We are still young enough to this that each lambing season is distinctly different. This year is like no other. Every year is new.
I came home for spring break and chopped my hair off for the first time in four years and the two weeks were so brief, filled with uncertainty and new-ness. The runt of a set of quadruplets spent an extra cold night in my bedroom that wasn’t yet my bedroom, and in the middle of the night I heard it escape the cardboard box we had left it in, tiny hooves tip tapping over the bare wood floor. Carmen made me promise to come home and work for her that summer, and I negotiated for my wage, and we both signed a post it note and pinned it to the fridge. It was full of beginnings and also not-knowings and we still had a shadow of guidance.
A formative year. Sweatshirt weather in february leaves the acrid taste of climate change in my mouth, harsh learning about pulling lambs and death and the way the sun can still warm your bones after you’ve lost one. The formation of teamwork, assembling ourselves in new ways. the discovery of problems, from mastitis to trouble giving birth. The not-knowing what to do about it and letting the year go. Wild herd of little boer goat kids, impossible to contain, with little growing wacky horn buds from a big learning curve with the horn-burner. Leaving for a trip at the end of lambing, not yet so committed to the cycle of seasons on the farm, but from across the world, all I can think about is writing down my feelings about lambing.
The coping with the problems we learned about the year before. We lambed with the same ewes, not having marked which ones were the problem ones, we had to do it over in order to know who wasn’t a good mom anymore. Discoveries of half-bad udders, ewes who got their babies twisted up inside. Notching their ears so we couldn’t forget again.
Coming home from Prairie Preview under a pink sunset sky and bright orange full moon, glowering down on our small souls. Feeling the urgency of having left the barn a little bit too long, racing out to discover a lambing-pocalypse happened while we were gone. Diving into the pen to help a ewe in distress, little black lambs like shrimpy shadows, the lost and tiny first triplet curled up, abandoned, on the other side of the barn.
The development of my identity as the “anxious shepherdess,” a little too worried, constantly, but with good instincts and trying to use books to make up for a lack of confidence.
A ewe dies of worms in March. The winter did nothing, it seemed, to the parasites and pests that year. A new wave of grief– seeding wildflower mix and sweet peas the day of the funeral, only for the seeds to get snowed on four more times before germinating. The beginning of a long year of struggles.
The long cold winter. Polar vortex bringing unseen negatives right before lambing, hauling buckets of warm water from the house, over the sheet of ice that has become the driveway.
Instead of the struggles of the previous year– having successfully gotten rid of the trouble ewes– the lambing season has been structured around a rigorous barn check schedule. When it is so cold, new lambs, wet and covered in birth sac and placenta, cannot stay warm, even if their mamas clean them up good. Thus necessitating we leave the barn unchecked for no more than four hours, ever. Every two hours during the day. A rigorous overnight schedule– me, 10 pm. Carmen, midnight. Me, 4 am. Carmen, 6. We leave each other notes on scraps of paper on the kitchen table, sometimes turning into poems. Mostly just observations of exceptional cuddles in the barn.
We’ve developed different routes across the ice field to the barn. Do you take the sheet of ice, with no obstructions but very slick, taking baby steps in your time-worn tractionless rubber barn boots? Or do you climb over the four foot drift, hardened enough to walk on by wind and ice, but with dangerous crevasses you could fall into and break your leg? The dog slips on the ice and gets a bruise on her neck that makes it swell up and difficult to breathe. We think its lymphoma, we think its the end. But its just a bruise.
Is that the way my heart can be? Suddenly, the rain of bad things begins again, and it becomes difficult to take off the feeling of emergency mode. I can’t turn off anxiety brain, and I’m on high alert. Pisces season means crying every day, not because of my own sadness, but because I care about my friends too much, and that was such an inspiring gymnastics video, and *insert any scene from law and order: SVU or queen sugar*, because march is now a sad anniversary itself, and because after a pretty good track record, we lose three lambs in one day and it’s not our fault but it is. so sad.
But it is just a bruise.
Dreaming of spring. The sun came up at 6:40 am yesterday and the birds were up to tell us about it. The office bedroom and the basement and the greenhouse are filling up with seedlings and the ten-day forecast is slowly, slowly, climbing towards the other side of 32 degrees. The ice sheet is not a permanent fixture of this farm.
Ice will give way to floods will give way to thunderstorms will give way to the kind of 90 degree corn sweat humidity can’t sleep with a sheet on type of summer day I’ll long to escape from. Iowa is a strange land of extremes and is guaranteed to push those ends of the spectrum in these coming tumultuous years, but its also the teeniest bit nice to remember that none of this is permanent. Change will always come for us.