Thursday, February 28, 2008

In A Rut

There is no photo with this entry.

There are some moments that you realize are historic, but nevertheless should NOT be documented in film, pixels, whatever. Neither should names be named nor identity in any way be divulged. Those of you who guess the characters in this story, bite your tongues, keep your confidence, and do not EVEN haze them about it!

Such was the nature of the first use of Pinwheel Farm's new circle drive.

One of our partner businesses is storing some items at the new barn. They came and got some of said items this morning, then returned this evening to put them back in storage.

Meanwhile, the temperature had been above freezing all day, though it was cloudy and not particularly pleasant. Despite the chill in the air, some thawing of the frozen ground had occurred. The only time our soil really gets muddy is when the ground still has deep frost in it, but the surface is thawed and there is water saturating the soil down to the frost layer. Such was the situation today...especially since we have had so much snow melting that the puddles spanned a goodly portion of the back yard.

Every step I take, I risk sinking into the dark slurry until my foot finds the frost layer. As soon as the ground completely thaws, all that extra water will drain out in a matter of minutes, and the ground will soon be as firm underfoot as it normally is. Meanwhile, I carefully pick my way from tussock of grass to stick to patch of unthawed snow, trying not churn up too much of the lawn.

But one does not comprehend this from a truck. Not at the end of a long work day. Not when the ground was solid enough (barely) to drive on mere hours ago. No, one just drives the truck and trailer down the neighbor's drive to the point where the barn drive branches off through a narrow gap between shed and tree, and keeps going....

Maybe. Suddenly the mud had absorbed all the forward momentum available, and there sat the truck and trailer in the narrow gap, firmly mired in deep trenches. All motorized efforts at un-sticking failed.

You can try to push a truck out of a mud pit, but pushing a truck AND trailer is some combination of futile and dangerous that was obvious to everyone.

Thankfully it was a little trailer. So they unloaded it by hand, carried things in, detached the trailer. Now there was hope of unmiring the truck....

But then what? The trailer was blocking the narrow gap because the truck was in the way of dragging the trailer into the barnyard.

So that became the occasion of the first vehicle driving through the farm's new circle drive. Thankfully the arborist came just yesterday and ground out the huge stump that had been blocking the new drive.

Gates were opened. I went back to attend the chore helper making his rounds...I've long since done my share of pushing trucks, esp. when there are big guys around to do it. The truck was pushed out of the mud and sailed merrily around the circle drive. From the sheep pen, in the twilight, I could see the headlights illuminate various buildings and trees as the truck circled...and then they never came out from behind the barn.

Soon, the sound of slamming truck door and tires spinning in the mud. Now the truck is mired in my side yard, digging ruts in the ice-bottomed sea of mud there. I'd walked it myself, judged it firm enough if they made a good run for it, but evidently I was wrong.....

Thankfully, about four winters ago we'd spent the winter using come-alongs to postion big round bales of brome hay for the sheep, since weather interfered with our normal bale-moving day with aneighbor's tractor (we have none). As a result we have lots of heavy-duty yellow webbing tow straps...enough, in fact, to reach from the mired truck to my truck in the gravelled driveway. And despite my lousy tires, I was able...just pull the other truck onto solid ground.

So the circle drive was celebrated by installing deep ruts, running in reverse of our planned one-way traffic flow, in circumstances no one wants to celebrate.

But, at least those folks aren't spending the night with us!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hope and Faith

Faith is what you rely on when hope seems pointless.

Faith that you will have hope again, if you just hang in there.

Faith that "this too shall pass."

I say I am a "winter person". It's true. I much prefer the worst that winter can dish out to the worst of a Kansas summer. The challenge of meeting, and surviving, a bone-chilling bitter wind (gusting almost to 40 miles per hour these past couple days, according to the National Weather Service)...keeping my footing on the uninvited skating rink between the back door and the barn...the triumph of finding that I'm so good at bundling up that I'm too hot even though the temperature is in the teens...these things invigorate me in a way that 100 degree, 99 percent humidity doesn't. I have a dear friend who sees the thermometer approaching triple digits and comes to the conclusion, "great weather to go on a 50 mile bike ride." Not me. I estivate (the summer version of hibernation).

But this winter has truly been "a winter such as we have never seen", at least not for many years, at least not in Kansas. And I'm just plain sick and tired of it.

