Category Archives: Grief

First six months without sheep; preparing to move north

When we had sheep, they kept the fences clear. Now the birds enjoy the shelter.

When we had sheep, they kept the fences clear. Now the birds enjoy the shelter.

June, 2014 to Jan., 2015

Long walk in the woods, 1 1/2 mi.

Long walk in the woods, 1 1/2 mi.

This morning I captured a chipping sparrow away from Boots and Liam, and released it to the suet block. It shook itself and flew off, thank goodness. The two rescued stray cats run between my legs, or walk under Emily, the Pyr’s stomach, and move out the door with her. If I haven’t succeeded in re-homing them before we move, they may die on RI Rt. 1, which runs right in front of our home there.

Those who keep carnivores as pets need to be prepared to deal with carcasses of helpless small creatures pets consider their rightful prey. Last week it was a possum in the garage, probably after dog food—the 20-pound bags were tossed all around but not spilled…The dogs got the poor thing. Liam the cat had slipped out at midnight when I took the dogs out for their last walk, so I left the garage door ajar. Fortunately the possum didn’t come through the doggie door into the house! Life seems so complicated sometimes. Was the possum dead, or playing possum? I waited an hour to pick it up, then left it in the hole uncovered the rest of the day, dogs inside, to be sure it wasn’t going to just walk away, which I have seen them do. Not this time. A couple days before that I opened the back door to feed the birds and found remains of a squirrel on the rug, and a mouse a couple days later.

Woke this am. to find a raccoon “treed” in the firethorn on the back deck. Two dogs in the yard provides high risk for the night visitors… Maeve, our Aussie, has killed two raccoons this past summer, and is the best-rabies-immunized dog in the neighborhood. When I called for help, hoping NC Wildlife would come and trap the raccoons and take them somewhere, the employee advised me to take in the bird seed at night to discourage their coming here, and after two weeks, that did work. They don’t move raccoons, since they might be incubating rabies. I, of all people, should know that. I did a Masters’ paper on wildlife rabies, costs to NC when it got here, and oral rabies vaccine for wild things to control rabies exposures to pets and people. Nights are quieter in the house, too, since Emily barks with great volume and enthusiasm at possums or raccoons on the deck in the night. She’s shut in, but we have doors with windows to the floor, and she keeps watch. It’s her job, in her mind, to protect us from wild things who invade her territory. She’s done a great job of it over the years, also. We’ve never had coyotes in our pasture, killing our lambs or sheep, as many of my friends have suffered. Large farms require multiple Great Pyrenees or similar guardian dogs, to keep predators out.

Jan., 2015
A New Year, and still recovering from the surgical repair of damage done in the accident last April. I guess healing always takes longer than they lead you to expect.

We’ll move to RI in the summer, so we’re going through cupboards and closets, as well as boxes in the garage, to see what we’ve stashed, and wondering why we kept these things! I’m donating a great many things to friends who will use them, or organizations who will—for example wallpaper rolls from houses dating back 45 years—perfectly fine to use on a loom to keep the threads from tangling. I’m keeping a little of each to remember, and I’ll use it in weaving in the future, also. Common Thread in Sanford is a weaving workshop with many women volunteering to spend some mornings at donated looms, making rugs, tote bags, dish towels, table runners, place mats, etc., for sale both in the shop and at craft shows far and wide. Proceeds go to womens’ support organizations, such as Interact. They also compete in the Lee County Fair, have a wall full of prize ribbons, and the prize money also goes back into the organization. My box of old wallpaper will go there, since each loom requires a roll of wallpaper, and it wears out eventually, of course.

I’m spinning up great amounts of wool that is not from my best fleeces, just to condense the amount of bulk somewhat. Yarn takes much less space than wool. I’ve started an afghan for us to keep this time, which will have sheep and Australian Shepherd dogs (in their own fur) knitted in with the design. I’m still hoping to find a Great Pyrenees dog pattern to knit in, but so far, no luck. There is no hurry with this project. If we were not moving, I’d be aiming to have it ready to compete in the Carolina FiberFest in early April, but we’ll probably be very busy then, as moving time will be getting near, so I don’t plan to enter anything this year. I will be there to watch the sheep dog herding demonstration, and sit and spin with my friends in the Twisted Threads Fiber Arts Guild circle, however.

