Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's the White Stuff and Where's the Grass?

After a winter of rain and darkness that seemed to go on forever, the snow was a quiet, bright change of pace. I had never thought about the quietness of snow nor the brightness of the landscape after it has fallen, but a western Oregon winter can make you appreciate all sorts of things you never thought about before.

The landscape was gorgeous until tree branches began to snap off and the roof started to leak along a beam and down a wall. Transient beauty...that lasted almost two weeks! You know it's kind of impressive when the people who have lived here all their lives start comparing the snow to that time in 1969. I don't know. It sounded as if the snow was deeper back then, but memory plays funny tricks when you are 30 years older and shoveling wet snow off the side walk .

Actually, I ended up shoveling a path from the front door to the driveway so I could get out to the chickens without falling down. Then I decided to clear a path along the side of the house to the barn because the angle of the walk was even more treacherous and I had no interest in sliding down it twice a day. I used a small square-headed shovel we had brought from Phoenix because even as it fell the snow was turning heavy.

I'm not sure what the chickens thought of the white stuff. Most of them stayed holed up in the chicken coop, napping on their roosts and pecking at the scratch I spread in their feeder. The snow caught up like a thick blanket across the chicken wire roof at the back of their run and made the enclosed yard seem eerily blue. The chickens were confused, which meant no eggs. The geese waddled around in the snow oblivious. The turkeys squawked and puffed themselves up as they gingerly tip-toed through the white stuff towards me. "Oooh, cold on the feet, cold on the feet, can't find the corn, can't find the corn. What's this God damn white stuff? Get it off of me!"

They weren't the only animals disgusted at the turn of events. Our Arizona horses had seen snow several times since their arrival five years ago, but nothing that ever really stuck to the ground. When I turned them out on the barnyard, they couldn't decide if they should run in it or try to eat it. Instead, all three plopped down for a good roll, returning to their loafing shed for the free-fed hay I had left in the mangers - much easier than playing the fool mustang and nosing around in the snow. Way too troublesome a method for finding winter grass! Even Tater, our Oregon born horse, stayed under cover for much of the week.

Our white sheep became one with the background of snow; the brown sheep just looked dirty. I kept them locked in the yard away from the Honey Grove creek as the snow melted and the waters rose to flood stage for about the gazillionth time this winter. Didn't feel like losing any of them down the creek and I knew several that might be just dumb enough to get caught up in the currents.

When it all began to melt, the snow turned ugly and became mud; deep, cold mud. The roads became slushy and more trees came down. We lost a hundred year old apple tree in the orchard that just fell over. We lost branches so heavy off some of our trees I couldn't even drag them off the bushes they were crushing below.

I began to wish for snow again. Quiet. Bright. Beautiful. Idyllic as long as the electricity stayed on, the fire in the wood stove trailing white smoke from the chimney like the picture on a Christmas card. Of course, it might look like sort of a silly Christmas card these days since the first spring flowers are sending shoots up everywhere. It's the best I can do as the rain starts to fall. Think of the white snow and wonder with the animals, "Where is the grass and why are the flowers coming up already?"

Photos are pretty self-explanatory. Barn with snow and sun coming out. Lambs standing in a huddle wondering when it is time to eat.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones
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Sunday, January 06, 2008

It was a Dark and Stormy Night

It was a dark and stormy night and I didn't even bother counting my flock. What stupid sheep would stay out in weather like this? So, I never hear Lamb Chop's small voice cry out. I doubt I could have heard her baa over the raging creek, the rain banging on the metal roof of the barn, or the thunder and lightening adding to the mayhem.

Except for the tempest outside, I slept soundly. It might have been different if I had realized I was missing one of my charges, and my littlest one at that. As I walked over to the barn the next morning, surveying the fallen limbs and scattered leaves, I heard something. I looked toward the creek below our loafing shed. The dogs turned to look at the same time. What was it? Peering more closely, I saw the soggy shape of a small white lamb, caught by her wool in the blackberries. Lammie was encased in heavy vines and she had been there all night.

By habit, I carry pruners in my coat pocket. I tend to cut at things along the path as I walk to and from the barn. This morning, I used my pruners to cut Lammie free from a tangle of thorns as there didn't seem a way to pull them out of her wool. Once free, she wobbled a bit on her feet so I picked her up and carried her into the barn. I tried to pull the remainder of the vines from her matted wool, then rubbed the lamb down with a towel to dry her off a bit. She is a tiny thing and when I put her back in with the flock, one of the larger ewes pushed her up against the manger with a strong head butt. Guess Lammie figures pretty far down in the pecking order. Okay, last.

I thought that would be the end of it; however, several days later, now more watchful of the flock, I noticed Lammie did not arrive back at the barn with the rest of the girls. The days were still short and I hadn't thought to go to the barn until almost dusk. Once I had bedded the sheep and horses down for the night, I picked up the flashlight, called a dog, and walked out into the rising gloom. I checked the first spot I had found Lammie, and then other areas near the barn, finally walking across the bridge to the far field. Cougar stalking territory! I headed into the closest woods and thought I heard something. A little farther in, I caught the reflection of Lammie's white wool. Once again I snipped her from the blackberries.

After this happened two more times, I locked her in the barn for a week just for a little peace of mind.

Lammie is back out with the flock these days because daylight lasts longer and I have more time to find her. We went for quite awhile with no mishaps. Then, she almost died because of how she wound herself up in the swamp grass until she was upside down. I had a heck of a time cutting her out! She couldn't stand so I threw her across my lap like the cowboys in the movies throw calves over their saddles and drove her back to the barn. Within 15 minutes of being right-side up, she was eating hay as if nothing had happened.

Just this week, I pulled her from the blackberries once again, after freeing her sister caught in a bush in a different pasture! This time, Lammie, truly looked like the goat set in the trap for the velociraptors in the Jurassic Park movie. She was under some trees in the back pasture, right up against the hill. Gives me the creeps just to think about it. Her sister had been crying out loudly in that distressed sheep baa. Lammie was standing quietly, knowing (did she really know?)I would eventually find her, but her sister had made enough noise for the both of them. I clipped her free and she ran to the barn, as I trudged behind her wondering about retarded sheep and whether I had one.

The way I figure it, Lammie will be lucky if she sees her first birthday because there may be some night when I can't find her. She is half the size of the other sheep, with a big head, round belly, and short legs. For a sheep, she doesn't seem very smart. She certainly isn't fast. I hope, with spring coming on in a month or two, the new grass will help her to grow and flourish, to become strong enough to pull out from the blackberries. If not that, maybe she will learn to stay away from those wicked bushes all together. I won't hold my breath, but I will be sad if she meets an early death. She's kind of cute in a stunted lamb sort of way. For now, I will keep the battery on the flashlight charged and hope the only thing out there that catches her are blackberries!

This photo is NOT one of Lammie, but shows how lambs can get wound up in the blackberries so tightly they need clippers to get free. This lamb is also about twice the size of Lammie.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones
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