A couple weeks ago, during a very rare warm day, I noticed that the buds on the forsythia bush outside the front door were looking slightly swollen. I clipped off a branch and put it in a vase on the kitchen window sill, and sure enough it has opened into full bloom...the sort of bloom that is so often terminated prematurely outdoors by a hard freeze. I cling to these cheerful flowers on the windowsill over the sink as a tangible promise that spring is on its way.

I want to move the fences now that the stumps for the circle drive have been ground out. I want to finish cleaning up and reorganizing the outdoor storage areas. I want to begin gardening, moving mulch, clearing dead weeds. I want to put seeds in the ground, I want to see the honeybees venture out in search of the first blossoms. There is so much to be done! And each frozen day is one day less to do it in. In a few days it will be March. Normally by now I've been thinking "the ground is "ready to be worked in early spring", but is it TOO early?" This year, the ground is still implacably frozen. The snow in the shadows of things has not fully melted all winter. How will there ever be time for everything once it does thaw?

In the tunnel vision of waiting for spring, and worrying, it's hard to keep the larger perspective. This time of waiting is setting aside time for me to plan and coordinate. The household expanded from just me in January, to include Ashlee in February, and is now exploding like a spring bud to include Elesha, her two small children, and temporarily her sister. I've had serious inquiries from many potential volunteers eager to learn about farming. So there will be many hands to do the work of the farm this season, whenever that season eventually arrives.
So for now I just need to live in the realm of faith and hope.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sheep Shearing CANCELLED

It's still positively arctic. The forecast is for more snow, more sleet, more cold. Intermittant cold around shearing day is annoying, but this is relentless.

Our usual fluctuating winter weather can be a challenge, but at least there are warm spells where we can rest and regroup and move the things that are frozen to the ground. This season tings seem only to thaw enough to create pools of water in which gates can be come impossible to open.

We decided to postpone our shearing day until Thursday, March 13. (Sorry, my job won't let me take another Saturday off). Hopefully another 2 1/2 weeks will see things thawed out and settled into more seasonal weather.

A number of years ago, we sheared after a week of balmy spring weather. About 24 hours later, the thermometer plunged to the low teens, and the wind blew brutally. Many sheep lost significant weight during this time, and the ones that started out thinner simply collapsed. Through careful nursing, they all survived...but it was touch and go, with one very pregnant ewe lamb off her feet (and feed) for three weeks of intensive care. (Cleo is still with us.) This was our one experience with hypocalcemia--milk fever, an acute calcium deficiency not uncommon around lambing time when the nutritional demands are high. How did we give the ewes the additional calcium they needed? We lined them up and fed them Tums! Cheap and low-tech...and added a touch of humor to a grim, grueling season.

My current off-farm job won't allow the flexibility to deal with a repeat of this experience, so we decided "better safe than sorry".

This rescheduling does mean that we'll be starting to lamb while the ewes are in full fleece. We'll probably try to "crutch" the ewes closest to birthing. This is a partial shearing, of just the soiled wool around the tail and udder area, to make it easier to see changes in the ewe's vulva and udder that herald imminent lambing.

I'm still sorry, for all of you who won't be able to attend on the 13th. But there will be other shearings, and you're always welcome.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sheep Shearing Day--Coming Soon!

Our annual Spring Sheep Shearing Day is scheduled for February 23...just over a week from this arctic day! We'll open the farm to observers at 10:00. Various activities will include:

--Working Border Collie demonstration

--Professional Sheep Shearer Danny Smith at work

--Wool craft displays and demonstrations

--Potluck lunch featuring delicious mutton dishes

Volunteers are always appreciated! It's great to have help directing people to park in an orderly fashion, pointing people towards the barn, handling the sheep (for experienced volunteers), sweeping the shearing board, spreading out fleece wrappers (old bed sheets), bundling and weighing the wool, stacking it, coordinating crafts and food, etc. We have several helpers planned already, but there's always room for more! Call 785-979-6786 or email to volunteer.

The farm is generally flat and easy-access, though muddy conditions may be expected this year. We'll have hay set up as "bleachers" for easy, safe viewing. If it's sunny, it could bequite warm in the barn, but do dress for the weather and for mud.

Whether the new circle drive will be operating depends on the resolution of mechanical problems with the stump grinder. We'll post signs for on-site parking; additional parking is along North Street with care to not block the road. If possible, ride the "T"--the city bus service comes within three blocks of our farm! Take Route 4 from 9th and Massachussetts (northwest corner) and ask for 5th and Lyon; follow 5th Street north to North Street, and you'll see signs.

