Monday, January 31, 2005

Rough day on the farm; stillborn lambs, truck sliding off the ice-covered driveway into a ditch. On a day like this it is easy to wish you were someplace else. I think back to this time a year ago when the family was getting ready for a grand adventure in the Hawaiian Islands. It is tempting to daydream yourself back there. I have some beautiful photos from that trip, but thought this one was a good reminder that, even in paradise, nature doesn't always cooperate and, just maybe, I should view our bit of ice and snow with a little more perspective.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Here is the lost lamb from yesterday together with his twin.

After the snows.

Breakfast? We've been waiting . . .

Sunday morning.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

This little fellow was born sometime this morning and could not find his mother. He walked up to every ewe in the field like the little bird in P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother, with no success. Convinced that he had been born to a ewe who had abandoned him, I decided to take him up to the house and start feeding him as an orphan. He was bleating as I carried him through the barn and much to our surprise, a ewe I had placed in a pen with another new lamb bleated back. Turned out our "orphan" had snuck through a gate into another part of the barn, and then out into the big world, while his twin sister was being born. Mother, son and sibling were happily reunited.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Two new lambs today, one didn't make it. I keep thinking that part will get easier with time, but it doesn't seem to. I brought the one up to the house, chilled and dehydrated. She was failing as I carried her, but we tried anyhow. She stayed with us most of the way as we worked on her, then she simply wasn't there anymore. Not a great way to end the day.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What you see between the lens and the sheep is my breath, cloudy and rising in the cold air as the picture is snapped. Pneuma, as the Greeks would say it, or ruach as the Hebrews might.

Morning feeding.

A light dusting of snow before dawn today.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The lamb count is now seventeen. The newest addition was born to a little black ewe who was intended to be part of the boys' 4-H project until the summer got away from us last year. I was a little suprised, because today's weather was actually pleasant. Temperatures got high enough to use the hose down the hill to the barn rather than hand-carrying milk jugs full of water to the lambing pens. Tonight we dip back down below freezing and stay there until Saturday. More births predicted.

Gideon Strauss is linking to more lists of things people love reminding me of my earlier stated intentions to do the same. In a way, this weblog is an ongoing report on the things, people and places I love, but nonetheless it is far from complete. I turn fifty this summer and perhaps it is a good time to reflect and see what it is that is still important at the half-century mark. Sounds like a good weekend project.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

No new lambs today. The count is currently sixteen; three sets of twins and ten singles. We have had a break in the weather, with temperatures above freezing for the first time in a week. The mountain tops are still white, but our fields are no longer snow covered. The barnyard is muddy again, a foretaste of spring days that are still a long way off. Since we have more lambs to come, inevitably we have more bad weather ahead of us. On Saturday morning I brought a bouquet of flowers home with the groceries for Susan. Their fragrance made winter seem to vanish for a moment. Then the breeze cut through the gap at the bottom of the door . . . Here is another one of Jonathan Chaves' translations that captures those days on the cusp of the season, as winter becomes spring:

After Snow --- Impromptu

Dawn breaks, snow patches lie on the slopes:
far away, they seem like flocks of sheep
or maybe geese.
Remember--plodding through spring mud
to see the budding willows,
in camel-hair robe and sable hat
crossing the icy river.

Yu Chi

Monday, January 24, 2005

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The predicted big snow turned out to be two inches of powder with high winds. The boys spent yesterday afternoon sledding. By this afternoon the sun and high winds had stripped the east facing slopes of all but a dusting. Feeding at sunset, I watched the moon rise over skyline drive. There was a new lamb in the barn, and twins born earlier that needed a trip up to the house for some emergency care. By the time all chores were done, the sky was dark and Orion was just peeking over Skyline Drive.

Lambing pens at night.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Snow arrives, the mountain vanishes.

Storm heading our way.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Another backdated post today. The first part of Friday evening flew by preparing for the winter storm predicted to start Saturday. Propane for the grill, gas for generators, extra feed down to the barn, top off the pantry; all the usual things one does when you are at the end of the power lines and bad weather is on the way. We usually get by without problems, but there have been occasions . . .