The pasture seems so empty and still, the fences covered with stilt grass, sheltering birds over winter. Emily, the Pyr, goes out to the back pasture every day on patrol, as she always has, keeping an eye on what predators may be threatening her acres. We miss the sheep, but our arthritic joints do not. Each year it got harder to clear gutters so water could run away from the barn, to trim hooves, move hay and grain down the hill to the barn, and keep things down there relatively tidy. It was great exercise, and that we do miss. Walking the dogs a mile up the road has to do now as a substitute, and the dogs enjoy it as much as we do. Emily used to live in the pasture only, unless the sheep were up grazing in the yard, when she came, also. Now she can explore the neighborhood, on a leash of course, but she loves reading the signs night critters have left along the road and on the woods trails we walk with them. We’re wondering where in RI we’ll find the same opportunity to walk with the dogs in the woods—we’ll have time later to look, but it will be much colder in winter there.

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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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Farewell, Deborah

May 29, 2012

Clip, plop; clip plop–the sounds of rose leaves and spent blooms, heavy with dew, falling in an empty bucket. When the bucket is half-full, it’s “clip, rustle, clip rustle,” as the leaves fall on top of many others. I hear wren and wood thrush, cardinals and red-breasted woodpeckers calling to one another as I clip and catch leaves and rose hips. The sheep love this treat. They used to eat the rambling rose bush down so severely I was lucky to get any blooms at all. Now they’ve aged, and I bring the treat to them. My heart is heavy, although the sunlight and bird calls are cheerful.

Today that treat of roses was important, because one of our sheep, Deborah, had come to a place in her 13 years when she was in constant discomfort, struggling to stand but could not, with arthritis, unable to find a comfortable spot where she was, and she couldn’t move to a different spot without help. When the vet is coming to put down one of our animals, I go all out to provide a feast for them all. Deborah loves rose trimmings as much as I love chocolate, and she ate her way through the better part of 3 buckets of them today. The other sheep had some, but most went to Deborah. Also sweet gum and honeysuckle were on the menu, as well as tulip tree leaves, clover and catnip. They all ate until they could eat no more. I made sure the last few rose leaves were Deborah’s, as I looked around the feed crate where most of the treats had gone. I offered her other treats, and she was full and only wanted to rest, but I offered her one or two more rose leaves, and she immediately took them.  In the picture, you see some greens draped over Deborah’s back from another feast of trimmings of good treats from our yard and pasture.

Deborah is now at rest. Deborah will have no more suffering from arthritis, or the helplessness of not being able to “be a sheep”–that is, to run when you’re frightened of something, to be able to walk over to the water bucket and get a drink, or even to stand and move to a different area of the barn and lie down. We’ll remember her days of growing up from a brand-new dark brown lamb. I pulled and resuscitated her since her twin was twice her size, and she couldn’t come out until he had made way for her.  Their mother was in distress trying to push out a 14-pound lamb–the vet said probably there had been triplets, and one had died and been absorbed in such a way that this lamb had nutrition from TWO umbilical cords. When I eased him out and got him breathing, I put him immediately to suck his mother’s colostrum while she licked him and pushed the second lamb down so that I could reach her feet, and pull Deborah out and swing her to get her breathing. Now, 13 years later, she’s gone. We’ll always remember Deborah, our lovely Romney/Finn ewe, who would look around at us with her head tilted as if to say, “Yes, did you bring me something?”

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Creatures out in rain, tame & wild; Helping others-in moderation!

Oct. 20, 2011

 

Liam, our escape-artist Maine Coon cat slipped out last evening when Dirk went to feed the sheep, and returned after a night out in wind and rain, at about 10 a.m., dry and well-groomed. He certainly has found some good hide-outs in his rambles!

 

Two nights ago in a downpour, a poor possum was rapidly going up and down the deck railing looking, no doubt, for a dry pile of sunflower seeds to eat. Nothing was dry that night. He covered the whole feeding area where I find heaps of droppings every morning, in about 30 seconds, rain running off his soaking fur, shaking his head to keep the water out of his eyes, then he disappeared into the rose bush, his nose poking out toward the sunflower seed he could reach somewhat sheltered from the rain.

