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August 2007

We sheared yesterday. Very late this year. And incompletely. Incompletely. But sheared we did. Eighteen sheep out of a hundred. It takes me two or three days to prepare. One partial day to supervise the lambing room, where it all takes place, being hoed out. Read Luke Ferguson and cousin for two hours. Together. And the next day, Jeff Arnold, two hours. And then, of course, there is house cleaning to be done in readiness to welcome whomsoever shall come to help. In this instance, my son Joachim, for the weekend, my hired man for half a day, the Shearer and a guest. I had donated an invitation to help with shearing and to join us for shearing dinner to an auction to benefit Hospice. A very lovely man bid and won the privilege of getting dirty with us wrestling some sheep to the ground. I scrubbed the kitchen floor (which hadn't been mopped since Christmas) for hours during two long, hot, mid-summer afternoons. Scraping and scrubbing and pouring boiling water over a pint of Pine Sol to loosen the dirt, until, now, it merely looks as if a good scrubbing is in order on what does look like a floor of a house rather than the floor of a barn. I painted the mudroom walls (five windows with a total of sixty panes of glass). In between all this, and milking and barn chores, I cooked. Many things. All day long, the day before shearing, and intermittently for the morning of the event itself. I made twelve things. Forgot one. Served eleven. In this house, making a loaf of bread often means first, milking a goat, then making a small cheese to have enough whey to help the crumb be even. Fortunately, I don't make butter. Yet. I also made a supply of verjus last year for use on salads. It is a medieval version of vinegar made from unripe grapes. That, of course, didn't count as one of the twelve things. The cheese did, however. I served marinated white beans (starting with dried ones) dressed with verjus, Roland's French mustard, the kind with the seeds, finely chopped red onion, oil cured black olives, garlic and olive oil. Also were Italian sweet sausages, poached with onions, garlic, beer and red wine, served, finely sliced, at room temperature. There were fresh beets, boiled and pickled. Beet tops cooked with tomatoes and onions. Rice. Chicken cooked with mushrooms in beer. A green salad. A Shaker Daily Loaf. Chocolate Devil's Food cake and elderberry rob as a drink. I forgot to serve the string beans with lemon butter.

      My farm was the Shearer's second experience in establishing her new career shearing a flock that was not her own. I have been rereading the Angela Thirkell Barsetshire novels of late. I usually do, summers. There is much in them to be learned. And much to make me laugh. I wish I had her gift for the English language. She does so beautifully describe in her 31 books about Barsetshire in England how to manage life in the country. Although country life as she wrote about it was even more rapidly in the wane than it is here, there remains to be a great deal to be said for the lessons she gives. She was well versed in the ways to manage the people who work either on the farms or in the houses. An advantage however, for farmers in her society, was that everyone knew and understood the rules of mutual co-existence and co-operation. How to diplomatically handle a shearer of great potential but little experience, was a problem requiring generations of its own kind of experience, inborn and observed, to handle properly, on my part. Diplomacy of the highest order. My only solution, or the only one apparent to me was to give up altogether and just let the day unfold. As long as my sheep were not ill-treated or injured, I simply accepted this young, energetic, kind, hard working person for the really nice girl she is and let go of the rest. The rest including wanting heads or tails shorn as well as bodies.

      She stood them each one at a time on a stand that was very much like my milking stand and began shearing by clipping a wide stripe down their backs and easing their fleeces down off each side. The sheep were then taken down from the stand. My son held them between his knees as she trimmed the sheep's head, neck, shoulders and chest. Eighteen were shorn. In eight hours. Not counting the time spent at dinner. I stayed calm. My former shearer did 68 in about five hours. Not including dinner.

      I concentrated on going beyond a state of self-discipline and entering into a state of calm acceptance of the events unfolding before me. With equanimity. And so I lived through shearing in my role of simply being the farmer. Watching my sheep (some of them) get shorn of their winter fleeces. Slowly. And in the role of the farmer's wife cooking the dinner. And the "daily," cleaning up. And the estate agent writing checks, calculating how much the fleeces were worth (nothing) and how much the "staff" were to be paid. And the lady of the manor wondering from where the money was to come. All in all, it was more fun than it would have been had I lost my temper and had to struggle to regain it.

      August is my favorite month here on the farm. It far surpasses November and February as the two leading contenders. February also doubles as the worst month. However, it has great potential. And promise. But August has the capacity, if I hold up under its demands, to deliver its promises. With immediacy. I have been making currant jam and have decided to drain it as jelly in order to use the marc left from jelly making to flavor vodka to create a red currant liqueur. It is questionable if I shall ever drink the stuff. However, I want it. I've a gallon jar of last year's elderberry cordial sitting half full on the pie making table in the kitchen. It's never been strained and so isn't entirely containing a drinkable cordial, (as my mother would say stretching out the o in cordial). But it is a very very nice thing to filter and sip on a chilly winter evening. The thought of having it adds greatly to the pleasure. I make jams to capture the tastes of summer as it is frequently said. And sometimes they do. Apricot jam is a favorite of mine. However, as they have become far too expensive for me to make jam from I was overjoyed to find a recipe using dried apricots. It is extraordinary in its intense flavor.

      My son, Joachim, and I went on the side hill the morning after shearing to see if the blueberries were getting ripe. There shall be an abundance of them this year. They were still green, but quite large. Amongst the bushes on the side hill were thickets of blackberries, my favorite. I eat yogurt, when I make it, and especially love it with blackberry jam.

      I took Joachim to a small wild thicket on the farm which was unfamiliar to him. I've not allowed any changes to be made there, except when allowing ten feet of a collapsed section of wall to be palletized. Quite without permission most of the remaining wall was dismantled, packed quite neatly onto pallets, and never moved again. Should some money ever find its way here that doesn't have demands made on it, I shall have the wall rebuilt. In a way, the man who authorized the unauthorized palletization did me a kindness. The stones are beautifully ordered and now can be most efficiently reassembled. There are eight or ten very large trees along the remnants of the wall. I saw in one, a year or so ago, the nest of a Great Blue Heron who fished in the pond the beavers had made. The pond is gone. The herons fish at the pond next door fed by the brook that runs through my farm.

      The rich abundance of August fills the air with smells of fruits beginning to ripen. I am possessed with a deep sense of urgency. And, for the first time, a fear that I won't come through. Each moment of August is critical. What is not accomplished now has a direct bearing on my life in the heart of the winter. Wood needs be properly stacked. In a woodroom that is properly ordered. Food must be put by. Provisions laid in. Order recreated in the house. Hay must be stacked. It is in my hand that the details of practical reality lie. And in God's hand that I lie. I rarely ask. But today, I ask please let me be all that I can. All that I can.

Sylvia Jorrín

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