After the most urgent chores were done, Susan and I let the boys hide out at the in-laws before the expected day of shovelling and sheep chores. We took advantage to run up to Winchester for a late dinner out at Passage to India before we get snowed in for the weekend. Tomorrow, snow pictures.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

A little dinner.

Settling down for the evening.

Yes, they do grow their own sweaters, but no, not quite like this. She was getting chilled in the sub-zero weather, but we didn't want to take her from her mother. Then Susan dug out an old dog sweater. . . I had my doubts, but what can I say? It worked.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

More of the barn at evening bed check.

During lambing time we go down and check for new arrivals before heading off to bed. Here is part of the flock wondering what the disturbance is at 11:00 p.m..

Mother and son.

Some of our sheep are a little more colorful than others. Here is a brand new Harlequin lamb.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

We are freezing here on our hillside. Oh, the house is warm enough, but outside wind chills are driving eight degree temperatures into the sub-zero range. If any of you are checking in from overseas, the pre-wind chill temperature is minus 13 degrees Celsius. I'm sticking with Fahrenheit. Eight degrees is cold enough. I have trouble wrapping my mind around minus 13 even on the Celsius scale. The sheep are packed into the barn out of the wind, but the temperature still drops enough to put an inch of ice on the water buckets by morning. With one or two lambs a day coming now we cross our fingers and hope they make it through the weather. Tomorrow, snow.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Gentlemen at breakfast

This is the view from home this morning. Last night clouds moved in and left snow swirling around the house at midnight.


A sudden snowfall comes in darkness,
black clouds hang, heavy and somber.
The mountains also can get grey hair:
don't be surprised that their sides are turning white!

Tsung Ch'en (trans. Jonathan Chaves)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Lambs and Liturgy

I missed church today, not an uncommon occurrence during lambing season. One of yesterday's twins had wedged itself under its mother's water bucket and greeted the morning too chilled and hungry to stand on it's own. When I found him, the fifteen minute morning feeding turned into an hour of first aid, followed by some additional care for his sister back at the barn. By the time everyone was back in their place, it was too late to get to mine. Traveling to church means an hour and half drive to St. Mary's, my home parish. This can be tough with farm and family commitments. Lately I have been attending the Greek Orthodox church in Winchester, about forty miles closer to home, just down the road by rural driving standards. Either service required a head start I just didn't have today. The Greek church has been a new and interesting experience, and I find that being there is valuable for more reasons than proximity. Although I can read only a few words of Greek and speak none, it is enough to follow along and pray together with the rest of the flock. I say "flock" with no pun intended (or at least no pun of mine) as in fact in some services the gathered Orthodox worshipers are referred to as the Lord's "rational sheep." Well, this morning was spent with God's irrational sheep attending a gathering of a different sort of flock, which I hope was nonetheless acceptable to the Shepherd over us all.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

I've cheated a bit by back dating this entry. The reason is that my usual end of the day blogging time was spent checking in at the sheep barn. We have been expecting more lambs any day. Since the first part of the week was beautiful, unseasonably warm and altogether pleasant, we knew the sheep would hold off and wait for the inevitable return of bad weather. Sheep have an instinct for this sort of thing. Sure enough, the end of the week brought a cold front behind an inch of rain. Temperatures today did not get out of the thirties, and tonight will drop to 21 degrees. The damp ground is freezing iron hard and every little breeze bites. Of course, three ewes chose today to go into labor.

An hour before sunset, we spotted a ewe in the field with brand new twins, dry, but still wobbly on their feet. While we were getting her and the twins settled into a pen, a second ewe already in the barn went into labor. We put her in the last open pen and I held her head while Susan pulled out a single enormous lamb. Just before 11:00 p.m. I walked down to check up on the new arrivals, and found another ewe standing in the middle of the barn over a new lamb still wet from birth. Part of the birth sack was glued over his head and mouth and it was struggling to breath. Once cleared away, he came around quickly; breathing well and starting to move. I rigged a temporary spot between two other lambing pens, which should hold them until morning. The project for tomorrow; rearrange the barn and set up more pens!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Mother and son

