Monday, January 26, 2015
Saturday, January 24, 2015
I had a simple plan this morning after chores. I would take Benedetto up to the newly opened upper fields where we just put the sheep and I would walk him on the periphery fence line so he could mark and learn the boundary. I took my camera thinking I would have a bucolic morning of walking White Dog, admiring my flock and taking romantic sepia photos of sheep and dog.
The best plans go amuck, which is what happened right after I took this shot of the flock.
Benedetto has shown us in the last weeks he is a runner. Perhaps this is why someone dumped him here. He is also a bolter, but with time I've helped this bad habit at the gates. I took the dogs out to the fields a couple weeks ago and they both made it under the fences to the next property. I was panicked, as there are cats there, and Benedetto hates cats it seems. And that neighbor has a gun. Marcella came back pretty quickly. Ben did not, but did return after about an hour of roaming. I have no idea where he was. He is not bonded with the flock because he is separate from them, but if he is to run a muck I can't keep in with the flock to bond.
Perhaps you remember I said some time ago when he first arrived, "This dog might break my heart." I still think he might.
So today, I was going to start baby steps with him and the flock. Let him learn the perimeter first. I had a crappy collar on him. He walks very well on lead, which makes me wonder if he was more of a pet to someone versus a guard. Anyway, I was shutting a gate and he slipped off lead, and zippidity do da, he went. When he goes, he does not look back. Marcella was very upset she wasn't coming too, and by the time I'd made it to the top of the sheep hill, there she was. So I collared her and called to Benedetto, who we could see running like a mad man in the nearby neighbor fields. Martyn heard me yelling at the dogs and met Benedetto on the road and brought him back up to meet us. So the good news is, he comes, at a certain point. That's when he looks at me like an old marshmallow and looks deep into my eyes. When he gives me that look, I tell him to not leave. I realize that perhaps I don't give him enough credit, as he hasn't ever really left. Even last week when he was gone over an hour, he came back.
I wonder if that is what he is saying to me with his marshmallow expression, "Why the worry, why do you constantly tell me not to leave, I haven't left, I always come back."
Ben and I are bonded in a different way than I am with Marcella. Benedetto is almost like a child I lost and refound–I feel more panic when he runs off. Because Marcella was raised up here from a pup, this is her place and she knows it. The few times she has made it out a gate with Benne, she returns to her barnyard pretty fast. Benedetto, only neutered two months now, is still bonding with this land. He seems very happy and content, believe me, but he needs more work. And that is where I start to cling, because I don't want anything to happen to him outside these fences. Maremmas do not necessarily 'come' when you want them too. This is a good thing, really, because their job is to guard and protect, not come to any voice that might sound human and friendly.
But it is maddening. I'm frustrated.
I'd heard this from other shepherds, and trainers. It's not as easy as thinking I need to 'let go' and let him settle and learn the fields. I don't see how I can do that when he takes chase of the flock and then leaves the property.
Back in the barnyard, he came right to me and sat with me, as did Marcella. They never hold grudges, even when the shepherdess can be heard yelling in the hills. Martyn assured me it is a matter of time with them. Perhaps Marcella, as we intended, will be the real guard, and Benedetto will guard old crippled goats.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
I am so excited about the Misfit Mail of Love postcard line! They arrived today and are beautiful!
Twelve different images with a simple bit of text, lots of room to write a note on the back and couple sentences about who the Misfits are and the name of the Misfit on the front. They are 4.25 x6" and are printed in traditional offset printing on a beautiful paper stock.
I love postcards. They are pure and simple, and fun. One need not write much, just a 'hello xo' can bring someone a smile. And of course by buying my postcards, books and other art products, you are helping me help The Misfits.
So spread some love, in a very easy way, the lick of a stamp, a word or two, and off it goes in the post. Let's go global.
And Valentine's is coming up-perfect timing. If you'd like to send a wrapped set of 12 to someone, let me know, it's no problem.
See all the cards and order >
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
"You'll be with your old herd again," I told her.
She just wanted comfort, for her body, lungs and joints. Mrs. Aster went down late yesterday but seemed okay when I righted her squat little body. She ate normally. This morning she was once again stuck on her side but this time when I got her up she could not stand, and was clearly in distress. Her breathing was odd, and her glance was strange-it reminded me of the way BW's and Samuelle's eyes looked near death. Those were neurological issues and I was sensing this about Mrs. Aster.
I checked on her every hour. She managed to stay up, but was clearly in distress if moved. I dd stand her to ruminate her, but, she had no control over her hind end. I did not want to wait until the end of the day and put her though terror at night, for a pygmy on its side is in terror, and suffering.
But I couldn't get any of my normal vets out. One finally said they could come at 7pm tonight, but thankfully I was able to get in with my local canine vet who helped me out. I didn't like having to take her off the farm, but it had to be done. At the vet, we could see more signs that made us think it was neurological, and we had no doubts we were doing the right thing. She went fast.
I said awhile back I sensed Mrs. Aster would not be with us long, and it has proven to be true. You see it happen again and again-an elder animal lives through neglect or a bad situation for months or longer, they are taken out of that situation into safety and care, and sometimes, they just let go.
