For most people, January is the beginning. A fresh start. In December, we set goals for ourselves and make promises we hope and intend to keep. We reflect back on the previous year and make changes to our lives for the year to come. But, for me that "new year" begins somewhere between October and December. Whenever the air chill forces me to bring out the wool sweaters from the basement and wash my quilted/insulated coveralls that I have had since I was 14 years old, and well worn Carhartt coat. Today, I began to feel that sense of the new beginning that is approaching. It will happen long before January 1st. Much sooner. It is about to be a new lambing season.
After leaving the house this afternoon, I grabbed my wool sweater, wool ear warmers, and gloves and headed to the farm to do my daily round of chores, pick up chicken feed, and harvest the remaining tomatoes that were "can worthy." Winter is coming. Temperatures are dipping below freezing tonight, and I had to bid farewell to the summer garden. It is bittersweet. We worked hard planting, weeding and harvesting from that 700 sq. ft. In return, it provided us with hundreds upon hundred pounds of food. It served us well. I walked through the garden, and it is quite a pitiful site. Weeds overgrown in places, bare spots in others. Tomato plants tilting and falling, some fruits eaten by birds and bugs. Pumpkins are still bright, but tardy to the harvest party. Soon I can pick the rest of the sweet baby pumpkins and transform them into chili, pies, breads and other festive foods. For now, they stay among the remnants of summer gone.
With summer gardens gone, comes lambing season. Or seasons? For us it seems to span several seasons. Mostly early December through April, but a few lambs will be born in summer. But, a new year awaits. I rode the 4-wheeler to the pasture where the sheep were grazing. I stopped and yelled for them, made a few loud thuds with a closed fist on my 4-wheeler to get their attention. Instantly, as if knowing exactly what I was saying, they look to me and come running. It is not my presence that triggers them to come, it is my voice. Harriet, one of my favorite and friendly ewes leads the way. She is visibly pregnant, but still runs with purpose, and makes it to the front of the line. The other half of the flock veered into the line formed by Harriet and towards me they ran. I opened the gate to the orchard grass pasture, that thanks to the recent and needed rainfall, grew several inches and is bright green. One by one, the flock descends upon the grass with enthusiasm, bordering on aggression, and chomps and eats as much grass as they can. Magnus brings up the middle of the flock and begins kicking and screaming in his typical Magnus way.
I sit on my 4-wheeler and watch. Observe. Counting each of them as they come through, if I can. So much of what I do everyday at the farm is simply watching. Listening. There is a lot of physical work that must be done. Lifting, carrying, pushing, hauling, moving. It is a daily occurrence at the farm. But, it is just as important to sit and watch. Sheep can be such stoic creatures. One minute they are fine and the next day you'll find them near death. It is a natural defense to predators and threats, or so I have read. If you are sick, you better fake it until you make it, or something is going to have you for dinner. So, as I watch and observe, I do my best to make notes in my phone of ear tags numbers and the health status of each ewe that stands out to me. Orange 24: "She looks healthy. Pregnant. Udder starting to bag up."
I can see there a several mamas besides Harriet that are starting to look profoundly pregnant, while others are just barely in the early stages of pregnancy. I have learned a lot over this last year, and rejoiced in great moments, and sat sobbing in they hay on other days. I am hopeful this year will bring new lessons, (hopefully much less painful) and hopefully, an infinite amount of joy. I miss the smell of baby lambs, and I desperately need to scoop them up in my arms and watch their tails wag as they nurse from their mamas. Oh my New Year, I cannot wait for you to get here.