Today I planted three blooming bulbs atop the earth where our first-born Shetland, Lily, now lay.
At the end of the day during lambing season, there are only a few moments to make notes in your record books, and you hope that you are adding dates and names of births, not writing in dates of departure. In her life here at Wing & A Prayer Farm, Lily mothered 10 lambs, grandmothered 16 lambs, and great-grandmothered 7 (though we’re waiting on 8 & 9, possibly, tonight.)
She’d been wasting since last summer, not sure exactly why except that she was getting on in age. In the past couple of weeks I knew I would have to face the decision of when. She had stopped eating and was showing signs of discomfort. The days had been so full that I hadn’t had time to properly think it out and this morning I knew I must call the vet and see if they would schedule to come out and euthanize her for me. I hadn’t originally wanted any outside interference so that she could have a stress-free last few days. But yesterday she’d been trembling in the evening and I could tell she was being stoic. It was my duty to help her to find comfort some way, even it if was lay to rest.
When the vet arrived, there were so many other patients to attend to. Two ram lambs from Leia & Padme to be wethered. Two goats to check on coughs and achy-bones. Padme was feeling poorly from the evening prior’s eventful lambing. And sadly, last, but not least, a checkup with Hester who had a stillborn lamb in the wee hours of the morning.
The day should’ve been full of exhilaration and triumph at Padme’s successful lambing the night before, but my experience is that life doesn’t guarantee sustained anything. It guarantees moments of joy, moments of grief, highs, lows, everything in between.
I was so depleted by the end of the day but had a visit to Battenkill Fiber on my calendar that I considered cancelling, a trip to Bennington to deliver a chicken brooder that I had changed the schedule on about 4 times. I knew, after Dr. Kyle left, that I could divulge in a pretty good pity party or I could keep plugging away at the to-do list.
My fleeces and mohair had not been skirted one iota. I had been intending to have it all completed for this date over the last two weeks and never got half an hour to attend to it. I could have cancelled on that note alone. But I loaded up the van and thought that at the very least, the beautiful ride and the detailed discussion at the mill would be beneficial.
They didn’t shoo me away at all, and if anything, encouraged me that my fiber was beyond fine. I wished I’d kept notes at the hilarious exchange between the mill folk. Karen joked “Nope! No dead animals! We’ll take it!” MJ joked “Oh, there’s no skunk spray on this one! We’ll take it!” and so on and so forth. Apparently there have been some pretty poorly presented fleece in their past and I could rest easy that I wouldn’t have to truck mine back to Shaftsbury.
I emptied my van and headed to Bennington where the brooder was speedily removed from the back, soon to be set up for some quickly growing chicks that needed more space.
At home, the barn was fairly vibrating with baahing mamas and whinnying ponies. Everyone got fed at top speed and water buckets were filled, hay flakes dispensed. Hester still wanted her deceased lamb next to her in the stall. The alpacas needed to be brought in. The escaping pony needed to be ministered to. It was going on 7:30 and the sun was low on the horizon.
I’d asked Jim ahead of time if he could prepare a grave, borrowing our neighbor’s backhoe, and he drove the tractor around to the back field near the woods where we lay to rest our fiber friends. I had wrapped Lil in a starry sheet and we lowered her in, daffodils tucked round her head like a garland. What a beautiful, soft and kind face she always had.
Burying our animals takes my heart right out of me. That awful, painful squeezing never seems to go away. After I secured the daffodils in the soft soil of the grave, I went in and poured myself an elixir. Tonight, I decided, I would toast to Lily’s legacy with a dram of Scotch whiskey.
A Parting Glass to Lily:
To life, to death, to everything in between. To the poetry that is in the rhythm of our days. To the Shetland sheep.
To Hester, bless her. To Hester’s little ewe lamb. To not having answers.
To little ram lambs whose testicles haven’t fully descended. To goats that have junk in their lungs but no fever. To goats that have lumps.
To fiber mill owners that go out of their way to make you welcome with your chaffy-mohair.
To young farmers that build chick habitats and sleep with them in their bedroom until they just get too big.
To husbands that dig holes for runout sheds and graves where the rocks want to break the equipment.
To friends that offer to help you bring lambs into the world in the deep of night.
To moms that call you to make sure the lambs are all fine.
To vets that pat your back gently for reassurance.
To lambs that allow you to pick them up and hold them to your chest while you sink your cheek into their warm and wooly body.
To the kindest, least complaining, trusting and devoted Shetland ewe that I could ever hope to remember. That day you came into the world, Lily. I remember it like yesterday.