As I emerge from a long hibernation from writing my story, I am reflective. What a difficult winter. Perhaps if I had been raised on a farm, the natural cycles of life and death would not be so painfully poignant and challenging to bear.
The loss of three precious ewes within a couple of weeks left me in deep sorrow and questioning my shepherdess skills. The circumstances of old age and cold weather conspired to take their lives; it was not really in my control.
The birth of four healthy lambs was a reassurance of nature's cycles and helped me past my grief.
Perhaps life wanted me to meditate more deeply on earth's magic. Tehya, left, was my oldest ewe; she, too, succumbed to the ravages of old age. Aiyana, one month shy of Tehya's age, birthed twin ram lambs yesterday. Her first did not survive. Somehow, the loss of new life is even harder. Yet, life is cyclical and one must flow where the journey goes. I accept my grief. I celebrate that Aiyana has lived and feel joy of her surviving lamb. Sorrow and joy exist. We feel deeply because we love and have compassion. All our emotions are part of a balanced whole of life. We bear our sorrows until dawn awakens us to the possibilities and hope of this new moment.
Well, I've been both distracted and busy and have neglected my blog.
Distracted by daily news and pictures of this little guy...
Llewellyn Beckett Schmidt, possibly the cutest grandchild ever...
...and busy with explorations to expand our Feather River Fibershed goals.
Met the yaks yesterday out in Calpine at Sierra Valley Yaks. Several babies (calves) have been born in the past couple of days. I'm anxious to try spinning some of their fiber I took home. We have an expanding and unusual array of fiber animals in our region!
The first day of lambing this year was also our last. We are cherishing our new little guy, Zephyr (named for Zuzu's brother) and marveling at his strength and confidence at 3-days-old. Ram-less at the moment, we will likely get another ram this year so that we can enjoy the thrills of lambing for a few more years...
What an autumn and winter we had! In addition to the severe weather, it was tough recovering from three sheep losses to bears in October. We lost our faithful wether, Blackjack, a brand new ram, Honor, and our precious triplet ewe, Shyla.
We had to scramble to get Zuzu out of the breeding area; she and Shyla had been up there with our breeding ram, Sherpa, and we didn't want to lose her, also. Thinking we would have no lambs this year, we were pleasantly surprised to discover Zuzu's udder filling last week.
Zuzu delivered a healthy, 8-lb ram lamb yesterday, whom we're calling Zephyr. Welcome a new life after tragedy!
Is it really possible I've let nearly a year slip by without a blog entry? Explanation would take many chapters, so I'll bypass that and jump in.
My passion for spindles has led to an expanded collection.
During a fabulous visit with my daughter in Massachusetts two weeks ago, I had the special opportunity to meet Sheila and Jonathan Bosworth at their home, and to browse spindles they had on hand. Oh boy, was it hard to choose. And to limit myself. I took home only three (not the ones in the picture).
Another recent favorite is this tangerine wood spindle, harvested and made in southern California. So beautiful!
With my fondness of the phrase, "whorl peace," of course I had to have this spindle!
Several exquisite support spindles have also been added to the collection this year.
And another Turkish spindle.
What is the appeal of the spindle? Why so many types? Why can't I stop?
It is an ancient tool, as efficient as a spinning wheel, and in many ways more elegant. Each modern spindle maker reveals the intrinsic beauty of the unique wood and applies their study of the physics of spinning to create a work of art.
I love slowing down, to create the geometric pattern of yarn on a Turkish spindle.
There is deep immersion in the heart, nature, and history that happens when I spin using a spindle. By the fire on a winter's day...
...or on a hike in the woods.
And a spiritual connection with my animals.
And there is the dreaming of the next spindle to, maybe, add to the collection...
The pasture hasn't looked like this in longer than I can recall.
The drought here in California has taken a mighty toll.