Can it be possible? It's easy to wonder, on a frigid night like this. We are proceeding as if it will all work out just spite of niggling doubts. In our favor:

--A roof on the main part of the barn where we traditionally shear (no roof last year), so we can keep the sheep dry before shearing and sheltered after shearing, no matter what.

--A great stock of hay on hand, both large and small bales, so we can feed in the barn if needed, or out in the pens as we usually do.

--We've probably sheared in worse conditions before...a number of years ago, it was in the 60's for a week or two just before shearing, so everyone got used to mild temperatures. The day after shearing, the temperature dropped into the teens and the wind blew 25 mph for several days. With a less-enclosed barn than what we have now, we were scrambling to keep sheep alive...but didn't lose any to either the cold or to resulting health problems. I've got the whole list of cold-weather contingencies in the back of my mind...including, I'll try to raid the local thrift stores for wool sweater vests between now and then. The ewes looked very sharp in their Pendletons that year!

So why DO we shear so early in the year? Various reasons:

--It's one of the few weekends that the shearer isn't previously committed for an Annual Shearing Day on some other small specialty wool farm in Kansas or Missouri. Now that we've got our name penciled in for "the last Saturday in February" every year, we're sticking to it, for ease of planning.

--We like to start lambing in mid-March (i.e., when it's starting to be more pleasant, but before the main spring vegetable planting, and before Farmer's Market starts) and we like to shear before lambing.

--Shorn sheep take less space in the sheds and at the feeders, just as they are getting WIDER in late pregnancy.

--Shorn sheep don't get as wet and muddy during spring weather, and are much nicer to work with during pre-lambing and lambing.

--Shearing before lambing makes it easier to observe the ewes' body condition and udder development during late pregnancy, and to assist with difficult births if needed.

--It also makes the ewes better moms. They are cold, so they take their babies into the sheds out of the cold. They can feel if their lamb is stuck between them and the wall. The lambs can find the teats more easily, and they don't sick on dirty tags of wool.

The shearer leaves enough wool on them for basic warmth, and the new wool grows fast.

Shearing Day is fun! It has a funny fast/slow noisy rhythm all its own. The fleeces are gorgeous to see when they're cut...and the sheep look all shiny and sleek and new. They often don't recognize one another, so they vie for social status like a bunch of strangers. We have trouble recognizing them too.

It's like Christmas and New Year's all rolled up into one...the beginning of our farm year. Come join us!

Note for the squeamish and tender-hearted: It is not unheard-of for a ewe to be nicked by the blade during shearing, esp. if she struggles (they usually don't). They don't seem to feel much discomfort from these nicks, even if there is some bleeding and/or the skin appears to gap open. Since flies are not a problem this time of year, we generally don't treat shearing cuts at the time. The extra handling for treatment may be more stressful to the sheep than the untreated wound. They normally heal within a surprisingly short time. In rare instances, a bad cut may require basic suturing, which the shearer will do. We keep a close eye on shearing nicks during the days following shearing, and treat only as needed.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Livestock Dial-A-Nurse (Unlicensed)

Unless there is severe bleeding, take a deep breath and calm yourself...a few seconds probably won't make a huge difference.

I'm writing tonight in response to two situations that came to my e-mail in-box within the last 24 hours. One: someone who bought a couple laying hens from me for her back yard last summer--one hen has become lethargic and very thin. The other: a friend is upset that one of her newly purchased "baby milk goats" escaped its pen and ate a toxic plant. I've e-mailed my commonsense experience, strength and hope--and assurances of prayers--to both people.

Now I'll take the time to "archive" that information here for future reference by other friends, as well as for the folks who will be helping me on the farm, esp. at lambing time.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a veterinarian or anything close...and I'm not an "expert"... and I'm not giving "advice." I'm a lay person who has done a lot of muddling through weird livestock stuff, and I'm sharing my experience, strength and hope for what it's worth. NOTHING substitutes for a good, on-going relationship with a local veterinarian who specializes in your species and is familiar with your farm, facilities, animals, priorities and management style. Also, get some good, detailed health care books for your species and memorize them. Then realize that MOST of this stuff NEVER happens, and the rest only happens rarely.

