gently turn her head away & budge her with my knee until I could get the door closed.

Just a year ago in the spring Mr. Potter & I had traveled to Orlando for a conference. On the second night into the three day meeting, we called home to check on everything. Our children are quite capable of managing the farm so we were enjoying our trip. One of them happened to mention that Mary, who was pregnant at the time, was down but that they had started her on the appropriate medications. After a few questions, we were assured that all was well. As the late afternoon wore on, we continued to fret about Mary. Of course we trusted the children, but it was Mary. At supper time we decided we had to head home & miss the last day of the conference. We explained to the gentleman at the front desk that we had an ill sheep & had to return to South Carolina. He was very compassionate & even voluntarily offered to refund us for the rest of the hotel stay. We were back in the Upstate in about 9 hours after driving through the night. Mary recovered a few days later. And she probably would have recovered without us – but it was Mary.

Mary was probably one of our oldest sheep. Her rich black wool had grayed through the years but was still soft & a joy to work with. She had seemed slower lately, especially since the heat set in a few weeks ago. But she had not been ill or “down”. There was no sign of any struggle or distress so I feel it is fair to say (as my grandfather would have...) that she just woke up dead. As frustrating as it could be to try to carry a bucket of eggs while Mary pushed me through a gate, I already miss her terribly.

Mary & another sheep, Anise, came from West Virginia years ago. Of course, when I made arrangements to buy them from West Virginia I totally forgot that the state of West Virginia goes almost all the way to the suburbs of Washington D.C. I was thinking about the part of West Virginia about 6 hours away that we travel through on our way to Ohio. Instead, my precious & very patient husband took a longer-than-reasonable trip to collect our pretty lambs.

Each year we would delight when we could tell people, “Mary had a little lamb!”. This year she had twins but only one survived. He is a perky little beige fellow with his mother's profile. I found him calmly grazing in the orchard just before I walked around the back of the house to find Mary dead under a pine tree. Mary had pretty much weaned him but he still looked to her to mother him. I left Mary's body for him. I know it sounds weird but I wanted him to adjust to the fact that she had not just wandered off or he would have spent lots of time crying & searching for her. Instead, he would graze a bit & then lay near her under the tree. Every time I saw him curled up a few feet from her body, tears came to my eyes. And each time he maaaa'd then paused to hear his mother's reply, I stopped cold. He did spend some of Wednesday grazing with Jezebelle (a Shetland ewe born in North Carolina, hence the Southern “belle” at the end of her name) & her lamb so I was optimistic that he would take up with them. He also laid down near Lila, one of the Anatolian Shepherds, for a bit.

Wednesday evening Mr. Potter removed Mary's body. I had realized earlier in the day that the little lamb did not have a name, having been referred to simply as “Mary's lamb”. I named him Leo. It seemed to fit as I saw him sitting quietly staring off into nowhere with his little legs folded in front of him. Something about his color & carriage reminded me of a lion.

Although Leo had been one of those lambs who didn't like people-contact much, he let me walk up on him several times through the day. Once I was a few feet from him, he would cautiously walk away. But by the end of the afternoon I was able to walk up to him when he was resting by his tree. I gently spoke to him while I placed my hand on his back & rubbed his neck & ears. Once he even closed his eyes & relaxed his whole body so that I felt he was enjoying the affection.

Thursday morning I went out early to search for Leo. He was not at the pine tree where he'd spent a good deal of Wednesday. Instead, he was grazing a few feet from Jezebelle & her lamb. As Jezebelle called for her lamb to walk on, Leo joined them & crossed the yard. I would not go so far as to say that Leo has bonded to either Jezebelle or to me but I certainly hope that he is sensing that he is not alone.

I am sorry to have to share a sad story with you today. I have so many days filled with plenty of work but rewarded with plenty of joy. Little things make us laugh or simply smile throughout the day. As we've gotten to know the personalities of our animals we can chuckle at them as we watch them act so true to their nature. They have routines & habits just like we do. I can tell what time it is each day by looking out the kitchen window to see who is grazing or playing & who is just laying around chewing cud.

We are fascinated by the tenderness that everything from a feisty little mother hen to an aloof old cow show to their offspring. It is hysterical to watch an old sheep allow someone else's lambs or kids use him as a sliding board as he tries to nap. The babies often jump up on his shoulders, climb toward the top of his head & then turn around to slip down his spine. After a few rounds he gently pulls himself to his feet & ambles off but still allows the babies a few more turns the next time he lays down.

And it seems that so many of the animals are playful no matter what their age. It is so much fun to watch everything kick up heels & gallivant on a chilly morning. Windy days are even funnier with goats chasing leaves & chickens trying to stand into the wind so that their feathers aren't blown inside- out & up over their heads. Duck arguments are hysterical – no injury or bloodshed, just lots of noise!

So Mary died as a dignified old gal. Her lamb will have plenty of love. And, all in all, life on the farm is good. But please keep praying for rain!

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