Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rites of Spring

As the seasons change and the years go by, adventures that we have taken once, or perhaps a few times sometimes begin to take on the nature of a ritual. Our annual spring pilgrimage to the sheep barn is just such an occurrance. A local university has an extension service that just so happens to birth hundreds of lambs a year, and their barn is open to the public for a few weeks every spring. At any point during this time, you can waltz in and watch real live sheep giving birth. Or so it would seem. In reality, there have been years when we have waited patiently watching a mother sheep whose time to deliver seemed imminent, only to go home without having seen her deliver. Or the sheep, being sensible, will suddenly go to the farthest corner of the enclosure and then turn their backs to the fence to have their babies. Any mother who has given birth can probably relate.

But this year was extraordinary. We walked into the barn to find a mother sheep with one tiny brand new lamb on the ground, and she was walking around restlessly and getting ready to deliver the twin. She obligingly turned her rear toward us only a few feet away and within moments of our arrival gave us front row seats to the miracle of birth. A tiny hoof appeared and disappeared, she lay down and whooooosh came the entire slimy bundle of baby sheep.

Then the drama began. The ewe ardently cleaned off lamb #1, encouraged her as she got to her feet and began searching around for some breakfast. But she ignored lamb #2. He was tinier than the first and very thin. She didn't even lick him clean as she had the first lamb, and he started to shiver in the cold barn. Now my kids have an extremely strong sense of justice, coupled with an absolute passion for animals, and this was just too much for them to witness. Although both myself and a volunteer explained that this was normal and that bummer lambs are not unheard of. We were sure that the people in charge of the barn would come over and help it out, but minutes ticked by, the lamb shivered harder, and no one came to the poor lamb's rescue. So Miss A. set off to find someone to rectify the situation. She found one of the barn workers and he came over and fenced the mother and two babies together, then wandered off again. That didn't seem to make any appreciable difference in the situation, so ten minutes later my daughter set off with even greater determination to help the poor little thing. After barn employee #1 didn't seem to be willing to disrupt his conversation to come help, the kids beseeched the volunteer to go and find someone. Eventually a man came over who looked like he knew what he was doing. He picked up the non-slimy lamb and smeared the slimy lamb's goo all over him. The ewe began licking lamb #1 off again. When she was done, she turned to lamb #2, who now smelled like lamb #1, and licked him off as well. He began to get to his feet and as we finally left, and hour after the saga began, he was searching around for a teat as well.

We spent the next hour or so in the sunshine at a local park with a real locomotive that you can still climb on (where are the lawyers and why they haven't closed down this potential childhood injury waiting to happen I don't know, but I'm grateful there's still one place left that a child can really climb around on something thrillingly high and dangerous). After that we headed for home, feeling that spring, like the lambs, had finally arrived.

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