VETS TO AVOID: Those who give advice on the phone without ever seeing your place or animals, or running appropriate diagnostics (the vet should insist on a farm visit and stool samples before recommending a parasite management plan). Those who think they know everything & won't listen to you or do research (you have a lot of information they need about your animals--they should respect you as part of the health care team...and no one knows everything). Those who treat all sheep as if they are registered meat breed show stock (wool or dairy sheep may have entirely different considerations). Those whose practice is focused on pets (may be expensive and tend to over-treat).

Even with the best vet, read labels yourself and watch for anything that contradicts your planned use of animal (i.e. "not for food animal use" if you are planning on slaughtering, or "not for dairy use" in another species on off-label drugs if you are planning to milk the animal eventually). Vets may also forget that sheep cannot excrete copper...NEVER give any feed or supplement to sheep that lists any added copper or it can build up and kill them eventually.

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENTS: I deal with vets/vet bills by thinking of each farm or office visit as an intensive workshop with steep tuition (the bill). Ask as many questions as you possibly can, expect answers, call back if you have more questions, and watch everything.

How I deal with the critters who don't recover: Think of it as an intensive workshop with steep tuition (the value of the animal). Do a necropsy if possible...i.e., cut it open and see what's inside, just in case it might help you understand what happened and prevent it happening again...or inform your approach to the next different crisis. One ewe apparently dropped dead in her tracks just a week short of lambing. It was obvious when I cut her open (initially because I was curious how many lambs she was carrying) that she had ruptured her spleen and bled to death internally in a matter of minutes...all her blood clotted in abdomen. I became more careful about crowding them through small doors in late pregnancy...and keep in mind that, sheep being sheep, they'll do it anyway.) Know that this one gave its life to help save the next one...just like the one the coyote catches will stop fighting so that the rest of the herd can escape. See (i) below.

NO BLAME! It's very common to feel you (or someone else) caused the problem through some error or omission. Blame will not heal the critter. Stay in the present, take care of the critter, and you can analyze things to do differently next time after things have settled down. We all make mistakes, that's how we learn. And a lot of livestock stuff is out of our control....what WILL they think of next? Sometimes I think they lie awake at night plotting it....

After ???? years I STILL leave gates unlatched/ajar at the wrong slant...thus Freckleface the llama and I had a romp through the frozen garden just this morning. The main farm gate was open (we'd just brought in a couple loads of hay) so IF he had zigged instead of zagged and darted instead of dodged, he COULD have ended up on North Street causing some traffic fatality whose relatives would now own the farm....

After nearly 15 years of working with sheep and poultry, and much "tuition", it seems like most stuff begins and ends with SUPPORTIVE CARE. Keep the necessary tools and materials on hand, and you will feel much better about yourself when something comes up suddenly (as most crises do). These include various tubing/bottling/feeding equipment; syringes/needles; thermometer; electrolyte; nutridrench; scissors; wound treatment stuff; cages/pens; heat lamps; hair dryers; rags/old towels; individual feed pans...your collection will grow with each "workshop", and so will your confidence.

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS for initial assessment: Do you know what happened? If disease, what are symptoms? If suspected poisoning, what plant or other material? What organs/systems are/will be affected? This really affects how Supportive Care might apply. Body temperature high/low/normal? How old is critter? Is it nursing? Eating solids? Observe pooping/peeing patterns...these tell you a lot. If you've talked to a vet, are they experienced with small ruminants? Large ruminants? Horses? Mainly pets? This can make a huge difference in their approach to care (and cost!), and determine how much you follow your intution vs. their instructions.

SUPPORTIVE CARE mainly encompasses three things in this order: (a) achieve/maintain proper body temperature (b) achieve/maintain proper hydration (c) maintain blood sugar/nutrients. After that comes treating any other symptoms of the problem. Preventing secondary infection is part of that, i.e. antibiotics.

Actually, before (a) comes TAKE CARE OF THE CAREGIVER. Give yourself a hug, say a prayer, and know you are doing your best. (a) - (c) apply to caregiver as well as patient! Always remember, prayer is more effective than worry!

(a) Don't do anything about (b) or (c) until you have dealt with any hypothermia, or the energy demand for digestion may push the critter "over the edge". Rectal temp with regular thermometer should be about 102 for sheep/goats; 106 for chickens. Inside lamb/kid's mouth should feel warm to your finger. Heat lamp, hot water bottle, put critter in plastic bag (except head!) and give a very warm bath in sink; hair dryer; blankets. Be careful not to burn critter or yourself or set anything on fire. If critter is too lively to put up with any of this, hypothermia is likely not a concern! You can easily cut a "coat" from an old felted sweater, sweat shirt, etc.