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The view from home 1-13-05

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Sometime last week I ran across a post on Hugh Hewitt's blog about a PR company offering passes to screenings of a new movie, In Good Company to bloggers in exchange for discussing the movie on their sites. O.K., I say to myself, someone is willing to cover the movie half of dinner-and-a-movie with the wife because I write the odd paragraph about scenery and sheep and would be willing to throw a movie review into the mix? That hit high enough on the whimsy scale to be worth an e-mail or two. I got a prompt response from Emily at Grace Hill Media with notice of the time and date for a showing in Bethesda, Maryland Tuesday night. Susan had early Wednesday morning appointments with schools in Maryland so was planning to spend the night in the city anyhow. So, on Tuesday I left work early, finished up the farm chores, checked that older and younger son were settled in with the in-laws and headed the blue pick-up into the city to meet up with Susan.

It was a great evening out on the town with my beloved, and as a bonus, the movie wasn't bad either. Now we are not talking Citizen Kane here, but it was a cut above what passes for a comedy these days. Most remarkably, it is a film for grown-ups. Sure there are young stars who get a fair amount of screen time, but the heart of the film is Dennis Quaid's character, a 51 year old ad sales manager whose life is turned upside down when a corporate takeover finds him demoted and playing second fiddle to a 26 year old. Quaid has aged wonderfully and hits the mark as a decent man holding on to his values as his world inverts around him. There are perhaps too many plot lines running at once here and everything doesn't always hold together. But nonetheless, when was the last time you saw a film with a little drama, a little farce, some sharp satire and a bit of romance that ultimately comes down on the side of hope and fidelity as the keys to a good life? Like any other modern artifact, pieces will fall off if you shake it too hard, but it's well worth a watch.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The very first post to this weblog, back in March of 2002 ended with a quote from Flannery O'Connor. Now I find that some kind soul is blogging on her behalf: If Flannery Had A Blog... which describes itself as a "blog of quotes about and by the great Catholic author Flannery O'Connor." Here is a sample:

I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.
Apropos of the ongoing discussion about the lack of popular support for contemporary poetry, this article, City Journal Autumn 2004 The Classics in the Slums by Jonathan Rose, is a revelation. Here is a key comparison between pre-war (WWII) literacy among blue collar folk in England versus contemporary Americans taken as a whole: Even more impressive is a 1940 survey of reading among pupils at nonacademic high schools, where education terminated at age 14. This sample represented something less than the working-class norm: the best students had already been skimmed off and sent to academic secondary schools on scholarship. Those who remained behind were asked which books they had read over the past month, excluding required texts. Even in this below-average group, 62 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls had read some poetry: their favorites included Kipling, Longfellow, Masefield, Blake, Browning, Tennyson, and Wordsworth. Sixty-seven percent of girls and 31 percent of boys had read plays, often something by Shakespeare. All told, these students averaged six or seven books per month. Compare that with the recent NEA study Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, which found that in 2002, 43.4 percent of American adults had not read any books at all, other than those required for work or school. Only 12.1 percent had read any poetry, and only 3.6 percent any plays.

Is the problem in our poets or in ourselves?

(via Gideon Strauss and Arts and Letters Daily )

Monday, January 10, 2005

The lamb count is holding steady at four, two singles and a set of twins. All are looking good, but we are expecting many more. Lambing can be difficult, as witness the sight that met me yesterday. In a corner of the barn a ewe had left premature triplets. By the time I arrived, she had gone and there was no way of knowing whether they were still-born or just too early to survive outside the womb. The line between life and death can be very thin here on our hillside.
I am still working my way through The Best American Poetry 2004 anthology I mentioned below. So far I have read nothing worth quoting, though I still have a ways to go. However, after reading this review, I do not see much cause for optimism.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Nothing tops off a good sweet feed brunch like a little alfalfa in the feeder.

Luncheon over, the ladies leave.

At the buffet line.

Sunday Brunch at the barn.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Since our new arrivals were not interested in posing for a portfolio, I would suggest that you head over to the photoblog at A Walk Through Durham Township, Pennsylvania for your rural photo fix. Beautiful work.

