Thursday, January 20, 2005

Frog Song

I came home to 3 messages. “Hi Judy? This is Rosie. On Armstrong? Do you know you have a sheep down? You have a sheep down. Bye.” “Judy. This is Donna. Did you get that sheep up? I hope so. I hope that sheep is up now.” “Judy, this is Reid. I couldn’t get the hay today, I’m still trying to get hold of the people tonight. If I can’t get them tonight I’ll try tomorrow. I’ll get you at least a couple days’ worth tomorrow.”

Rosie and Donna are two elderly ladies who live across from my field. They walk up and down Armstrong together for daily exercise, and are my first defense against critter problems in the far field. They don’t, however, seem to understand that I work in a different town, and am not likely to respond to distress calls immediately.

Reid is the across-the-street neighbor whose horses I’ve been boarding for the past month or so – since they broke down his fences while he was at work and started playing in the road. The deal is he gets the hay, I take care of the horses. This morning I fed out the last of the hay.

It is, of course, dark. We just went through torrential rains, so my clay-soiled property varies from under water to soggy to sucking mud. I can’t find my good flashlight, just a wimpy plastic one. I trudge out to find my missing sheep.

As I slip and slide down the hill I’m wishing Rosie and Donna had given me a clue as to the location of the downed sheep. Fifteen acres isn’t a huge area, but it’s dark, and my flashlight only illuminates about 3 feet in front of me. I walk over to the point closest to their houses, and start circling back.

The horses have been following me. Well, they came to say “hi, where’s the food?” then turned heel and ran off. Now they’ve come back to see what I’m up to. If they were dogs they’d lead me to the sheep, but no such luck. They run up, then run off. When I finally light up a white form, both horses trot over to it. Great, thanks guys. Now they are circling us as I try to get the ewe on her feet. They walk with us as I urge the ewe back to safety.

About once a minute I say a word of thanks for the warmth. The tropical storm that brought all the rain brought warm weather along with it. It must be 60 degrees out here. No cold fingers, no cold toes. Three days ago it was 18 degrees.

The frogs have started their winter song, filling up the night. We get to a flooded area, the ewe stops. Why didn’t I remember to bring grain? Push. Balk. I keep trying to light her path, but she really doesn’t want to go through water. Finally, dry land again, and she picks up the pace. I leave her in a relatively dry grassy spot and run off to get grain.

And get stuck in the mud. Running is not allowed. I never knew how bad clay mud could be until horses came to live with me. Clay holds its shape enough to be uneven, and clings to things that enter, trying to keep them from leaving again. Sucking mud.

The horses mob me for the grain. I slog through the mud and water to a dry patch – away from the ewe – and give them half the grain. Then slog back to the ewe with the rest. Now over to the pond to fill the bucket with water. This takes me past Charlie, the Pyr. He moves silently off. I must be walking funny because of this darned mud, and he can’t hear me because of the frogs. Near the pond the sound is almost deafening. When I first moved here I spent hours looking for the frogs that make all this noise. When I finally found them, I was surprised they were so tiny. Such a small creature, such a large sound.

Silence. As soon as I reach the pond the frogs stop singing. Charlie saunters over to the fence. The ground around the pond is dry, I’m walking normally again. Bucket filled, I stop to give Charlie a pet and say hello. He is surprised and delighted to see me. This rescue dog spent months tied to a barn without food because he killed a chicken. While we talk the frogs start up again.

With the sated ewe on dry ground and protected by two brave horses, I head back to the house. The breeze carries warmth that feels like summer. The frogs are singing. Life is good.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Winter Joy

In a dark, damp and dreary winter, sunrise isn’t an event one waits for. Dawn lightens the sky around eight, with no sun in evidence. Then, once in a while, nature provides a delightful surprise. On the way to work this morning I glanced south – and caught my breath. In a world of gray was a band of pale gold, and rising through the band, gold and silver limning snow, ice and rock, stood Mount Saint Helens. A white cloud hat, jauntily tipped, rounded the crater, wispily mimicking the once-perfect peak.

Rising daylight lightened the gray-black clouds to the north blue, and as I turned east at Tumwater Mount Rainier stood proudly clad in a cloak of billowy white clouds, one filament jutting out like hair blowing in the wind.

The beauty of the land surrounds me, blesses me, and keeps me safe. I start work knowing there is joy even in the heart of winter. The mountains are watching, waiting. They protect this land, and remind its inhabitants of their power.