Meet Bowie, part Maremma and part livestock guardian dog. All of eight weeks old, she came to us from a farm in New Jersey and has been alternating between been utterly adorable and quite a handful. She is curious about everything, confident, loving, smart as a whip, and open to every new situation. She is unrelenting in her efforts to charm and play with our Sophie, who is completely baffled and outraged by the entrance of this new creature into our midst. Why???? Sophie seems to be asking me, Am I not enough???!!!
Until she has all her shots, especially the one for rabies which is administered at 12 weeks, Bowie sleeps in the house (in a well appointed crate) rather than in the barn. She will really not begin her true guarding duties until she is two, per the advice of the experts I’ve read and talked to. So, she is very much an LGD in training. And I’m an LGD mom in training, too. We are getting to know each other and our new roles on this farm, every day brings some new lesson learned the hard way. And Sophie? Well, Sophie is tolerating this interloper with forbearance and dignity…for now…
Last year, as I turned my focus from being a sixth grade teacher to being a shepherd and fiber farming, I began setting into motion what will come to fruition today: a flock of sheep.
Last night, as I made the end of the day rounds at twilight, I paused by the big barn with its indoor silo lit up as it usually is by this time of the evening, and took measure of what lies ahead: a new adventure, a learning process, a time of nurturing a whole new menagerie of farm life. Bowie, our Livestock Guardian dog, arrived on Saturday. Thelma and Louis, our barn cats, arrived on Sunday. And today brings the arrival of four lambs from Foster Sheep Farm.
I have not had much time to sit down and write anything worthwhile on this blog for a while, but I think it’s important to start doing so. After all, it’s not every day that brings such a dramatic shift in one’s life. I’ve been thinking sheep for so long that I can’t remember exactly when my thoughts turned in this direction, but…here we go, the shepherding life begins.
For some reason, I thought of my beloved sixth graders this morning. Specifically, the way in which I (metaphorically) shepherded them through their year with me, and then did what I could to continue that work in the years after. My teaching life, my shepherding life – they are connected in so many lovely ways. The sun is just beginning to rise here, it looks to be a beautiful day in which to begin a new life journey.
When we first brought Sophie home to our suburban New Jersey home, we knew only this about her: she was about 3 years old, she had been rescued from a high-kill shelter in West Virginia, and she was rather shy and anxious. In time, she settled into a life of being the center of our family’s attention and over-the-top affection. She lost her shyness, and was only anxious when in the car. Although she deigned to be friendly to two-legged people who were not mail carriers, she was less so with the four-legged kind. Perhaps that had something to do with the two cats who also lived in our house at the time: Hope, who didn’t like anyone, and Toby, who could never seem to stay still enough to make friends. Sophie came to understand the suburban rule of never being off-leash when walked, although she much preferred being allowed to race ahead when we went hiking where she could be set free. Sophie was a happy dog. Little did we know that she secretly pined to be something else…a farm dog.
Her wish came true four years ago, when we bought our farm. Sophie seemed to know exactly what to do from the moment we opened the car door. She bounded out without hesitation and spent the rest of the day racing up and down our pastures and through our woods, stopping every now and then to sniff around and get her bearings. By the end of that first day, she had settled in and established her favorite positions from where to survey her domain: the front porch, the stone wall behind the farmhouse, and the porch overlooking the lower pasture:
And, she had set in gear the twice a day ritual that was to mark every farm day, a long walk in the woods:
Sophie has been my shadow every farm day, whether I’m gardening or hanging up the laundry to dry or writing on the porch or sitting on the front steps listening to the coyotes on a full mooned summer night.
This past year, however, has been a steep decline for Sophie. She has lost most of her vision and some of her hearing, arthritis has set in and movement has become painfully difficult. Her appetite is not what it used to be, and her preferred activity now is to sleep by the wood stove. Squirrels no longer interest her, moonlight walks no longer entice her. She still loves her farm, though she is learning to enjoy it in a different way. This is something I am having a rather difficult time adjusting to…
April brings even more reasons to celebrate the wonder that is poetry, one of which is participating in Irene Latham‘s annual Progressive Poem the chance to create a poem, writer by writer and line by line, over the course of the month. Matt challenged us to use only found lines, and started our journey with ones from two iconic summer songs, which led to straight to my most favorite summer song of all time: Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning”.
