10 September 2005

So That's What It's Like When It Rains Here

Katrina Jr hit Spannocchia Friday, bringing thunder and rains, and lightning on occasion, from pre-dawn to late-afternoon. Any questions about whether we work in the rain were answered thoroughly, as we each trudged out to our duties across the farm.

The beauty of the rain wasn't diminished, but, literally, amplified for me as I drove out to Casseta to see to the sheep. Rain beat on the tin roof of the Macchina Rossa, and we splashed through puddles along the dirt and gravel road. Emily G. was with me, learning about the sheep in preparation for her animal care weekend duty. It was nice, and later necessary, to have her company.

In driving rain, we let the sheep out into the main pasture. The sheep must not be fans of the rain; there was considerably less bleating than usual. Emily and I then prepped the now-empty evening stall, dropping fresh straw, filling the water tub with fresh suds, and clearing out damp hay from the feeding trough. Wet straw clung to our clothes, and I noticed a big blue stain across my orange jacket, smeared on me from the neck of a wounded sheep that I had dressed earlier with the colorful anti-fly spray. I was suddenly aware of how sheep-y I smelled, and how my rain pants had ceased to be waterproof; both pair of pants clung heavily to my legs. Thunder cracked loudly, and the rain picked up.

Emily and I, now yelling to be heard to one another over the roar of the rain, set to changing the day pen (the pens that I move, that change from week to week), flipping up one "L" side of fencing from the previous week's pen to meet up with the already-in-place "L" of fencing for the next week's pen. I went looking for the mallet in the barn, which was no longer there. Of course. Hollering instructions to Emily to pull up the stakes from the mud and roll up the fencing, clean and prepare the water bin for the day pen, I took off in the truck to get the missing mallets. The windshield fogged behind my breath, and the driver’s side window repeatedly fell open. I reached through the panel-less door to push the glass up from the bottom.

Returning from the farm, Emily and I first dragged the sheep's shade tent from last week's pen UP UP UP to this week's pen, stopping several times to adjust our grip, rest our arms, and gripe at the mud, which was sucking at our shoes with each step. Using all my reserve of strength (it had been a looong week), we groaned and pulled the long metal frame just into the new pen, accidentally hooking it on a rock. Great spot to leave it, we decided.

We unrolled the wire fencing and began driving the metal stakes through it and into the ground, about every 8-10 feet. My first pole, a bent one, broke at its weak point as I was hammering it in. I ran down to the sheep’s evening pen to grab an extra one from the pile, and trotted back up the hill, avoiding no puddles, but somehow keeping my shoes on (Gore Tex? What Gore Tex?). As thunder boomed and lightning crackled in the sky, Emily and I exchanged wide-eyed looks. She yelled, "Should we really be running around with metal stakes right now?" I half-laughed, half-shrugged and hammered harder. Funny how a fast heart rate and adrenaline can get things done; in no time, the fencing was up, and we had only to round up the sheep and get them into the day pen. "Only" - from the delights of the pasture "buffet" to the day pen "cornerstore," if you will, in the hard, driving rain, using only the blue bribery bucket of oats and our collective wits.

I took off for the far, far stretch of pasture where the sheep had resorted to. They seemed more confused than uncooperative, when I approached them talking. "Andiamo, pecore!" Arms up, I ran to the rear of the flock, racing left and right, to move them forward as a group. "Vai! Vai!" At the front of the pack, Emily shook the bucket of grain back and forth as we do to give the aural signal of "Follow Me" to the sheep. We might as well have been whispering. My wet, wooly friends wandered this way and that, but more often stood still or walked slowly in every direction. "Vai!" I pushed a lot of sheep bums that day, which seemed to be the winning strategy. Vai, push, Vai, push.

We made our way towards the day pen, Emily now crouching down at the front of the pack, not wanting to be a tall point in a large open field with a lightning storm raging. Belle, the dominant sheep, took the opportunity to dip her head into the lowered bucket, and Emily struggled to wrestle it away. We moved like this, lurching and hiccupping all the way up the hill and, miraculously, into the day pen. I bellowed to Emily to drop the oats all the way in the back of the pen, moving the sheep deeper into the pen, and away from the door. One renegade lamb didn't make it with the crush of white bodies through the open gate, but he was an easy scoop up and drop into the pen. I counted the wet, miserable sheep backs (28), and we splashed our way down to the car. The rain was thrilling, the air electric. The thunder boomed through my body. I was grateful to be outside.

I couldn't see through the fogged windows of the Macchina Rossa as we jostled back along the watery road to the farm. When I killed the ignition, I remembered that my work gloves were lying on the wire fencing of the pen. Another day. TGIF. I spent the rest of the day in tall rubber boots, making cinnamon-spiked jam, grateful for the discovery of fire.

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