I have come to see this as a beautiful gift for the animal. I do not see it as a sad day. Exhausting, yes. For with any death comes the details of it-making the right decision in a timely way, carrying and lifting the animal around, proper final medical needs and then, burial. I feel relief for her, and the minute she was gone I felt hope for her-that she had melted into the feeling she once had of being with her herd.
I brought her home and laid her out in the lower Misfit village. This is the procedure I've always followed and will continue to if possible. I have always photographed the death scenes though don't always show them. This is more for me than anyone else, but I also feel it is an ode to the living herd left behind. Each of these images show the life going on much more than death. I did not doctor these images. I like to think of her energy just embedding itself in the light shining on her former herd, Sir Tripod Goat and Ezra. Perhaps that sentiment is if for the human in me, trying to make her a different form-but it doesn't matter. We all see what we need to in a death. Nobody can tell me otherwise. We all get to grieve it our own way and share the parts we want or feel a need to.
This is a good day for Mrs. Aster. Because it put an end to what might have been-a night of suffering. And he did not die like two of her herd mates out in the elements in muck and filth.
But she was tired. Her eyes were strange today. They were more like shark eyes. I've seen it before. I thought of all the changes that old goat went through in the past month-being taken away from her former home, that albeit neglected, it was her home with owners that did love her [dementia was involved in the end]. She was taken to New Moon Farm Goat Rescue where two more or her herd died. She left her herd again to come here, and to be reunited with Ezra. She had a lot of changes. Not unlike many human elders, being shuffled about from home to facility to a death bed in a hospital after a fall where they just finally might....let go.
As she lay in state, I did barn chores first, and fed the Misfits. Marcella sat at the gate watching the procedures as usual. Ezra ate right over Mrs. Aster's body, without any hesitation. There was no mourning, not human mourning. I have never seen an animal here mourn. I've seen them acknowledge a departure, and most often, they simply recognize a death, and look for the food or move off and nap.
I carried her to the pumpkin patch, ripe and full of other elder Misfits. I chatted with Floyd, buried right next to her. He did not meet Mrs. Aster at New Moon, he left before she arrived. I told him she was a fine goat and would be good under world companion until they have left the dirt.
I buried a lock of Ezra's hair in her grave.
And then I came to the house and ran my dogs. I noticed how clear the hills were, and I counted the flock to make sure all 32 had returned from the upper hills. As I came back to my studio, I looked out and saw the lamp on in the pig hut, a stream of light shining on some of the remaining Misfits, munching on hay, The Great White at their sides.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Many things must happen in the barnyard when I am off in slumber. Standing in the barns in the dark shows me that-there are sounds one doesn't hear in the daylight, shufflings of critters from the underworld, scratchings from mice living in roof eaves...it all comes to life after dusk.
I imagine it is best I am not privy to all of it. Best to just dream and know that my crippled Misfits are getting by without me each night. They are a dignified bunch, they carry on without any complaint about their body deformations or bent legs of arthritis. In fact, I have heard music sometimes late into the night coming from their barn. I suspect a dance of some sort where they can dance without human intervention-they do not fear looking foolish, or falling. I hope to have this much dignity as I age. But I'm sure I might not be as stoic.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
We had planned to start another fencing project today. I wish I had a $1 for every foot of fencing we've added to this farm, I'd be able to...buy a lot of good wine. We have one more huge fencing job to do, and it is important, as it will improve our ability to effectively cross pasture. We've done well in that regard, but with the current flock, we need that additional 8 or so acres on our upper hills. We'll be adding about 1000 foot of fencing on one property line, and then adjusting the cross fencing. Access is an issue in the winter, so today we trudged up there in two trucks with a 300 foot roll of fencing, t-posts, and every intention of working our old butts off in the rain like we have so many other times in the last 11 years.
But it was pouring. The kind of rain that soaks your coat immediately and if you stop moving, you are a goner. My gloved hands were cold right away. I sensed I was caving. We basically moved everything up there and I suggested we do the rest tomorrow. Martyn didn't hesitate to agree, and we retreated back down to inside tasks for the day.
We have become much more realistic after 11 years here, and at age 57 I think I've earned a few wet days inside. I'm anxious to get the flock up there though. When fields are overgrazed they create bad runoff in the wet winter. We've never had to overgraze, but this year it seems things got grazed down faster, even with the same number in the flock. I'm not sure if it was the dry summer.
When I am up in that part of the property, I feel a real sense of pride-and wonderment that we are really here, doing all this. It feels so good to take land that was neglected, and help it, and learn so many things at the same time. We have a Fescue Blue Butterfly program going on in the very top portion of that land, where we will keep the flock off certain times of year to help restore the Wild Lupine.
Looking down at the barn through the Savannah Oaks, now covered in their winter moss coats of green, I always have a beautiful, calm sensation-that not only did that barn speak to me when I first saw it, but it spoke to me even before I came here. Somehow, that old barn and I are entwined in past lives. I'm sure of it.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Here are some quick sound bites for you before you have your end of the week cocktail.
- New paintings up at Sundance
- New article out about life with goats
- The new Misfit Mail postcard line is in printing! Pre-order now!
- The new barn is on the schedule for March to get sided and finished
- Old Mama Sugee has gained lots of weight-photos soon. So has Victor.
- Earnest has attempted to make love to an old goat and a blind pony. He is quite the Casanova. Don't worry, both ladies explained they weren't interested.