(b) Check for dehydration by pinching a fold of bare skin (groin or armpit) and see if it springs back smoothly or leaves a ridge. If there's a ridge, focus on fluids. Water, Pedialyte or veterinary electrolyte mix (2-part Entrolyte H.E. is good), or make your own electrolyte mix w/ salt and sugar/molasses. If animal will drink, encourage it to drink lots by adding molasses to warm water. Bottle if it likes that. If reluctant to drink, but alert, "tube" it with body-temp. electrolytes. Don't tube an animal that is so weak it can't that with vet.

(c) "Nutridrench" (specific formulas for sheep and for goats) (aka "Go Juice" on a friend's farm) is propylene glycol (quick energy) with a proper balance of vitamins & minerals. It can be work wonders. Follow directions...administer with a syringewith no needle. Then, use a quality milk replacer for critters still nursing/taking a bottle. You can tube feed this if the sucking instinct is weak, or you want them to go back to sucking Mom. For ruminating animals, alfalfa pellets, "sweet feed", commercial sheep/goat "chow", or your usual grain mix can be fed depending on situation. Go as slowly as seems prudent with any sudden feeding changes (except Nutridrench) to prevent (e)...if critter was initially healthy, it likely has enough body fat to "coast" a bit calorie-wise. Ask your vet about injectibles like B-vitamins to stimulate appetite and iron ("pig iron") for anemic animals (common due to internal parasites)...most of these are "off-label" for sheep/goats so MUST have case-specific vet approval for legal use.

(d) Pepto bismol (generic) can be used to control diarrhea. If diarrhea, go real easy on food until controlled...just nutridrench and fluids at first. Though in case of poison you may want to allow some diarhhea initially to purge, just keep up with fluids to flush toxins.

(e) Acidosis/bloating/foundering may result in any ruminant from any digestive upset, even just interrupted or changed feeding regimens. This may result directly from poison, or be a side effect of stress, changed feed/off feed, etc. Thankfully I haven't taken that workshop yet....

(f) Any situation-specific needs-- darkness if light-sensitivity is a factor; quiet if excitability is a factor; etc.

(g) Remember these are herd/flock animals. Being away from their friends is VERY stressful and can cause depression/off feed--leading to (e)--all by itself. Keep separate if needed for treatment but within earshot/smell/sight of friend can be helpful for both patient and friends. Don't neglect friends too much! Friends are worried, too...and will give you hope!

(h) A lot of common-sense home remedies work for animals, too...yoghurt to help balance rumen bacteria, etc. You can get probiotics specially formulated for various ruminant species, too. Keep body size in mind. There are some good books out there on herbal animal care...probably stuff on internet...I just haven't had time to study.

(i) Carcasses can be composted very successfully w/no odor if ground is too frozen to dig...Use a minimum 8" of heavy compacted cover (slightly composted if possible...old barn waste hay is best, manure, etc.) on all sides; wire to keep varmints out; don't turn; let age a long time. Puncture rumen/intestines before covering to prevent heaving of pile with post-mortem bloating. I do the necropsy right in the compost pile, then cover.... Soak pile well. Add more cover if it starts to smell, and keep well dampened (not soggy).

Last but not least, it really helps to have friends and mentors with livestock to call for advise and sympathy.

Friday, February 8, 2008

In Memorium: Spud

When I left the farm and went to Canada several years ago, intending to be there a couple years, I learned a lot about myself. One thing was the deep connections I form with animals--whether mine, or other peoples', or no one's in particular.

In Winnipeg, in the first few months of being alone in a big city (850,000; 10 times larger than Lawrence), culture shock, losing my job, unexpected moves, losing contact with friends back home, being abandoned by my church...I realized how important dogs had become in my life. One doesn't see many animals outside in Winnipeg in the winter; it's too cold for them to stay out in the yards. When I first saw someone walking a Border Collie, a week after my arrival, I actually cried with a crazy mix of joy and homesickness.

So imagine my delight to make friends with someone who had cats AND dogs, one of them a Border Collie. She lived a long ways away from me, so I only visited her home a few times. But oh! the joy of being greeted by her charming, rambunctious, doting BC, Bear. So many of the familiar BC mannerism, body language, etc. reminded me of my beloved Toss so far away.

