Black has died; Vanity Fair has arrived

We just buried Black at the country cemetery where half our flock now resides.

Dirk mowed the lower right quarter yesterday, and it smells like a sweet fresh hay field. Suzie probably went out there early this a.m., and Black, enticed by the fragrance of fresh greens, followed her. Dirk went out around 11 to check on them, and found Black, down, in that field, Black who never left the barn unless we herded him out to shade under cooler trees in this grueling hot weather. We got him on his feet and he took a few steps back toward the barn (he was lying in the sun by then). We got to the brick walk, and he went down again. I called the Paredes family across the street and 3 of them came over to help us lift him and carry him back into the barn using a tarp we’d slipped under him as a hammock. Within an hour or so, he had died. I put a ginger snap in the side of his mouth, and he just ignored it. I dribbled a few drops of water in his mouth and he pulled back, just breathing hard, not aware of much else. I scratched his head, around his ears, scratched him down the sides of his neck which he used to like, and told him what a great sheep he was. He was the lamb who found an azalea bush and ate some, and we nearly lost him at the age of six weeks. A whole day of hourly fluids syringed into his mouth, alternated with Neutradrench, very sweet and loaded with the B-vitamins, stress vitamins sheep need when they’re challenged, and by 4 p.m. he was grazing, and I knew he’d made it.

This time he is at the end of his long life, 13 years–over a hundred in human time. Dirk and I stood by for a while, but there was nothing we could do for him. I even put the fresh leaf from a rose I’d just cut in his mouth, but he didn’t know it was there. We laid him to rest soon after in our little woodland cemetery, where half our flock of sheep now lie.

Suzie, the Romney, now age 15 and spry, the first lamb born here, is baaing, going from one pasture corner to another (Dirk has been mowing stilt grass to allow that) and baaing some more, looking for another sheep. A sheep without other sheep is nothing. They need others like themselves to feel content and secure–not so different than people. Emily the Pyr doesn’t spook her one bit, but she does not qualify for a sheep in Suzie’s world.

Dirk and I have been harvesting ferns, branches, vines, rose leaves, raspberry leaves… all the invasive plants the sheep used to keep under control that are now running wild around the edges of our yard, so they get a bundle of greens every day, and the bicarb sits out there with the mineral salts with garlic & kelp. They prefer the greens to their feed and alfalfa, and they get a couple ginger snaps every evening, a special treat. Black was getting an ASA occasionally, since arthritis was his major problem–that and his 13 years, which I could not do much about but spoil him, which we did.

I had talked with Elaina months ago about a sheep or two she wasn’t going to breed again that she could let us “board” to keep Suzie company when the time came. We drove the 30 miles to church still grieving our loss. After church we drove to Efland to pick up Elaina’s five year-old white Shetland named Vanity Fair. She’s white, with a beautiful soft coat of wool, and she’s wearing a red halter. She’s failed as a breeder three times, so she was going to leave the place one way or another. Elaina lifted her into the car, with newspapers already padding the floor. She dozed between my knees in the back of the Prias all the way home.

Suzie knew we had another sheep here as soon as we opened the car. Even before we walked the Shetland around the car to head for the field, Suzie was making the little bleating sounds a mother sheep makes to a lamb: a  totally unexpected response–she’s never even been bred! She made that little wickering sound I heard Perquita, a special sheep who died at 17,  make when she was in labor, as we walked all the way down the driveway to the barnyard gate, Vanity Fair dancing around as far from us as she could get on her halter and line. Dirk had tied Emily to prevent further drama. They can get together through the gate and become acquainted. We, all four, walked down the hill to the barn. Suddenly Suzie wasn’t so sure she wanted to share her space with a stranger. We put down two feed dishes, there were two hay baskets already down with alfalfa ready to eat. Dirk divided up the green branches he had trimmed and put in a bucket of water earlier in the day, and I put some of the feed for Vanity Fair in both dishes, and some of ours in both. Suzie had been butting Vanity with her head, telling the newcomer her feed was Suzie’s, and Suzie’s feed was also Suzie’s–so the second dish. Now they went back and forth, eating out of both dishes. Dirk took some pictures which I emailed Elaina to let her know Vanity was safely installed in our barn.  Suzie at last check was lying down in a corner of the barn, and Vanity was near the gate, wondering if she could go home now. She’s accustomed to a flock of 20 or so, and she feels the solitude, also. Kelly, another friend, also has an older sheep to let us “board” as long as Suzie lives, so she won’t be alone, and then we can bring them back to their old homes. In an emergency situation, good friends are the best medicine ever.

Black was very arthritic, but other than that had never seen a vet, and didn’t have any other health problems–except 13 years. He was so sweet and gentle that when future spinners came for a weekend, I could always walk up to him for students to scratch around his ears and look at his beautiful soft, crimpy fleece. We’ll both really miss him, but are also glad he won’t suffer any longer with those arthritic joints.

Now maybe we can graze our sheep in the yard again. They were only up once last year, and about once or twice the year before that. Deborah and Black both were arthritic, and couldn’t get around very well.

Now the pasture is lively. Suzie loves to graze, and is out in the pasture most of the day now with Vanity around somewhere in the same quarter. Each of them is content knowing the other is there.

I feel comfortable that all’s well with a new population in the barn. I feel guilty that just losing Black, I’m also relieved to have a young sheep here again, like Black was once, to run around the pasture. I feel heavy with grief, and then I’m chuckling with joy, all in the same day. I’ll go to bed early this night.

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2 Comments

Filed under Aging, community, Compromises, dogs, Friendship, Grief, Healing, sheep, spinning workshops

2 responses to “Black has died; Vanity Fair has arrived

    • Thanks! Vanity has gotten accustomed to our pasture in no time. Her old home had many sheep, and little grass by this time of year, so she’s very happy with her new digs! Suzie is so glad to have company it’s amazing! She’s been staying near the barn with our 2 elderly sheep, and now has a younger sheep to graze with, and they’re both happier for that.

      I’m glad I’ll have a white fleece again. Our last white sheep died about 2 years ago. I still have plenty of her fleece here–I’m rationing it! But now I’ll have white to dye and combine in designs again.

      Do you have pets?

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