Saturday, October 24, 2009

Toss followed me over to the woodlot to visit with the "tree guy" who brings us wood chips and firewood, as he parks his truck at the end of a long autumn day. When he left, and I headed back to the farm, she was checking out the smells along the front of the brown barn.

I walked towards her, but she was intent on her investigation, her face turned away from me. Finally, a few feet away from her, I rapped the wrench in my hand against a nearby trash can. She looked up, as if I'd called her name. She is so deaf now, she only hears the loudest voices. But a big sound like the echoing empty plastic still gets through.

Relaxed and slow at the end of a long day, we strolled side by side along the wood-chipped lane under the tall arching trees, feeling like a calendar picture. I thoughtfully watched her walk beside me. We have walked together for a long time, nearly 4/5 of her life.

She is the same weight as she's always been--no middle-age spread for her, nor any wasting away. She is fit and trim, though calmer than her younger days. She walks by my side with practiced, comfortable ease. She is glad for me to have these extra days off, to be in my company more. The bus job takes me away from my beloved creatures too much of their time. These busy years seem much shorter to me than to my short-lived furry friends.

In years past, though, I would have seen just the faintest tilt of an ear towards me, monitoring my direction as we walked with her slightly ahead. Today, she bends her head towards me ever so slightly, casting a glance out of the corner of her eye to gage my position every so often. Attentive as ever, but with a different sense.

I walk a little slower than I used to. Her visual checks are intermittant, and I realize that I've relaxed into a silent, responsive dance with her. I unthinkingly wait until she is making her scan to change my path, when I decide to go back to the building site instead of the house. Otherwise, she brushes against me, or even trips me. I respect her dignity too much to cause her that embarrassment.

At fourteen, she is as beautiful to me as she has ever been. Not just her lustrous, thick black fur with stunning white trim. Not just her slender figure, balanced tail, alert little foxy ears, trim muzzle frosted with white hairs. Far more than that--her very being. Honest, gentle, timid in some ways but bold in others. A relationship that is beyond mere dogged loyalty--rather an easy cooperation, a partnership of two independent minds.

Eider, my oldest sheep at 12, communes with me in similar, but sheepish, ways. She looks over the fence, chewing her cud, gazing into my eyes. She is content, skin and bones though she is. If she were in need of anything--water, mineral, better feed--she would let me know, and I would understand. We have been in one another's care for a long, long time.

The beginning date of the farm is a fuzzy date. What marks it? The purchase of the land? My first step onto it's soils? My first sowing, or my first harvest, or my first lambing, or my first slaughter? When DID I become a farmer? I tend to count my age as a farmer the same as Eider's age as a sheep. We have grown up together, but the farm is young, and I am middle aged, and Eider is old.

They are all good ages to be, in this way of life.

1 comment:

catherinesherman said...

What a beautiful story of relationships. We have an old cat, 17 1/2 years old. We are very comfortable together and have our own language. I can't imagine life without him, yet he is very old. I treasure any time I have with him.