We have a cookhouse on the ranch where we serve three meals a day, seven days a week. When the cook is away, Meghan or I fill in. One advantage this time of year is that I am out and about for sunrise. Here’s what it looked like this morning!
Monthly Archives: January 2012
Their breath is warm and sweet. It holds the smell
Of wind-brown grass and little fragrant flowers:
Their supple knees have brushed the drowsy blue
Of dancing harebells as they wandered through
Some little quiet sun-touched forest dell.
From dawn till dusk, through all the lovely hours,
These dwellers of the scrub tread free as wind,
Browsing the burnished blossoms of gorse,
Or lingering down fair groves that end in blind
White tangled avenues of flowering box
Where the soft air blows warm and manna-sweet;
And some still bolder than the others force
Narrow and twisted trails out for themselves
Through wild green weays, where ‘neath their questing feet
The fallen brown leaves whisper like bush elves.
When thunder rolls its drums among the hills,
And purple clouds loom low, rich fold on fold,
The cattle call until the hot wind spills
Their wild deep-throated music far and far;
While at each flash of menacing keen gold
The sleek calves cower near the parent flank,
Their soft eyes grown dark with sudden fright.
The rain beats on the boles and splashes down
On thigh and shoulder, trickling like dun veins
Down the warm hides, until the softer hair
Breaks into little curls of dusky brown.
Then sullenly the thunder dies away,
The swift rain ceases, and, all sweet and fair,
The wet pools in the grass glow like gold stains:
The cattle move and sigh, then slowly stray
Upon their way again. The brindle cows
Crop the wet grass, or halt and patiently
Suckle their offspring with heads turned to stare
At yellow sunshine laughing through drenched boughs,
Then as dusk veils the glades in violet,
The cattle gather in some hollow there
Deep in the musk, and, lying close and still
They chew their fragrant cuds that smell of wet,
Crushed forest things; while from a distant hill
Ghostly, and thin as wisps of blue-grey smoke
Blown from a witch’s fire, there comes a cry,
A poignant call that thrills into a sigh,
Thousands of sheep, soft-footed, black-nosed sheep — one by one going up the hill and over the fence — one by one four-footed pattering up and over— one by one wiggling their stub tails as they take the short jump and go over — one by one silently unless for the multitudinous drumming of their hoofs as they move on and go over — thousands and thousands of them in the grey haze of evening just after sundown — one by one slanting in a long line to pass over the hill —
I am the slow, long-legged Sleepyman and I love you sheep in Persia, California, Argentine, Australia, or Spain — you are the thoughts that help me when I, the Sleepyman, lay my hands on the eyelids of the children of the world at eight o’clock every night — you thousands and thousands of sheep in a procession of dusk making an endless multitudinous drumming on the hills with your hoofs.
I cast my clever raven gaze
about, sitting still except
to turn my head and look.
A scavenger life—it’s not easy
to make a living every day.
Garbage is good—a feast
to fill the belly.
Dog food. It’s a balanced diet
except they bark so,
chase after me.
Ha! As if they could fly.
Eggs are the best.
Fat slow sage hens
flap up and try
to draw me away.
What do they think—
that I’m a coyote?
Songbirds try to hide
their tiny eggs
from my raven eye.
Ha! Only a snack,
quick but tasty.
Those newborn lambs—
now there’s some bang for the buck,
Good luck for my beak.
I seek those napping babies
sated from the first suck
of mother’s milk.
Land, hop, outsmart
those big white canines.
Coyote thinks he’s clever
But he alarms the dogs,
not me. Ha!
Just a quick peck to the eye,
a stiletto to the brain
quick as a wink.
That woolly baby disemboweled
I spy with my raven eye—
Last spring, we decided that, rather than spend a fortune on lamb milk replacer (powdered milk that we reconstitute), we’d buy a couple of fresh milk goats to feed the bum lambs. Our son Eamon went to Fort Collins to the auction in search of goats. He called us that afternoon and said, “Mom, Dad, I’m bringing home a surprise.” His only hints were that the surprise cost $7.50 and was bigger than a breadbox.
When he unloaded, we found two very nice milking goats and a young female llama. Eamon named her Beulah. Beulah was not our first llama. Some years ago, in an attempt to have a grass-eating (as opposed to dog-food-eating) guardian animal stay with our black-faced sheep, Pat and I purchased a male llama. The black-faces spend the summer in a fenced pasture in the Routt Forest, and are not constantly tended by a herder. Mr. Chips was elegant and aloft, but had zero interest in hanging out with sheep. Turns out he had been used for packing and had likely never seen a sheep. He lived for many years and provided much conversation, but never offered any protective services.
Beulah, on the other hand, took right to the sheep and very happily hung out with them all summer. This fall, we brought her back to the main ranch where she pastured with the odds and ends of sheep that are still around. Today, Eamon came running into the house.
“I have a surprise! Come see!”
We went out to the corral to find Beulah and a newborn cria. We hadn’t even suspected she was pregnant, under her heavy coat. Our Peruvian employees told us that a llama’s gestation period is about eight months, so she must have been bred just before she was sold.
We have just doubled our llama herd. The baby’s name is Maria.
Pat and I spent Christmas with his 95-year-old mother in Florida. To give you an idea how Marie is doing, she received an iPad for Christmas so that she can see pictures of the kids on e-mail and Facebook. I teased her about on-line dating, and she said she understood it was better to meet someone new in a public setting.
It was a very different experience than Christmas at the ranch. Instead of snow, we had sandy beaches, and the swimming pool at Marie’s senior housing complex. If strangers (us) show up at the pool, they are grilled until the questioner is satisfied that the new swimmers are truly guests of a resident, and not a pool crasher.
We found a small church on nearby Jupiter Island where we attended Christmas services, and also found contrasts. Instead of sharing on-street parking with the local bar, we parked on the adjacent golf course green. In Wyoming, we change out of our barn snow boots into our go-to-town snow boots and that is considered dressing up. Of course, folks in Wyoming wear the brand new Carhartt coat that they just received for Christmas to dress in the height of fashion. In Florida, all the guys were in sport coats and all the ladies were in dresses. Luckily, I had taken one for just such an occasion.
We were pleased to hear the sermon focused on shepherds, particularly the shepherds of the Nativity. The pastor said that it was significant that the angels appeared to the shepherds, because they were considered to be of very lowly status. He noted that the work of the shepherds was essential to the religious life of the time, since an estimated 350,000 lambs and sheep were slaughtered each year as part of religious ceremonies. I wonder why, then as now, the work of shepherds is considered to be lowly, when it is honest and important.To tell you the truth, when we go to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in late January, I may slap someone if I hear one more “At least I ain’t herdin’ sheep” poem…but I digress.
A point that the pastor made was how important children are to the Christmas season. “It’s all about a baby,” he said, “and in fact, even today, it’s a lot more fun if a baby is close at hand.”
With that in mind, here are pictures of my really cute grandchildren making our Christmas season a lot more fun.Most of the cast of the Nativity Play at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Dixon, Wyoming. The kids come from several denominations to participate. It is followed by pizza and birthday cake, complete with singing “Happy Birthday” to Baby Jesus. Siobhan is the Chief Angel, Maeve is the littlest angel, and Seamus, of course, is a shepherd.
Judging from the gifts the children received, Santa must have judged them good. I thought it was touch and go for Seamus and Maeve, however. Note Maeve’s really really short haircut.