Trying to look on the bright side, exposed earth like this allows me to find all sorts of crap that folks before us left on the ground. I generally find several dozen rusty nails, a handful of broken glass, and other treasures each time I walk through. It's part of my shepherdess job to remove these hazards to sheep feet.
Despite the dearth of grazing, the sheep anticipate with excitement the rotation to the next paddock. It keeps them happy to have a routine.
They don't find much, but are content with searching. their bellies are full from the morning's alfalfa hay, but they are sheep and need to follow a rhythm of graze, rest, graze, rest.
Meanwhile, we look to the sky and pray for rain...
This was the "time-out house" before
This is Yahtzee, contractor and lead carpenter.
This is Onslo. He's a hard worker but he messes up from time to time.
After this accident he had to spend a half-day at a safety seminar.
So Gene-o just had to ask, "Hey guys, how's it going on that remodel; are you finished with the demo phase yet?"
Story by Gene Nielsen
Despite another ground squirrel army and drought year, I managed to create blue with saved indigo leaves.
The murky yellow of the dyebath gives no hint of the marvelous blue that will emerge as each skein of yarn is carefully removed from the pot. It is truly magical. Most of these skeins will go to people who have purchased yarn shares through the CSA High Altitude Harvest.
I've still got seeds; I may try again, though it's late in the season. It makes me happy, having the blues!
April and May were a flurry of events both joyous and difficult, now a blur as I reflect. Our first lamb, Shiloh, was born to Shyla the morning of shearing day, a seemingly good omen. As we began shearing, Gene got gored very near his right eye by one of our wethers. Fifteen stitches later, our neighbor returned him from the ER in Quincy to find Tim, our shearer, and I all finished with 20 fleeces.
Pepper arrived ten days later. No other fanfare than Ayita's doting care.
While awaiting our other two pregnant ewes to lamb, Roving Mountain Spinners met at my house, which we always do in May because of lambing.
Later that week many of us experienced the joy of learning to dye with mushrooms and lichen in a workshop with Alissa Allen of Mycopigments. I was so excited to bring her talents to our area. Expanding the Feather River Fibershed goal of working with local, natural dyes!
Certain that Chenoa would be the next to lamb, Aiyana surprised us with tiny twins, Twyla (she dances sideways) and Kazoo (that's the sound he makes!). These lambs, and Chenoa's, are the very last Four Winds lambs to be sired by Noah, whom we lost this winter. Kazoo is still not thriving as we'd like. I had to milk Aiyana and supplement with a bottle for several days. Now we are having to hold her still and let him nurse. All births aren't easy.
Finally, finally, a month later than Shiloh's birth, Chenoa had twins Shiraz and Erika. Chenoa had been dragging around for a week, having me check every half hour or so. Only six lambs this year, but it felt as though we were holding our breath for six weeks. Shorted sleep for a month; I don't know how folks who have dozens of lambs each year do it.
An unusual joy for us this year was having our daughter, Alyssa, visit during lambing. She got to see our last lamb birth, to witness a miracle.
Lambing is a stressful, yet marvelous time each year!
We may get some rain today, but most of February has been like spring. Rather than worry and complain about drought, I've been taking advantage of the exceptional warmth to cut back wayward blackberry vines, rake pine needles, and to create this inviting outdoor space for spinning, dulcimer-playing, and soaking in the view. The bench is flanked by a stump table and a hollowed stump planted with poppies. I constructed an earth loom (left) of cottonwood and manzanita branches. I will weave in sheep wool and grasses and various outdoor finds for the birds to pick at.
I first saw an outdoor loom like this at Fiber Fusion in Chico last fall. Baskets of yarns and ribbons were set out for people to weave on the loom. I immediately wanted one in some space at the farm. You can find manufactured "garden looms" and "earth looms" for sale, but I prefer the rustic, raw quality of this one.
Here's the one at Fiber Fusion:
My next one might be fancier, like this one, but for now I'd better get outside and weave a little, as the storm clouds are rapidly rolling in...