a year ago today

Just about one year ago today:

Mid-January. Soggy brown grass glows with frost first thing in the morning. My sister, Carmen, is bed-ridden with the stomach flu, so I head out to do morning chores solo, wearing my saggy gray sweatpants and the thread-bare carhartt jacket that came with this house she bought last year. Heavy on my feet are my timberlands, worn and untied, but still clean enough to wear to town.

I can hear the lambs bleating the moment I step out the door. I pause on the cement step, listening, unsure. I make a beeline for the flock of ewes in the field, swinging my legs over a wobbly fence, almost falling. My mind takes a minute to catch up to my feet, comprehension is slow this early in the morning.

It can’t be possible—our sheep aren’t due to have their lambs for another month, but my ears aren’t lying—something’s wrong, I can hear it. I clomp down the hill with untied boots, and sure enough, I can see them, dark little shrimps in comparison to the large wooly ewes. Two of them, they stand alone on trembling legs against the side of the hill. They stare at me with wide eyes, still bleating.

As I pull out my phone to dial Carmen (if anything were to make her get out of bed, this is it), I cast my eyes around the flock, looking for the mom. She should have a full udder, and she should still be covered in after-birth. There she is! A third dark lamb hovers behind her, the smallest by far.

“What?” Carmen groans when she answers the phone. I can hear that she can’t believe there would be anything worth calling her for. Honestly, I can’t believe it myself.

“We got lambs,” I say, to the shock of us both. “We have lambs in the field!” We collect ourselves quickly, make a plan. We have to get the new mom and lambs into the barn, where its warmer and they have access to fresh hay. I gather the two bigger lambs in my jacket, zipping them in with their heads sticking out. It isn’t unbearably cold out this morning, but they’re shivering, and they need to get inside. I hike up the hill with these babes in my arms. I’m out of shape, its January, for goddsake, and we aren’t anticipating lambs for another month. Carmen staggers out to herd the rest of the flock up, there’s no way we will be able to round up the mom and the third lamb out in the field.

As I stumble up the hill, panting, the lambs are calm, gazing around them. Even though I’ve walked them away from their mom, they are quiet together. The world they’ve been thrust into is gray and harsh and cold and here they are, so warm and small, and for a moment, there is nothing in my brain but the urgent need to keep these nuggets alive. I reach the barn, kneel down in the hay, and sit with these lambs, so small in a big big world. I didn’t think, a couple years ago, that I would ever be here now, mid-wifing a flock of sheep just down the road from where I grew up. I wanted to leave, to do anything else, and now the only thing I can think about are these small woolly babes and how precious life is.

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