Friday, February 16, 2007

Listening to nature

What a Valentine’s Day. We woke up to blizzard warnings and although I wouldn’t say we had an official blizzard we sure did get the snow. I love a good snowstorm - staying inside nice and warm while the fluffy white stuff piles up outside. Julia and I kept our Valentine’s card production going with more glitter – this time mixing in a bit of pale pink. The Farmer braved the wind and snow a few times to drive to the farm to take care of feeding the sheep.

The snow, after it was all done, was more than a foot deep. We had a little discussion of what each of us thought about the snow. I waxed poetic about the beauty and snuggliness, the warm fire, and the chance to bake and create on an unexpected day off. A chocolate heart shaped cake was definitely on my agenda. Julia was upset she was missing the real Valentine’s Day with her classmates and The Farmer was worrying about his sheep. Most little lambs aren’t that tall and so they can easily become buried under a lot of snow. Usually they have the sense to seek cover in the barn. We’ll won’t know until the snow melts.

I know most people look up the weather on a computer or television. We are old-fashioned enough to have a “weather radio” – it’s much easier for us – push a button in the kitchen and listen to the experts. Then we wait and see if they are correct in their predictions. For this storm though, we didn’t need to listen to anyone but our animals. The cats were all plunked down inside not crying to go outside – even Lily Pons, our calico who usually graces us with her presence for a couple hours every four days. The sheep were all packed into the barn anticipating the upcoming storm. It’s amazing the sense that animals have. Most humans have lost their natural instinct. We knew we were in for a big one because we listened to our animals.

Five years ago, we wintered 13 ewe lambs here at our house in the field below. (For those of you who are new to this blog, we have our sheep barn five miles away from our house at the farm where Mark grew up.) We thought it would be fun to have animals here in the winter to take care of and look at through the window. When our sheep aren’t here, it gets kind of lonely – there isn’t a daily reason to walk through the fields, or feed or converse with a furry creature (boy, am I sounding like a nut now). The winter was rather uneventful and mild. By March, there hadn’t been much snow and the ewe lambs had grown nicely. But we weren’t home safe yet. A blizzard was predicted and we waited to see if it would really materialize. The lambs were fine but we were a bit concerned because they had no shelter. This isn’t a bad thing – for years we didn’t have a barn and our sheep always survived.

We got up in the morning and the snow was coming down so hard, you couldn’t see a thing. It snowed and snowed and snowed until it was over two feet deep. When it finally stopped, we looked for the sheep. All 13 of them were gone – vanished. The Farmer was perplexed. He looked everywhere at our neighbor’s houses and in their garages and barns. With over two feet of snow, how far could they have gone far.

He began snowshoeing – all through the fields and woods. He covered miles on snowshoes and grew thinner and fitter. He found old settlements deep in the woods that he didn’t know existed but he couldn’t find the sheep. Our neighbors began looking out for them too. It became a giant mystery.

Weeks went by and we pretty much gave up hope. We figured that either they had fallen through the ice into the glen down at the bottom of our mountain or that the coyotes had gotten them. The snow stayed and stayed and stayed.

About four weeks later, there was a knock at the door. It was the neighboring dairy farmer and his son. They had taken their tractor up into their woods where they had a spare parts junkyard. (Farmers are like knitters - they never throw anything out just in case they need it to fix a project or a tractor.) There they found the sheep. They had been there, deep in the woods over two miles from our house for all this time. The snow was so deep they were unable to plow their way out. They had eaten the bark off all the trees and eaten snow for water. One had died and a bear had eaten it but the rest were okay – skinny – but okay. The sheep followed our neighbors down to their farm on the packed tractor tire tracks. I couldn’t believe it. I thought we would never see them again. I took Paisley, our Border Collie, up the hill and we brought the sheep back home.

We’ll never know why they left or when they did, nor why they traveled that far. When did they leave – before the snow began? Perhaps they were seeking shelter. It will always be a mystery. Luckily, we had a mostly happy ending. We also decided it is best we don’t keep any sheep here for the winter, until we can afford to build a proper shelter.

Thank goodness this storm has been rather uneventful.


Miki said...

I never comment but I look forward to every post. Thank you so much for your stories and pictures and wonderful generosity in sharing your life.

pacalaga said...

I can't decide whether to be fascinated or completely grossed out by the idea that melting snow could uncover a lamb carcass or twelve. I hope they have the sense to go with their mamas.

pacalaga said...

PS - I LOVE the chickadee photo!

Jodi said...

I'm so glad that your story had a mostly happy ending. Your photos of the wintry landscape are beautiful.

kate said...

Wonderful post- love the photos. Snow looks wonderful- it was in the low 70s here today- not ready for warm weather yet!
Stay warm, and thanks for your lovely work.

southern gal said...

"lily pons" ok. you have to tell the story ... (are you a secret opera lover ? i dont' recall any opera mentions...)

The farm house looks beautiful. hope the after math isnt too dreadful...(as in the icysnowice etc)

Terry said...

I was amazed to see your photo of the little bird in the snow--so similar to a little quilted piece I made last month. You can see it here:

Mrs. Staggs said...

This was another truly beautiful post Kristen. You have transported me perfectly to a cozy kitchen, and a house full of sparkly hearts! You have reminded me of the beauty and the power of nature. It humbles me to think of your life and that of your animals being so dependent on the elements.
Though I live in a big city, I have a large garden and I live across the street from a park filled with old trees. We have lots of birds that visit and I can always tell when I watch them and the squirrels when the weather will change as they become very busy foraging the bushes and ground for goodies to take with them to their cozy places. Mr. Staggs has a weather radio. He was a big hiker and sailor in his younger days and was very dependent on the weather.

melissa said...

Quite a few years ago, I lived out on the Cape for two years. I miss the snow. Lovely story!

Disgusted Cats said...

I adore your gorgeous animal photos! What a beautiful book they would make!
My boyfriend is a large animal vet. He works primarily on cows, but also treats other farm anmals for the Amish here in Lancaster County, PA. I like riding with him on his calls in the spring time, just to see all the newborn