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December 2004

The Great Blue Heron soared over the length of the brook, then gliding to the pond, settled on the gate post of the long wooden fence surrounding June Grass Pasture. They have become a symbol here on my farm. Were I to create my own coat-of-arms, unprecedented in these hills, I'd choose the Heron, wings spread, carrying a lamb tied in a ribbon. They Soar would be the motto. They Soar. As do my dreams.

I watched the Heron before me and my flock surrounding me as they grazed the round bale I had just opened for them. Baleage. Sweet smelling, with a faint hint of malt, and yet keeping the breath of summer, white plastic peeled away, six hundred pounds of second cutting hay. A joy to both this farmer and my sheep.

I took armfuls to the goats. They are living in the lambing room for the moment. Neat and quite tidy. Fairly content, except for the moments when they, for no explicable reason, attack one another. With a vengeance. Goats fight. Sometimes. Sheep fight rarely. Except as today when two very pregnant ewes decided to face off and butt heads, the sound shaking the rafters, until the sound of my shouting diverted one. Not the other. And the exercise lost its interest.

My son Joachim is coming Friday night to help me here on the farm. Winter had approached cautiously, until yesterday, when it decided to announce its presence with a vehemence I could easily have lived without. I am not ready. Have I ever been? I think not. There is almost enough hay in the barn. Unusual but not unprecedented. I began the season with 2,162 bales. Short 500 of the winter's needs. October was mild. It is only now that there is snow on the ground. A hundred sheep and thirteen goats eat almost six hundred pounds of hay a day. I lift, throw, climb down a ladder and proceed again to lift, throw and in other ways, move sixteen thirty-five pounds of hay a day, one hundred and seventy days a year. Great exercise. Some years it allowed me to eat ice cream every night, or, deep into the winter, hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream. But I've lost the taste for both. Small pleasures over done.

My wood room is nearly full of firewood. It is one of the biggest rooms in this house of many rooms, a story and a half tall, L shaped, surrounding my farm office. The wood in the foot of the L is stacked eight feet high, eight by eight by six and a half, four hundred and sixteen cubic feet. Nine weeks worth, I hope, of firewood to burn in January and February. If I seem committed to a fascination with multiplying numbers it is because I am. All farmers are. Protein ratios and total digestible nutrients and selenium content are the things with which all farmers are obsessed. I don't milk, except occasionally some of the goats and so I don't have to figure out protein levels and somatic cell counts. But when I milk, I do weigh both milk and grain and enter neat tiny figures in my daily journal. But the amount of wood in the wood room, the summer kitchen, and the pile on the lawn still to be brought in under cover, influences how much work I shall have to do, subzero afternoons, and how much suffering shall have to be endured here this winter. I burn thirty face cords a year, Catskill Mountains, a fire in the fireplace or one of the wood stoves each month of the year. This year there shall be more than enough for the first time in a long time. I've been stacking it myself, and proudly show off to anyone who will put up with me. It is

almost perfectly neat. And is divided into classifications. All nighters, big, heavy unsplit wood for the fireplace. Slab wood, thin, hot burning, good starter wood for the fireplace as well. Limb wood for the blue enamel Vermont Casting Defiant in the kitchen to keep it going, in theory, all night. Round cardboard bins of pinecones, still damp and tightly closed. Split wood of varying lengths to accommodate each of the three stoves and one fireplace I keep going all winter. One more stove to be added when I get the chimney cleaned.

Joachim shall help me put up the storm windows. In this house of over seventy windows, forty-six in my part alone, that is a task. We won't get to them all. And he shall help me worm the sheep and goats before they are put in the barn for the winter, where they are certain to pick up parasites from one another. The problems of proximity. Worming is essential to the well being of this flock of pregnant ewes and soon to be bred does.

I am a farmer. It has been an evolution of sorts, a demand, rather, because I had never intended to become one and had no background to sustain this way of life. It was the farthest thing from my life experience imaginable. I had been raised in an overprotected environment where cautionary tales about the dangers of all creatures having four legs were instilled in me from the time I noticed a puppy existed in a form other than that of a stuffed toy. It was of great sadness to me that I was not allowed to even pet the horses that were living next door, let alone even dare to be taught to ride. When I was six. I spent much of my childhood bedridden, making paper dolls and their clothes and inventing stories about their lives. My favorite had auburn hair, green eyes, and lived with her uncle. Shades of The Secret Garden. That I would grow up to sleep sandwiched between my Border Collie, Steele, and her Border Collie cross daughter Samantha, winter nights, was inconceivable to me. Sometimes it still is. The tiny puppy who has now enlivened my farm, would have been equally inconceivable. Fly Flannagan. Border Collie pup. Male. Seven weeks old today. Fly, Fly Flannagan. Fly.

The thick sweet smell of baleage filled the air as I bundled some to take to the carriage house flock. They are a combination of newly acquired black Finns, two less recently acquired dairy ewes, and a Horned Dorset purchased last year. As none of them were born here, they don't exactly know the rules, and consequently have given me something of a hard time, and having led the flock once too often to the neighbor's are now locked inside. Less freedom for them. More work for me. They too needed baleage.

I've walked, of late, with great regularity, across the June Grass pasture to the small pond the beavers have made in part of the brook. My task is the opposite from theirs. I tear out a niche in their dam nearly every day to lower the water table so it shall not flood my pasture. They patch it each night to raise the water table so it shall flood my pasture, enlarging their home pond. The heron fishes the brook and now the new pond as well. He shall not be deprived of fish were the pond made lower, but the beavers shall be deprived of their needs. They've cut most of the trees and shrubs from the length of the brook up to the sheep crossing. Marsh grass is beginning to invade the pasture. I tether the goats to the wooden fence and let them graze it down, I hope to extinction. I love that little walk and the vehemence added to my day when I toss branches, mud, and sedge with wild abandon from the dam back to the pasture.

The sheep have had their fill of the sweet malt flavored round bale of second cutting and drift away. I gather still another armful for the carriage house sheep. And the Great Blue Heron soars.

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