 

Liam had the advantage to have a full stomach before he slipped out into the dark. Possum was hungry and desperate, so instead of holing up wherever they take shelter, he was seeking supper. After the rain let up, I put seed out, and by morning he and his family had returned, most of the seed had been eaten, and I had to scrape the gray residue of their excrement off the railing before I put down the morning’s seed for the birds. I don’t have chickens, so they cause no harm here. My friends who do have quite opposite opinions, since possums eat their eggs and the chickens, if they can catch them. Their rows of sharp teeth are very impressive, and if they’re hungry, they’ll kill, especially the baby chicks.

 

My asthma has kicked up since I spent two hours with my scythe, cutting off dog fennel taller than I am in Kelly’s sheep pasture. Her sheep finally have an enclosed fence again in that area, but since April’s tornado, that pasture has been growing weeds un-munched by hungry sheep. Now that the fence is secure against coyotes, the sheep are back, but they can only reach leaves about four feet up the tall stalks, and the base of those weeds is like a small tree. I thought since I was working in a breeze, the pollen would blow away and not bother me. Two days later I was in the urgent care in considerable discomfort. Two weeks later I’m still not over it, and have kicked myself several times for not wearing a mask when I have one dangling on the steering wheel for any dusty activity, like putting a few bales of hay in the back of the van to tide us over.

 

So I’m now going to visit the clinic today instead of spinning at the fleece sheep competition at the NC State Fair, my annual pleasure. The sheep are so beautiful, the wool is lovely, and many of my friends have their Shetlands, Jacobs, Romneys, Corriedales and other types of sheep that grow wool for hand spinning there for the competition. Sheep for meat production usually have stiff wool, or are a hair-sheep breed that needs no shearing–they shed like a dog. The wool they produce can be used for rugs, or upholstery, but would be very itchy if used in a sweater.

 

IF I’d remembered to put on the mask I’d probably not be in this condition. However, also since I had the stamina to spend two solid hours in vigorous activity two weeks ago, this too shall pass, and when I’m back to my usual, I’ll be more thoughtful. about cherishing my lungs!

 

 

While I snuggle under my wool afghan, I realize my fingers are stroking a silky, fluffy red patch made from Becky’s fur, and my eyes fill with tears. There it is–a rectangle of Red Merle Aussie undercoat I brushed from Becky many months ago, carded it into yarn and knitted it up into this patchwork of swatches I’d made over years as I adapted my handspun to various patterns. I’m thankful for all the years we had with Becky, and thankful that I can spun the fur of our pets and make little memorials of their cast-off undercoat which will last a very long time. I’ll include a picture here of my patchwork afghan I made with fur from Siobhan and Emily, our Great Pyrenees dogs, Becky, and from Liam and Licorice, the two cats. Two of these animals have now crossed the Rainbow Bridge, but I can still stroke their soft fur and cherish their memory.

Two hours of vigorous activity

 

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Losing Becky

Oct. 2, 2011

 

My neighbor gave Becky a can of cat food the cats didn’t like the day before she died. He said she ate it immediately! I know she loved that. I was still focused on her weight, and about twice the last month flushed a can of cat food down the toilet after it sat all night. She’d have loved to have it. Becky could get around so little, that her “perfect day” was when it occurred to me to put old pillows under the wool blanket she liked to lie on by our bed, and folded a comforter from the thrift shop under the one in the living room to pad her old bones. I can’t imagine how many dog treats we went through those last weeks. She loved finding them on all her beds around the house, waiting to surprise her. If she went to one of her “lie down” favorites and there wasn’t a chew there (because she’d already walked by and eaten it!) she’d look up at me wistfully, and I produced one. I guess her whole last month was as perfect as I could make it, even changing the bird bath every day or two, since it was her favorite outside place for drinking water.

I miss having a dog in the house, but I can’t get another one too soon. It wouldn’t be fair to the newcomer. When it happens, though, the cats, who are now thrilled with being the top banana, will have a major adjustment crisis! It’s touching, though, how they keep lying down on Becky’s spot on the rug, first Licorice, then Liam.

Oct. 10, 2011

Losing Becky

The cell phone rang as we were lining up to board the plane in Providence to return home from a visit with family for a week. I’d brought Becky, our Aussie, to the vet two weeks earlier just to check her out, since she had less energy and was less interested in food–even our food! I knew when that number from our home came up on the cell phone that it meant trouble.

