“The heart can think of no devotion,” wrote Robert Frost in his poem Devotion, “Greater than being shore to the ocean. Holding a curve of one position, Counting on endless repetition.”
“A good poem for a physical therapist,” the PT remarked when I recited it for him, which wasn’t what I was thinking at the time it popped into my head, but appropriate. At the time it popped into my head I was hunched over an adolescent ewe in one of those ergonomically incorrect poses which cause therapists to wince in polite and gentle protest. (Visit the Stowe Vermont Physical Therapist we depend on for Manual
Therapy and Myofascial Release Techniques)
Hunched over and doomed to stay that way for some period of time. We popped the cork on the lambing season a week ago, five ewes produced nine healthy happy lambs with a minimum of intervention and fuss, one ewe didn’t take, but she was young and breeding her was a gamble anyway. However, as the Merck Medical Manual says “Proof positive of a pregnancy is the delivery of a fetus,” and stumbling around the shed is Proof Positive that yes, this ewe was pregnant. A three and a half pound premie. Which, in her adolescent confusion, the ewe has rejected utterly. Not content just to refuse to nurse her, the ewe has tried kicking it to death, and when that didn’t work, bashing it against walls.
We’ve dribbled formula into a limp lamb and tucked it in with a water bottle to raise its temperature, to suck the lamb needs to be reasonably warm.
And now I’m trying to get this little morsel on the udder, in the hopes that a milk letdown will call in a rush of hormone reinforcements, kicking the ewe into something approximating maternal bliss. Or, at the very least, not bashing her baby’s brains out. The baby, stuffed full of replacement formula, isn’t interested, and the mother is furious. Nevertheless, we persevere, lamb, mom, and I, until finally the baby gets the general idea, the mother gets tired of fighting, and a physical therapist can look forward to guaranteed employment for yet another month.
Ten lambs on the ground. The newest edition is up and stretching this morning, a hopeful sign. All healthy sheep, even as adults, stretch when they rise. In babies, a stretch means they’re warm enough, with a good chance they’re taking in enough nourishment as well. Although we’ll capture her this evening and put her on
the scales to see if she’s showing an expected weight gain. As a premie, she started life with a few strikes against her, not the least of which is an inexperienced and confused mother. But she’s a spunky little thing, and bashing at the ewe’s udder with determination which belies her tiny size. So we see a weight gain… a whole pound
in 24 hours, or a third as much as she weighed at birth. We decide she’s going to live and dub her Proof Positive, Pipi for short.
Farming is repetition. Like rosary beads ticked through faithful fingers, each week has its allotted chores, the same chores as were performed in that week the year before, and the year before that. Wood to chop, and split, and stack, when that is done there is the next season’s to rack.
Lambs come in April. In May the garden is turned, the barn cleaned in June, hay in July, weaning in August… lambs for market come September. In November the rams are let in with the ewes and the cycle starts anew.
“The heart can think of no devotion, Greater than being shore to the ocean. Holding a curve of one position, Counting on endless repletion.”
We don’t take vacations, haven’t taken vacation days in so long they’ve stacked up and the husband’s employer has gone from suggesting he take time off, to urging he take it, to insisting he simply must take it so they can clear their books of the
accumulated weeks. So we take a day here or there which allows us to efficiently plow through a project instead of spreading it out over evenings and weekends. A few years ago we went so far as to order tourist information from Prince Edward Island. It looked like fun, and I’ll admit it, I still think the perfect way to spend a raw and stormy November afternoon is with a bowl of popcorn and Anne of Green Gables. But the
tomatoes needed to be planted, and there were sheep to feed and eggs to gather… so we never went.
Besides, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves on vacation.
For people who take vacations, explore new places, who take time to go for a hike, or ride their bicycles, we must seem a sorry bunch. Always treading around our same little path, day after day, our world a small patch of grass and trees hemmed in by fences and property lines. Friends who visit faithfully from Maryland every year travel extensively on their vacations. They’ve hiked most of the eastern
trails, spent time in the west, traveled repeatedly to Ireland and England, love Paris, have seen Thailand and Australia, and been to Nova Scotia.
But they make, faithfully, and have for the past decade, an annual trip to us so they can set down roots in their footloose and carefree lives. Once a year they spend a week traveling around our well worn paths, from sheep shed to garden, coop to woodlot. They sip coffee in the chill of a late October morning, and curl up before the fire, tucked into a good book and a pot of tea, at night. For one week they are up in the morning early to see the sheep run in for breakfast, they stack the wood they’ll use on their next visit, and pull from the pile they stacked on their last. And at the end of the week they go back to Maryland with a basket of eggs, a cooler of food from our
fields, and their sense of security restored.
We think about traveling, now and then… of seeing places like Prince Edward Island in more than post cards and other people’s memories. But we are a farm. We weren’t destined to sail the ocean, we were destined to stand on the shore. To be the safe harbor that never changes and is always there when needed, for one very small lamb, or a city friend. To hold the curve of one position, and count on endless