The backstory here is that my parents live in Chelsea (the London one), and for all the summers when my children were children (i.e. not the Brooklyn living adults they are today), we would spend three weeks where we woke up to yet another memorable Chelsea morning, and a whole day of summer adventure ahead.
Here is The Progressive Poem thus far…
Endless summer; I can see for miles…
Fun, fun, fun – and the whole world smiles
No time for school- just time to play
we swim the laughin’ sea each and every day
You had only to rise, lean from your window,
the curtain opens on a portrait of today
L1 The Who, ‘I Can See for Miles’ / The Beach Boys, ‘Endles Summer’
L2 The Beach Boys, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ / Dean Martin, ‘When You’re Smiling’
L3 The Jamies, ‘Summertime, Summertime’
L4 The Doors ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’/ Led Zeppelin ‘Good Times, Bad Times’
L5 Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine “You had only to rise, lean from your window,”
L6 Joni Mitchell, “Chelsea Morning”
For our next line, visit Ruth @ thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown
As a newbie shepherd, I am ever so happy that I turned to Tammy White at Wing and a Prayer Farm to help me put together a small flock of sheep. Three of her chosen-for-me yearlings will be coming to the farm early this summer. I hoped to add three more, and so I dropped by Carole Foster’s farm for some guidance yesterday.
Carole has been shepherding for many years, and there’s nothing about sheep that she either does not know or has not experienced. And she is also kind and patient. In other words, the perfect person to turn to in order to ask all the questions I have about expanding my flock in a small way.
Her barns were exploding with mamas and their babies, mamas to be, a few rams looking rather pleased with themselves, and two llamas who regarded me with haughty suspicion. Every lamb seemed impossibly adorable, I wanted to take them all home…but for the fact that my barn is not quite ready and they are not yet weaned. I had initially thought that I would need yearlings (born last Spring) to complement those coming my way from Tammy, but Carole thought lambs would be a better idea: I would be able to bond with them early, and also enjoy the daily dose of cuteness overload that is living with lambs. I mean, just look at them!
I also had the chance to wander through Carole’s store of fleece (her sheep had just been sheared) to get a sense of the variations of color, luster, and crimp – those winter months of research came in handy because I was able to understand some of Carole’s points about those terms!
I had a lot to think about as I crossed over the slowly thawing Hudson River and made my way back into the rolling hills of Washington County, a lot to be grateful for, and a lot to look forward to, as well:
When my children were very young, they insisted on naming things. Anything that the three of them deemed important had to have a name, one chosen after debate, evaluation, and then agreement. Perhaps that was why Cynthia Rylant’s charming book, The Old Woman Who Named Things , was such a favorite of theirs.
So, it was not unexpected that the naming of our farm was going to be a big deal. A. Very. Big. Deal. Though they are now far away in Brooklyn, leading very un-farmlike lives, there has been much back and forth between all of us about what to name the farm, even though there was never any question that it had to have a name.
Of course, since the farm was built in 1861, it’s probably had more than a few iterations of naming, depending on who lived here, what they farmed, and whether they were at all inclined to the practice of assigning names. We bought the farm from the author Jon Katz, who had not only named the farm (and memorably so), but continues to use that name for the place to which he moved. So, scratch that name…
At any rate, after much backing and forthing between the Smith family five, current stewards of this lovely piece of earthly heaven, we have settled on Hebron Hills Farm, living as we do in the village of West Hebron, N.Y., and surrounded as we are by hills in every direction, and occupying the slopes of one. Our son’s friend had crafted a picture for his latest album, which he kindly shared with us as our very own logo, as well. Having a farm name and logo feels pretty special…momentous, even:
And now that we have a farm with a name, and a logo with sheep, it only follows that there will be sheep…but that is another blog post altogether.