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February 2007

The wind last evening remembered the time if has spent across an ocean, far from land, and tried, in its intensity, to remind me as well. Fierce would be an inadequate description. It frightened me. I stood for a moment in the lovely little snow swept yard behind the carriage house, watching the night sky. It has been a peaceful night, all things considered. Most ewes had bonded with their lambs. Most lambs had found their mothers. The "sharp teeth" lambs had managed to find me or I them. All that was well was well. All that wasn't was dead. Sometimes I don't knew how I stand it. Even, on occasion, I wonder why I stand it. But that thought only lasts a second. Never two. One reason is little Hope Mackenzie, the tiniest little thing, who now races to see me or the bottle in my hand, first thing in the morning. She is a miracle of the sort that my farm specializes in. She is a who the hell is your mother breed of lamb. A feather is my hand. Tiny. This has been a year of the biggest lambs ever born here and the smallest. She numbered among the smallest. She wasn't interested in sucking on a bottle. I tube fed her the magic mixture, including a shot of espresso coffee, gave her the usual injection of antibiotics, B complex vitamins and selenium. Put her in a box with fleece, baggies filled with hot water, and waited. She was interested in the morning's bottle, but not enough. I tube fed her three ounces and waited. No good. She began to swell up. Gas. I put a tube down her once more to pour in some baking soda and Pepto Bismol. While reaching for the pink stuff, the lamb tucked under my arm, I unintentionally had her head pointed down, and out of the tube poured about half of the junk in her stomach that had caused her distress. I got a bit of baking soda and Pepto Bismol down her, propped her on a cushion to keep her head up, put her by the wood stove and let go. Or tried to let go. She began to breathe heavily. I hadn't seen that before. Mornings can be rough here for me. This year, only really distressed lambs find their way into the house. This little fragile creature was one of them. She had sat so nicely in my lap when she first came in. Tidy. Neat. Perfectly proportioned. An exquisite miniature sheep. Her head and body were in flawless confirmation. She had a tight curly fleece, signs of a freckled nose, dainty legs and feet. I wanted her to live. And went to bed expecting to find her dead or dying in the kitchen. Misery invades my heart mornings during lambing season. I never know what I shall find. But go downstairs anyway, open the door to let the pup out for a moment and go back into the house. The little lamb ran over to me first thing that morning. You shall stay. Hope Mackenzie is your name. Has there been another Hope? Maybe. But one can not have too many.

The barn has remained to be home for lambs who have mothers without quite enough milk that need a supplemental bottle, or mothers too young to be bothered, or with sharp teeth or aggressive twin brothers who hog all the milk. They are fed three times a day down there. Hot milk replacer that chills on its way to the barn. The perfect container at last! A giant jug from my daughter's restaurant that once held red pepper. I don't know how much it holds, except that it is just enough.

There are eighty-five lambs down there at the moment. Most are for sale. A few have captured my imagination, if not my common sense. A set of triplets that have never left their jug is going to stay. The ram lamb is huge, one ewe lamb is beautiful. And the smallest has a brain and personality. While she nurses like her brother and sister, she knew I was a source of something extra for her. Three ten ounce bottles a day to be exact. She hears my voice when I come down the ladder calling, "Do I have any lambs", and starts blatting for me to notice her. She is usually the last to be fed because she does, after all, have a mother from whom she can nurse. But blatt she does until I pick her up.

A eweling from a Finn-Landrace is particularly beautiful. She is a twin and it does make sense to keep her. But her sister or half sister from another Finn-Landrace (white lambs from brown sheep, by the way) is another story. She is the fastest creature in the barn. Born running and yelling. Her mother is not always near by, but does have a very nice distinctive way of calling her. Sometimes, she is even successful. In other words, I have become fond of this little creature who runs like the wind, talks up a storm and squiggles out of my hands when I try to catch her. She is not beautiful. Just barely nice. But has a spirit I admire. Now, that is not a justifiable criteria for choosing a sheep to remain in the flock. Most flocks. Any flock I've ever heard of, for that matter, but mine.

This has been a strange lambing season. Aren't they all? It is a season of twins, one large, one small, one with sharp teeth, one with no teeth, one bottled, one nursing. It has been a season of the smallest lambs ever and the biggest. There have been a few mysterious deaths of very large healthy looking lambs that I've earmarked to stay. And lambs who managed to be on the bottom of the pile they seem to enjoy making on top of each other. One of my largest ewes had a microscopically small lamb this morning. Alive. Shiny coat. Pretty. Lively. And firm. Any farmer worth his salt would choose lambs to keep from the most perfect and the most prolific ewes. Not I. Any shepherd with a brain in his head would not keep a lamb because it too exhibits a brain, but rather that it could make him money. After all, some stay, as my ancient Mc Bride, for ten or eleven years. But I am neither a shepherd worth my salt or with half a brain in my head because it is I who am racing in the wind at midnight, warm milk in baby bottles in my pocket for that too small lamb with a bit off tail and a huge dam who shall eat me out of house and home and don't even wonder for more than a second. Why.

Sylvia Jorrín

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