In Bear's exhuberant shadow was Spud. Pretty much mutt, partly spaniel, the color of carmel. A bit gray around the muzzle, a bit slow-moving, perhaps a bit dim-witted...but knowing her only briefly, and in Bear's shadow, it's hard to know what was age, what was unfair comparison with a younger BC, and what was the real essence of Spud.

But of all the dogs I've known in my life, what other (non-BC) dog have I only met maybe 5 or 6 times, yet remember so clearly?

My friend e-mailed yesterday morning to say that Spud was failing, and they'd made plans to have her euthanized soon. Knowing how bereft my faraway friend would be feeling, I wrote back a note of condolence that evening, including:

Distance is a mixed blessing...I know the universe will feel just a little bit different because Spud is gone, and at the same time Spud won't be any more gone from my life than she already is...

After walking out with the dogs to get firewood, I realize that last sentence is pretty vague. What I mean is that she's HERE/THERE, part of my memory, immortal as long as I can feel her soft ears and see her smiling little face in my mind.

It was in writing those words that I realized, to my surprise, how much of an impression Spud had made on me, with how little fuss about it. We had a connection that wasn't about effusive greetings, bodily contact, chasing thrown objects, or really any other form of focused physical interaction...I regret to say that I pretty much ignored Spud other than perfunctory pats on arrival and departure. After all, how can an ordinary dog compare with a BC?

But Spud didn't need to compete. Spud just WAS. Herself. She had no doubts that that was enough. And in hindsight, that was pretty awesome. As I wrote those words, her presence was so palpable to me that I felt I could have reached down and patted her, standing underfoot among the snow boots in the tiny back entry way (did I even ever visit that house in the winter?). I felt her presence HERE with me.

This morning I learned just how connected Spud and I really were, when my friend wrote to tell me that Spud had died of natural causes, peacefully in her familiar kitchen, just about the time I wrote those words of comfort...and how comforting those words were to her. Maybe Spud really did stop by my heart on her way out.

Maybe it's because the local Shape Note Singing group met last Sunday...I keep thinking of Spud as having "crossed over", not "passing on" or "dying" or any modern conventional words. We had had a conversation at a previous singing about the old tradition of "singing people over" when they were about to "cross over", and one member described being part of such an experience. What a powerfully moving mental image I have of that, friends and family gathered at the deathbed to sing favorite hymns of comfort and hope. And I like that "crossing over" doesn't make any pretentions about where or what is "over" honoring of the fact that beyond a certain point we can never know, until we are never to return. A journey whose end we
we cannot see, an adventure with unforeseeable outcomes.

Each time I hear of the death of a friend's dog, even a dog I've never met, I think of the unknown approaching day that my beloved Toss will cross over. I can see her aging, little by little, though she still loves to work sheep and play with sticks. She doesn't seem like a 12-year-old dog. But she is old. I try to cherish what time I have with her.

I'd love to be able to sing her over when she goes, together with friends who have known her. She loves music, and will creep as close to the piano as she can to listen whenever I play, laying nearby for hours in blissful, relaxed contentment.

I hope when she goes, she'll pay my friend a visit along her way, like Spud did for me.

And I hope my friends can sing me over some day in the far, far future. How could I be afraid to cross, with the singing of friends to lighten the journey, and all those good dogs waiting on the other side?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Signs of Spring

A little thing, a fleeting thing...two red-tail hawks, soaring quite low near the hospital where I was driving the bus...

But the hawks say it's time to think about carrying on the future of the species.

The buds on certain trees are swelling noticeably...cottonwood, ornamental pear, elm, silver maple. I'm excited to remember the magic of last spring on the bus, passing each view every 80 minutes and seeing the unfolding of new growth like time-lapse photography.

Each day, the sun is shining (even if behind heavy grey clouds) noticeably later in the day. And rising higher in the sky at noon. Equinox in less than 2 months.

This morning, it thundered while it snowed/sleeted/rained; tonight, a friend and I walked back from a late movie downtown in an eerie fog, the trees randomly baptizing us with little drips of condensation.

The days between untying big round bales of brome hay diminish as the sheep eat more and more...feeding their fetuses as the unborn lambs enter their final growth spurt. Several of the ewes are looking very wide. Some are starting to waddle a little. Some udders are starting to round out, though still very small.

It's too soon to put my annual wonder-filled excitement over SPRING into frenzied action...that comes later. Now is a certain sort of Advent, to me...patiently, eagerly awaiting the birth and bursting forth of so many miraculous beings!

Sheep Shearing day details to come soon!