I've been looking forward - for a very long time - to telling you about our sheep. I had planned on the introduction being full of lots of exclaimation points to all the wonderful words that sheep evoke for us: Fiber! Wool! Shetlands! Spinning! Yarn! Baaaa!
But, sometimes life doesn't fit so neatly into such blog posts as that one I had written in my head. Wrapping this particular story up into a tidy, presentable, honest and coherent tale for you is not coming easily for me. Doing so without assigning blame, or leaving ourselves open to attack, when I already feel so vulnerable, seems impossible. To be honest, I'd rather just skip over this chapter of our lives entirely and show you the happy ending, leaving out the hard middle part. But that doesn't feel like the 'right' and honest thing to do. Because if there is one thing I have learned in this, our short time beginning to farm, it is that there with all the life and beauty and glory on the farm comes just as much mess, heartbreak and death. They go hand in hand, they are one in the same.
A few weeks ago, we found two year-old shetland ewes for sale - the very breed I had been looking for. I asked all the 'right' questions before buying them, and we brought Maggie and Cocoa home with us last Thursday morning. It quickly became apparent to us that there was something wrong, and we called in a livestock veterinarian. He discovered that they were quite ill, and had been for some time (even though we - nor their previous owner - had seen the symptoms, though more experienced farmers likely would have). The next hours were filled with medications, tube feeding, warming sheep by the woodstove, blankets, rubs and lots of love. It was all too late. By Friday morning, Cocoa was dead. On Sunday morning, Maggie died.
There are so many more details to this story, but I don't have the heart or voice to share them, nor do you really need to hear them. It has all been....heartbreaking. I cannot summon more words than that.
But of course, that never comes alone, does it? The heartbreak? Because at the very same time that we have been surrounded by all of this illness, loss and guilt, we found something we weren't expecting at all. Community. For two days, we had great hopes that the second sheep would make it, and in that time, scrambled to find her a companion (sheep love other sheep, naturally). Our veterinarian connected us with some shetland sheep farmers, all "neighbors" that we had never met. Within hours, we had phone conversations with many of them, farm visits with one, invitations to lunch with another, promises of spinning lessons, leads on good hay, and offers of rams from others - all delivered with a lot of listening ears, sympathy and gentle advice. Dare I say, the beginning of meaningful friendships and a sense of community to us, newly settling down roots here as we are? Yes, community.
There have been a lot of tears shed these past days. Sadness in death, gratitude for the lessons learned, warmth in the goodness of people, comfort in knowing that we are not alone.
This morning I woke early, as I hope to do each morning for a while, to spend some time in the pasture. I sat quietly on a rock, waiting and watching. And I marveled at the amazing creatures before me - Cinnamon and Emily. Healthy and strong, they were given to us this weekend by a local Shetland sheepbreeder, who has offered help, made phone calls to check in, and been a source of great comfort for us as we continue on after a rough start.
I sat with them quietly, these girls. I'm trying to earn their trust, to let them know that I am safe. And with each word and gesture like that to them, I am pledging to myself as well, to be the very best shepherdess I can be. With the weight of loss heavy in my heart, and the promise of life light in their faces, I promise to tend them as best I can. This morning, in real progress, they each ate out of my hands. When they were done, they stuck around by my side, letting me pull a burr off their fleece here and there, and even, from Cinnamon, I got a few moments of loving nose nudges. Oh, my heart.