Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Up to now I've been skeptical. It has been SO cold this spring - following an unusually cold winter and an unusually cold summer the year before (which was in fact so freakishly cold that I didn't even attempt to garden... not even sweet basil, which grows for me as if nuclear-powered, and for which I have many uses and much demand). The weather was just so chilly and unpleasant that I couldn't bring myself to make the slightest attempt; I love my sweet basil plants and I would've felt like I was torturing them, trying to get them to grow in that weather. Even arugula - which grows like a weed - would have been faint and timid in the chill. And attempting tomato plants would have been cruel and unusual punishment. At any rate, as a result of all this, I feel like I've had winter for about the last 19 months.
Mind you, I love my winters. But even I don't love them 12 months a year. I don't tolerate hot muggy weather very well (despite the fact that I used to make my living grooming racehorses on the east coast, where hot and muggy are de rigeur. Somehow I managed not just to tolerate that, but to tolerate it whilst doing a manual labor job 50 hours a week. Don't even ask me.) I spent most of my youth in Colorado, where the summers are often quite hot, although very rarely are they muggy even for a short period of time. I'm no longer accustomed even to that, however.... since moving to Alaska I've grown used to cooler summers. Nowadays, I (and many of my cohorts up here) have been known to whine and complain if the temperature approaches 80 degrees. My friends still in Colorado (when coaxing me to visit) are inclined to try to tempt me down by saying, "But it's a dry heat." To which I usually reply, "So's the inside of my oven, but you don't catch me wanting to spend the summer in there, either."
At any rate, you know it's bad when I, of all people, am craving some hot weather. But here I am, wishing it would pop up 30 degrees over night and stay there until fall. I assure you I never have such thoughts - but this year, I catch myself thinking this all the time. It's very strange.
However, this week there has been a wee glimmer of hope. All last week - and early this week - I had temps 20 to 25 degrees colder than normal at night (and only slightly less unseasonable in the daytime). But in the last few days - and I hesitate to mention this, lest I jinx it - the night time temps have been nearly normal. All afternoon I've been hearing loud thuds as the ice accumulated on my roof is finally starting to slide and fall. Yesterday afternoon, coming home from work, I drove with my window rolled down. The air had a round, fresh, balmy feel, tender and sweet as a ripe peach, as if we might in fact experience spring this year after all. In addition to which - and here I know you'll think I'm being rash - I am starting to hope that my lambs won't instantly flash-freeze as they are being born.
There's still snow on the ground, of course, but Sunday we rotated the ewes to their lambing pen, in which there is a nice barn for them to birth in. By "we" I really mean S&R, since I spent the wee hours of Sunday morning in the ER having a kidney stone, and S&R were pretty certain that I didn't need to be trying to help. Apparently the combination of exhaustion and a dilaudid hangover combined to make me sound truly alarming on the phone, so by the time I got over to Wildwood (after a nap), S&R had taken matters into their own hands and had already moved the ewes. It was rather dear, actually; I had brought over a large cooler to be modified for use as an insulated stock tank, which had necessitated me moving a dog crate from the bed to the cab of my truck temporarily. I would start to move the cooler or the dog crate and suddenly I'd be staring at my empty hands, thinking: "Wow, it just evaporated! How did THAT happen?" since S or R would have stepped in and quickly plucked the offending item from my grip, tsk-ing and telling me I didn't need to be doing THAT right now. They do take good care of me, I must say.... and at any rate, I was still too bemused by sleep deprivation and a faint narcotic echo to protest; by the time I could formulate any sort of demur, it was already too late: The job had been done.
So now I am looking forward with cautious optimism to the possibility of lambing in reasonable temperatures. The first calculated due date would be this coming Saturday, although normally you allow a fudge-factor of five days either direction, so it could be as early as NOW, or as late as next Thursday.
I used to feel like spring was here when I saw robins, or when the lilacs started to bloom. But any more, I feel like it's spring when the first lambs are on the ground, peering from behind their mothers' woolly flanks, gamboling about on their long cunning legs, shaking their little floppy ears, pronking about with the other lambs - of which, I sincerely hope, there will be many. The goats are due about the same time, so Wildwood will, if all goes well, be inundated with little four-legged babies starting in less than a week.
I love spring.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Why is that bad news, you ask? Well, I'll tell you: I'm getting near lambing (the first ewe could go as early as 5 days from now, though it'll more likely be 10 or more) and there's still a foot of snow on the ground. The good news with that is that the pen isn't a foot deep in mud. The bad news is that it's a bit chilly for newborn lambs, and in the non-packed part of the pen, the snow is deep enough to swallow a lamb entirely.
The bad news on shearing is that it's just too cold to shear my ewes, and I hate to leave them in full wool for lambing; there are studies that demonstrate that shearing ewes before lambing results in better ewe health, better lamb survival and faster lamb growth (presumably because it's so much easier to get to the udder, and the ewes - being chilly themselves - are inclined to lamb under cover). The good news is that my shearer (who I love, because she's kind to my sheep and of a cheerful, sunny temperament) is adept at "tagging" (shearing around the vulva and udder for ease and cleanliness at lambing.) The bad news is that it'll cost twice as much to finish shearing because I'll have to have her out again in a month or 6 weeks.
The good news is that today (whilst tagging and hoof-trimming), all the ewes appear to be pregnant and none feel too thin. The bad news is that the one who had an unsuccessful lambing season last year is the one with the least udder, so now I'm wondering if she just isn't good reproductive material. The good news on that is that she may have bred on the second cycle, so she may simply be just "less pregnant" than the others. The bad news is that that could extend my lambing season by weeks. But the good news would be that by then it'll be warmer and we'll be less likely to have cold lambs who have trouble getting started.
If that one ewe is unsuccessful for the second year in a row, the bad news is that that means I'll probably have to cull her; I can't afford to have a non-productive sheep, particularly one who is (as she is) difficult to handle. The good news is that, even if that's the case, she won't go to waste; adult Shetland meat tastes identical to lamb.
Sigh. This is life with farm animals, I think; a balance between good news and bad. But, at the end of the day, if all the ewes have a lamb, and all the lambs have a ewe, it'll be a success.
Cross your fingers.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
... having the extremely accurate "arm gauge" snow-depth measurement....
... and after excavation. (The wings aren't black and wrinkly. Those are wing covers.)
The fact of it is that on a warm day like that, with the snow falling thick and pretty and the light all diffuse and softly glowing, as if it comes both from nowhere and from everywhere at once, it is really rather a pleasant thing to go brush the snow off the Cessna. It's like painting in reverse: you load your brush with white to reveal the vibrant glossy red of the bird. Apart from which, the dogs are entertaining; they're highly excited by all the snow being brushed off the plane, and God forbid you should set down your gloves or your whisk broom. Those are obviously HIGH VALUE TOYS, since you are playing with them and denying them to the dogs. The minute you turn your back, they're suddenly borne away in the jaws of some Border collie. The only downside, from the dogs' point of view, of spending an afternoon this way is that when it is warm and snowy (and by warm I mean 30 degrees), there's a tendency for ice to accumulate between their toes.
Finn! Look at your feet! You have ice balls!
Dude! I WOULD, except you neutered me, remember?
After all this, of course, the best thing in the world is to go inside, have something hot to drink, and watch an old Cary Grant movie (with popcorn, naturally.)
I don't know; somehow, it seems that there's nothing like a heavy snowfall to make the simple pleasures of life seem like the most decadent of luxuries.
Maybe it's just me.