More new lambs today. These twins came in from the field with their mother, healthy and very active. In fact, they didn't even want to sit still for a picture.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Besides regular blogging, I made two other resolutions this New Years. The first is to lose weight. I hit the half-century mark this summer, so the project is "back to 160 by 50." The second is to rein in my caffeine habit. I am one of those rare people who actually like the taste of coffee. I drink it black by preference, and am not adverse to straight shots of espresso. I will finish a meal at Cafe Sofia with a tiny cup of turkish coffee, basically grounds moistened with a little hot water. I think it is just great that coffee houses are springing up around every corner, even in a town like Front Royal. Stashed in and around various cupboards and counters at home are a french press, an espresso machine, and an automatic drip coffeemaker. All have seen heavy use in their time. There is something about that first cup in the morning; the aroma opening your senses while that first jolt of caffeine opens the brain's blood flow and starts the heart pumping fast enough to bring you awake at last. So, why the change? It is all National Geographic's fault. The most recent issue has a cover story on caffeine, which includes some brain scan photographs showing, quite graphically, that a heavy user's brain literally doesn't function properly without it. Hence my grand ambition to reduce consumption to a level which doesn't turn one's brain chemistry into a home science experiment.

I do not plan to give it up altogether, but rather to enjoy at a more moderate level, for as the poet Joseph Brodsky put it, "no century from now on will ever manage without caffeine or jazz ." So, tomorrow morning I plan on brewing my small pot, mostly decaf, with a little of the real stuff thrown in, and listen to Stan Getz playing tunes from Antonio Carlos Jobim on the stereo. Maybe I'll even read a little Brodsky before heading down to the sheep barn. Life is good, even with a little less stimulation in the cup.
Apropros of the previous post, Al Kimel at the Pontifications weblog has provided links to each step of the Mere Comments discussion here. Pontifications is well worth a read in its own right. The Rev. Kimel, an Episcopal priest, is simultaneously exploring the depths of Christian tradition, surveying the current Episcopal trainwreck, and encouraging a wide ranging dialogue in his comments section. The discussions are usually courteous, often passionate and always interesting. (I realize that theological discussion as a spectator sport is right up there with watching paint dry for some folks, so I should say, always interesting to me, and to you too, if you like that sort of thing.)

Thursday, January 06, 2005

David Bentley Hart, a personal favorite of mine among contemporary Orthodox theologians, wrote a piece recently for the Wall Street Journal responding to the question of where God was during the Indian Ocean tsunami. The Mere Comments weblog has been hosting an exchange between Hart and some critics. The end of the discussion can be found here. Links to the full discussion can be found here. If you follow the "trackback" link at the end of each post, it will lead you to further discussions spilling over on other weblogs, particularly here, where one of Hart's original respondents provides further thoughts on his own web page. While there is quite a bit of talking past one another, there are also intriguing forays into issues of evil, grace, sin and the nature of the universe.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

If you check the archives of this site, you will find a number of classical Chinese poems translated by my friend Jonathan Chaves. Not being a speaker of the language myself, I rely on scholar-poets like Jonathan to give a taste in English of one of the world's great literatures. Even the best English translations can be misleading though. The Chinese classics come to us in English as free verse, tightly compressed, with striking images. What we monolinguals miss is that the Chinese originals were written in formal schemes of rhyme and word stress suitable for singing, in accordance with rules sometimes dating back a thousand years. While there are great translations out there, there has been little effort made convey this side of Chinese verse in English. Jonathan has been quietly working on more "formal" English translations of Chinese poems with the goal of expanding our experience of this great literature. As part of that effort he has been flexing his skills by writing light verse and topical satire, sort of a poet's warm up five finger exercise. At times though he takes on more serious subjects. It was traditional for Chinese poets to combine painting with writing, and the poem written in response to a painting (often inscribed on the painting itself) was an important part of the cultural dialogue. Jonathan has taken a step towards bringing this tradition into a western setting with Four Poems in Paint; a series of poems displayed together with the paintings that inspired them on the website for the online journal Praesidium.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I am a reader, and occasional purchaser, of contemporary poetry. That puts me in a group no larger than holding capacity of your average college stadium. Now if you wanted to gather the people who write poetry together, you would probably have to lease every facility in NFL for the weekend. But those of us who simply read, without being "in the business" as it were, are a vanishing small minority. If you doubt it, keep in mind that the average press run for a volume of new poems is in the range of one thousand to three thousand copies. The current estimated population of the United States is, as I write this, 295,186,847. You work out the percentage of the American public which can be expected to buy a new work of poetry. Nonetheless, poetry is one of the things I love, and I do my best as a reader and book buyer to support the work of living poets I admire.

