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Enjoy This Respite

Good stockmen spend a lot of time looking, watching, and thinking. That's what they are doing when they seem to be standing doing nothing looking over a gate as you pass them on the road. - James Rebanks, The Shepherd's Life

We’ve begun to have our first taste of summer – the grass grows fast. The sheep spend their afternoons hiding from the sun in the shade of the rocks, the thickets of grass. Their mornings face-first with the ground, their evenings with one eye on any last leaves of clover, the other toward the barn for the lazy saunter of a certain corn-wielding farmer.

April showers brought May….summer. There was no last frost; winter just….ended. A mad dash to get the sheep on pasture, get the chickens marching behind them, get the spring crops in the garden, get the summer crops potted up. And the weeds! The weeds don’t want to play nice this year. Summer weeds like purslane and bindweed muttered their ahems and why hellos right into the beds of lettuce and kale, between the potatoes and up the raspberry canes. A few weeks with no rain and I began longing for the occasional isolated T-storm that is supposed to ignite from all this hot, humid air. Swatting away deerflies while hand-watering the baby plants. I’ve never been so excited to see the swooping armadas of dragonflies so early – scooping up deerflies and mosquitoes into the nets of their mandibles. I am infamously unbothered by the biting insects of the Sandwich pastures, but even I applaud the aerial battles of my carnivorous allies, the dragonflies.

June arrived, looked around, and said Hold on now! Spring popped vibrantly. The dandies, the chive blossoms, the peonies. The temps only climbed to the low 70’s, it rained just enough, the wind swept away the bugs. I keep a camp chair nestled just within the woods behind the house. From it I can spy through a small opening in the maple canopy those rich pink sunsets behind the aptly named Sleepers, shy behind the tall white pines marking our property boundary. The idle maple tubing shines blue and gold, waves gently as some little bird bounds away from its own respite. The hemlocks and maples shake, the ferns shimmy, the celandine nudge just a little bit bothered, their mellow yellow pedals ready to curl up and call it a night. On the hotter days to come I’ll be gently grazing the sheep in these woods to clear out the celandine and jewelweed, to give the sheep some shade, and to fertilize the space for next spring’s undergrowth explosion.

I can’t see much of the farm from this space, just the sugar woods and a small window of Left Pasture out to the tail-end of the Sandwich range. The placing of my camp chair here was intentional – this is a place to dream, to capture that moving light with my eyes, my skin, my heart, to let it fill me. The dogs poke their heads around the woodpile, hunting for some unseen critter. A hawk flies through the trees and sits atop a branch on the edge of the woods. I hear light screeching, somehow polite. It probably knows a lot more than the dogs do about whatever critter they are sniffing around for. The sun pushes the maple leaves aside to peek on me, a big golden orb of an eye, somber but loving. Enjoy this respite, it tells me.

Respite. A place for me to sneak a rest while processing my tasks into a conceivable order of execution. There’s always lots to do on the farm – irrigation to repair, weeds to pull, eggs to wash, fencing to move, a farm stand to build, a brush pile to chip, wild serviceberries to pick, rhubarb crisp to bake, a back porch to repair, a chicken coop to muck out, compost to fork. Even from this space, if I tilt my head just right, I can see some clump of green matter growing out of a valley in the barn roof. Is it jewelweed? Maple saplings? Mugwort? Guess I gotta weed the roof, too. But not now, not tonight. Cross my legs, tap my muck boots and watch the junk fall to the ground, scratch Pippy's head, and file that one away for later.

Today Kay and I spent 100 minutes picking hay and brambles out of a newly shorn sheep fleece in the sun, dancing to pop music and getting our hands covered in oily lanolin. But that’s okay because it’s one of my favorite smells, that sheep fleece. Earthy and inviting and alive. We spent about two-thirds of our time picking through the fleece wondering whose it was. All bets were on Clover as it sure felt like a lot of wool. And she’s our big brown buffalo. But when we uncovered the big white spot we knew it had to be Aster, who is the same dark brown as Clover, but with this curious birthmark on her back. Aster is also our littlest sheep, so we were impressed with her prolific work! In the evening, I visited her while she sat in the grass munching on whatever it is sheep munch on when they sit and ruminate whatever ruminants ruminate. I congratulated her for her impressive fleece. She continued to chew, quiet and proud.

The sheep are in the barn now, their work for the day done. But I must wait for my final job. The camp chair is my waiting room and the hens will see me soon. The begin to march one by one into their mobile coop for the night somewhere around 8:30 every night. There is one blue cuckoo maran, however, who hates to go to bed. She often lingers on the pasture until 8:45 or 8:46, while the others find their favorite sleepy spots. I’ve named her Nocturna and I follow her around every night and beg her to go to sleep so that I, too, can go to sleep. But I secretly like this game. I like the strange, independent, blue Nocturna. I like the dusk. I like the fireflies sparking up the landscape. I like the ferns softening the sharp ravine going through the middle of the fields. I like the alluring darkness of the woods at the pasture edge. I take my sweet, sweet time walking back to the house.

Now my work is done, pushing 9:00 pm. Sometimes I feel like there is no respite at all – but there can be. Little pockets of respite. I try to rest in bed. I also lie in bed and think about what time I want to get up tomorrow, how much work I want to do, what time I want to stop working and eat an ice cream sandwich and draw or write in my diary at the kitchen island, dogs at my feet. I must go to sleep, for I must get up soon. I spend all day thinking about that ice cream sandwich.

The work truly never ends. Ask Aster, growing her wool as she sits. Ask the chicken, sleepily fussing away well past dark on her roost, converting all of the plant and insect matter she managed to consume into the marvelous and compact little nutritional miracle known as an egg. It shall be laid at some precise time that only she knows, perfect and beautiful, and she will hop out of the box and back into the grass, on the hunt for her next bite. And ask the farmer, who may be staring off into space from a camp chair, but I guarantee you he's working on something.


Love this, as always!! Such a great description of farming in Sandwich.

Replying to

thanks for the kind words!

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