“I was just over there an hour ago,” our neighbor said. “I gave her water, she drank, then walked down the deck to the shade under her favorite tree. The garage door is open so she could have come back in if she’d wanted to. I checked on her again because she didn’t look right, and an hour later, she was gone. She died on the deck in the sun. I covered her with her blanket.”

He felt so bad. Our dog had died on his watch. If we’d been here, it probably would have played out the same way. He certainly is not at fault in any way, but he still feels guilty.

Becky, our 14 year-old Australian Shepherd, a rescue when she was two, had the genes to herd sheep, and loved her work. Becky saved my husband and I hours of chasing escaped sheep around in the woods. She moved the sheep from the barn to the shearing pen in an instant, saving us wrestling recalcitrant sheep up one by one. She was never as happy as when she was herding–well, eating was right up there as her next-to-the-most favorite activity.

This is from a story I wrote, a letter from Becky back to us from her present location on that Rainbow Bridge: “I remember one time when you had company, a couple with a little girl 18 months old. She had been playing with toys in the living room, but left that room and toddled down the long dark hallway, where you had turned off the light and closed all the doors so she couldn’t get into anything. You were all talking at the kitchen table, drinking tea. I was watching the little girl. I didn’t feel comfortable about her walking off in the dark alone, so I went with her. I got in back of her, very slowly, because I didn’t want to frighten her, or knock her down. I very gently put my head behind her, on one side, then the other. She thought it was a game, and giggled and laughed, but she walked the way I was leading her from behind, back down the hall toward the lighted kitchen where her mother was sitting. It took a few minutes to herd her back where she belonged, because I wanted her to think we were playing. I herd much faster when it’s sheep. When we finally arrived at her mother’s knee, everyone was laughing and petting me, as though I’d done something wonderful! That was just what I love to do. I believed I had work to do, and did it. It wasn’t unusual for me, although it appeared to be for the rest of you. It was just my job, I’m good at it. I love herding–sheep, people–whatever.”  –Becky Tysmans, Remember Me, Sept. 27, 2011

Guilt? Oh, yes. I feel like we abandoned  Becky. We left her, and she died before we could get home. The vet had taken an x-ray to be sure she didn’t have an enlarged heart or a tumor, but nothing appeared to be wrong except arthritis. We had planned the trip a couple months before on the only available weekend for both my daughter and us until nearly Christmas, so we decided we’d make the trip. The neighbor was familiar to Becky–he’d taken care of her and the cats for years when we went away, which wasn’t often. He gave her many treats, as I had been doing, and spoiled her as we had, and Becky knew him well. The other neighbor who cared for the sheep and Emily, our Great Pyrenees guardian dog, also came in and gave her a treat when she came to take care of the field animals. I know Becky had company from people she knew well. It seemed she went quickly, of whatever it was. Those facts comfort me.

Our trip home was sombre. We arrived at nine p.m. in the dark, and started digging her grave. By 11 we’d completed her funeral by the light of the car headlights and various lights and lanterns we use in the barn.  I was a little surprised none of the neighbors came over to see what was going on.

Emily, our Great Pyrenees, said her farewell before we tucked Becky in beside the fence where she used to like to lie down, with Emily lying nearby on the other side of the fence. Emily went to her nose, very slowly and respectfully, then to her tail, then back to her nose, and stood silently for at least two minutes, her ears forward, and her head and tail down. This had been her companion, although they had never played together, since their roles were different. Emily would not have allowed Becky to come into her pasture with her sheep. Becky would have spooked the sheep if she came near them, and Emily was dedicated to her role as protector of the sheep. When Emily and the sheep were in the yard, Becky was inside the house. I was moved by Emily’s obvious sadness, and Dirk and I stood beside her and cried with her.

We wrapped Becky in the soft comforter that provided a cushion for her old joints, and put in some of her favorite dog food for her journey. She rests beside the path to the pasture, in a shaded spot she liked, that we see every day. We’ll always remember Becky, our rescued red merle Aussie who herded our sheep, and honored us with her love.

 

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Farewell, Becky: 9/27/11

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