The reason I bring this up is the book sitting on the top of the bedside reading shelves, The Best American Poetry 2004, courtesy of the local library. Every year, I helplessly pick up the latest installment in the series, drawn like Charlie Brown to Lucy holding that football. Every year I end up sorting through line after line of solipsistic nonsense by folks who seem actively hostile to the sound and rhythms of speech in English. Ah, but hope springs eternal. I will let you know how it goes with this year's volume, and will follow up with a list of a few contemporary poets I do enjoy.

In the meantime, you could do worse than spend some time with Dana Gioia's website. Beside being the current chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, he is also a fine critic and poet in his own right. While you are there, be sure to read his 1991 essay, "Can Poetry Matter?"

Monday, January 03, 2005

The tragic reports and film footage coming in from the countries bordering the Indian Ocean serve as a reminder of the unexpected power of moving water. Right before Christmas, we had a line of thunderstorms accompanied by "significant wind gusts." What you see in the picture was our reminder of the unexpected power of moving air. While Susan watched, a pocket of 50 mph winds picked up the sheep shed and flipped it on its roof, taking out a big chunk of our fence in the process. No harm was done beyond the obvious damage, for which we are grateful.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The first lamb of the season. The mother behind him is not actually possessed, though she is a little irritated. Lighting is tricky in the barn and the digital sometimes needs a flash fill when shooting in the dimmer corners. Unfortunately no one seems to have an automatic sheep "blue-eye" removal setting.

Sheep in Afternoon light
Yesterday was a beautiful day, unseasonably warm and just right to finish the job of taking down the old barbed-wire fence. After much delay and a few attempts to sneak back to the new video game, I finally got older and younger sons motivated and out by the long drive leading to the in-law's house. The wooden posts for the new fence were already in the ground, waiting for new wire mesh to be stretched tight from post to post. The old fence was a scraggly ad-hoc affair consisting of four strands of rusting barbed wire on short metal posts. The sheep had taken to going though it like ghosts walking through walls. Like ghosts, they had also taken to appearing in places where they were neither wanted nor expected. Hence the new fence. We took down a few individual strands to save for later use, but there was more old wire than we wanted or needed to salvage. The oldest started rolling strands together in a ball as the youngest and I unclipped the wire from the old metal posts. The further he rolled, the larger it got, until he was struggling behind a waist high ball of barbed wire, like a snowball from some metallic storm. The last post came out of the ground with the sun setting over Hogback mountain. We drove up to the in-law's house, old posts rattling in the back of the farm truck, tired and hungry and ready for my mother-in-law's New Year's Day dinner.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

"So I wrote you a long letter. . .
I filled it up with love from start to end.
You have always deserved so much better,
so it's a letter I could never send."

Bill Mallonee
"Long Letter"
"Dear Life" Outtakes

I am usually not one who makes New Year's Resolutions, so it is with some trepidation that I announce my intention to post at least once each day for the coming year. 2004 was a Dickensian year in that it could best be described in that famous opening from A Tale of Two Cities; "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." There was so much that needed saying that the accumulated weight left me all but speechless. A quick look back shows that this blog was silent three hundred thirty one days out of three hundred sixty six last year. I resolve to do better and commit to leaving no trivial opinion or observation unrecorded if needed to fill space. Perhaps a little depth may come out of the increased volume.

Over the last couple of years Gideon Strauss has been propagating an exercise whereby people list fifty things they love. I propose to give it a try. Since I need material, I intend to drag it out one item a day over the next fifty days, in no particular order, with a little commentary for each item. For those few of you still checking in, thanks for dropping by and I'll see you in the morning.