I keep up with the news in bits and snatches. Children who cannot eat, mothers who cannot get medical help for their families, fathers who cannot protect them, these things weigh heavily on me. It does not take much for the enormity of the world’s suffering to overwhelm me. I don’t know the answers to children neglected by people with the physical resources to do better. Everywhere I look, life is about things. People seem worth less every day in the craving to fill emotional spaces with things. When we cannot have things, we have pictures of things. Virtual things. Pretend things. Anything, just not living breathing, uncontrollable love and life.
I won’t belabor the point, but the world troubles me deeply. I feel helpless and alone against forces ridiculously beyond my control. Enter a mouse.
My father was helping us fix a wall on our barn. I sent the boys out to clean out the straw and dirt shoved all along its edge. They came back excited. They’d found a nest of baby mice. Everywhere was ready but they’d left the nest area intact. Too late, the message came and another eager cleaner had finished the job.
I looked but to no avail. Through piles of dust and straw I searched, trying to find something still alive. There was nothing to do but continue. An hour or so later, my father pointed. Four feet away on the stone fence was the mother mouse come back for her babies. I wished there was a way to tell her that was too late. That they were probably already suffocated under one of the piles on the barn floor. Again, there was little to do but continue.
I didn’t see it myself. I went in to make dinner. But my father swears he saw the mouse come back as he worked, dig through the piles and carry living babies off into the bushes. I still don’t know if I believe it but I’ve decided I don’t care. Whether she found them or not, with my own eyes I saw her come looking. The chaos we created in her fragile world couldn’t have seemed any less overwhelming than the chaos of my own. She came back because her babies weren’t where they were supposed to be. She didn’t have a plan for the winter, the fall, or the rest of the week. She noted our gigantic presence, the destruction of her home and worried only about doing what she could do right then to be who she was made to be.
Oh mighty mouse, may your days be long, your food stores full, your babies fat, your nest restored. Smaller than my daughter’s palm, brave mother mouse, you give me much courage and hope.
Friends of ours keep a chalkboard at the end of the driveway each spring for cars to see. It’s a tally of how many lambs have been born so far. Unlike us, they are actual farmers, so their tally goes on for a few weeks and reaches 600 plus sometimes. We like our lamb count around 9 or 10. That’s enough excitement for us.
This year, the skinniest ewe (who we suspected would be late – if she was even pregnant) was the first to deliver. She must have been keeping one in her leg, as she birthed not one but three healthy lambs. Saturday morning, her lambs will be a week old. They look great. Very spunky. Two boys and a girl. They’re the snowy white lambs in the pictures. Lambs are born with a yellow coating gooped all over them. Their cute because they’re little and new to the world, but they look very dirty. After a few days, the yellow is licked and rubbed off, and then they are downright gorgeous.
The mid sized ewe was second to deliver. She had four. This is one too many for perfection. Our sheep breed, the Rideau Arcott, was developed in the 1970’s in Canada (Animal Research Centre Ottawa . . . ARC OTT). They’re a great sheep for a couple of reasons; they tend to have multiple births for one. Many other breeds typically have one lamb per birth. Rideau Arcott typically have 2 or 3, and 4 is not uncommon. The problem is that for milk supply, a ewe can really only handle 3. The extra are usually separated and bottle fed. We did this for a few years. It works, but the bottle fed lambs never thrive the same as the lambs with the mother. Based on our friend’s experiments and some ideas of our own, we currently have all the lambs with the mom, but are also bottle feeding every few hours during the day to supplement. So far, everyone looks good.
Our large, bursting any minute ewe, Lily (our original ewe, and herself a bottle fed, “extra,” from a multiple birth) is still waddling around giving us fits wondering what exactly is going on inside her. Her biggest year she delivered a group of 5. Last year, she was bigger than ever before and we thought another basketball team was en route. Instead, she birthed two lambs bigger than the two week old lambs. We called them the football players.
This year’s group of four is interesting. They’re only three days old, so they’re still pretty yellow. Unlike most of our lambs, they have quite a few markings of black and brown patches. A few more pictures will come next week. Currently, the camera has no zoom, and lambs were not in the mood to sit still while I shoved a camera in their faces for a close up.
You can see the dirty coat as well as a little of the speckles, although it’s hard to see which is which. This one is yelling for his mother to save him from all the scary other lambs out there and reminding her that she is not to go more than a few feet away. If anyone wanders it is supposed to be him, not her. (Amazing what they can communicate in one mad little bleat, yes?)
A friend of mine was born with cerebral palsy. Her left hand doesn’t have the range of motion that her right does. Her left ankle doesn’t have the same strength as her right. She is not a champion typist or Olympic level jar lid opener. After that, it’s hard to find the long term effects of her debilitating condition.
She’s 61 now, a spit and fire of love and creative energy, gentle and apologetic for her ten mistakes, forgiving and generous of spirit to the 10,000 mistakes of others. She is a kindergarten teacher. Over the course of 30 plus years, she has taught hundreds. She had befriended thousands. She is a cycler, swimmer, cross country skier, hiker, skater. She bakes endless cookies, gingerbread men, and extremely fine butterhorns.
When she was young, she says she fell down a lot. Her mother let her pick herself back up again. They lived near the ocean, her beloved Atlantic ocean. She sputtered and swam crooked. Her mother let her sputter and she figured it out. She couldn’t always keep up with the other kids. Her mother told her to go play anyway.
By the time she was 18, my friend was running her own daycare in the summers. I’ve seen pictures. Kids everywhere that she fed, took swimming and played with. She went on to Gordon College and a life of teaching kindergarteners and a thousand million (as she would say) friends.
Yes, you can, she says laughing. Yes, you can, she says cheering. Yes, you can, she says nose to nose, I won’t take no for an answer. You try it and you do it because I know you can, you just have to know it too, she will say to young friends. In the history of the world, when someone tries something, she has never forgotten to cheer.
A few weeks ago, my friend came over to skate. She forgot to bring a brace for her ankle. I offered to help her lace up the skate on the bad foot and she accepted. It took us both fighting hard to get that crooked ankle to let her foot inside the skate. We got it in and we laced it up, but her left skate couldn’t stand straight, it had to go at the ice on an angle. I thought she might skate gently around the edges for a while and get a sense of the ice.
Great ice, she yelled to girl two. Whose going to play tag with me?
I’m not being facetious. I want to know. Who was this woman’s mother?