Spinning, Knitting, Crocheting, Organic Gardening, Living off-grid, and chasing sheep - because- I'm, like, NOT SANE!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Lessons I try to forget

compassion - sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

Cullto reduce or control the size of (as a herd) by removal (as by hunting) of especially weaker animals; also : to hunt or kill (animals) as a means of population control

When my grandmother was well into middle age, she met the man of her dreams. I am glad, though late, that she did because she endured two not so nice husbands before him. They got married, settled down, and built a little home way out in the hills of Texas. They were brave and kind, strong but generous, and my first example of leading a self sufficient life. At the time that their daughter was born, my mother, her eldest daughter was newly married and having kids. Throughout the earlty years of my life, my mother would find the struggles of raising kids more than she could do and we would be sent to live with Grandma and Pawpaw - a week or a year - it didn't matter - they welcomed us back into the fold as if we hadn't ever left. Grandma was the kind of person who never actually answered a question. Her answers were riddles, unless she was real mad - in which case you were running. Like the time we three girls snuck into the living room to catch our teenage uncles necking with their girlfriends and commenced to giggling so hard that we moved the couch cushions - essentially ruining the moment for the boys as the girls reddened and then quickly said they had to go home. The next day we climbed up on the water tower to sun ourselves and they shot our toes with bb guns. She said alot that day and real clear-like. Their ears were purple from the twisting and all through making dinner she would stop, periodically and with no warning, lick the stuff off the wooden spoon, and walk to wherever they were and smack them with it. You just can't get good stuff like that to write about in this day and age. But, if you asked her a hard question, like 'when's mom coming back?' - she'd sigh and look away and say something like, "growing up in the body and the mind sometimes takes a different amount of time for some people".

When you had to wrestle with the tough stuff, though, she was the one you went to....because when you are struggling with something - you don't necessarily need THE answer, just a gentle nudge in the right direction. One afternoon on my way home from school, I heard a peep in the grass. There were two sad little shrunken birds in a torn nest justa bawling under a tree. A five year old only knows one way to help - pawn this autrocity off on an adult! I put them in my raggedy ann lunch box and headed for home. By the time I got there, one was dead. Mama looked at the other, its hind legs not moving and mess all over its back and said, "this thing's gonna die anyway. We'd better go ahead and help it." Oh man, I thought she was the worst person alive. I screamed and cried and told her I hated her. She went in her room to 'clean'. Suspiciously, a few minutes later, Grandma called and mama was yelling at me to please get the phone (duh, she snuck in her room to call her). As soon as I heard her voice, I started sobbing so hard I could hardly talk. She listened patiently and then, in a real calm voice she said, "You really want to help that little bird, don't you?" Oh, yes, I bawled. But I wanted to SAVE it. 'No, ' she said, 'you're gonna have to help it.' I argued and squealed that it was wrong to kill an animal. She replied something about our family and how we are hunters and that you give and you take but you always do it in the interest of maintaining a balance between animals and men. She explained to me that even if that bird did survive, and that it was more likely to suffer and die, it would be weak, maybe contract a disease. It would make more birds sick and would not be able to hunt for itself. Within a few minutes, I stopped whimpering and felt completely calm. Again, she said, "you're gonna have to help it." I hung up the phone, took the little bird outside, and ended its little life. Mama and I buried them under the slide. I still cry thinking about it.

So, when I started raising animals, I promptly forgot that lesson. I have had such a difficulty culling animals. Finally,with sheep, I thought I had stumbled across a livable philosophy, eat the rams, save ALL the ewes. Not really. Also, in watching so many other homesteaders begin this life and struggle to get established only to later quit - one main theme prevails - they kept too many animals that should have been culled. Two years ago, I had just a few sheep. An acquaintance of mine was going through a painful divorce and asked me to 'help her out'. I initially agreed to take 4 sheep. Threee days later, she asked me to take her whole herd. I did it (proof that I ain't too bright). After two years, I have come to realize that at least three of these ewes should have been culled a long time ago. They've never had live births, they are persistent fence breakers and one has really bad hooves and needs constant checking or they get infected really quick. Why did they keep them? Why am I keeping them? That one is more easy to answer - gutless. Then, over the summer, my very dear friend returned to med school and she wanted me to adopt her small herd of sheep. I dunno, I said. Please, she said. Our kids are friends. Her kids have raised these critters since birth. They would love to come visit them here. You know who went to pick them up. Upon loading them, one of them looked really odd and seemed to have trouble getting around well. Her fleece was awful. I said, "What's the matter with that ewe?" oh, they said, she's been like that since she was born. They are a strictly no kill farm and I have no problem with that but, here, this ewe needs constant assistance because otherwise all the others get the food before her. "Why?" BECAUSE i AM GUTLESS.

The other day I was struggling through all this with a friend on the phone. She's not so gutless. But, she said something that reminded me so much of Grandma that it caught my breath. She said, "you know, you look at this like you are doing something to hurt them...but you don't like to hurt anybody. You need to let up on yourself and realize you are really trying to help them - all of them." She went on about how much I have to work on these girls to keep them healthy so they don't endanger the whole herd and I sat whimpering and thinking about my little bird. It is a hard but awesome thing to care for other living beings.