HOMEGROWN Life: How Could You Say No to This Face?
I had a friend whose favorite saying was: “You know when God laughs? When he hears my plans.” I think God must have been a farmer. No one understands a plan going awry better than a farmer. As a farmer, I’ve learned to count on two things in life: death and change.
In farming, you can make all the plans you want, but what I’ve come to know is that, even with a Plan A and a Plan B, Mother Nature still has her own plan. And sometimes, Mother Nature’s plans are a whole lot better than anything I could dream up.
Last year, when Jack Fergus, my ram, was in the pasture with the girls, the lambs arrived early. The first set of twins were born January 14. By February 15, all were on the ground, and on April 15, the last one left for its new home. Whew. Call that done.
This year Frannie, my Saanen doe, delivered her baby girl, Buttermilk, on April 6. For the first time, I had a goat kid drinking her milk from a bowl at two days. No bottles! After the winter we’ve had, I’ll take it. I don’t have another doe due to kid until June 27. Weeks of time to recoup, regroup, get the garden in shape, leisurely batch cheeses, and enjoy. Some springs, I’m a one-armed paperhanger with one foot on a banana peel and the other foot out the door. This year? Finally, a break.
It’s funny how things work out. As I had decided not to increase my flock this year, I finished my lambing season long ago. But then I lost a lamb to pneumonia early on. Remembering that still stings. So when I was offered the chance to save another, it seemed like the right thing to do.
Enter Ariel, the orphan. Although I’m done with lambing, for other shepherds, the work has barely begun. So when a call came to take in an orphan lamb from an island flock, I had to answer. Winter was hard on us all, but for Maine’s island sheep, this year was especially tough. Moms survived harsh weather only to face spring deliveries at a time when they are just getting back on firm footing themselves. For some farmers overseeing multiple births, it means choosing one over the other.
Ariel started out with her mom, but when she was found wandering the next morning, hungry and alone, it was time to try something else. With a second mom struggling for her life and another set of twins in the picture, Ariel’s shepherd had his hands full. He brought Ariel to me, with a bottle. Now I have a lamb in my back pocket.
Before I started farming, what feels like a lifetime ago, I would sojourn to Ireland each spring, just before Easter. It’s a time when the country is blooming with color, the air is full of the smell of peat, and the fields are flush with lambs. People would ask me if I went to visit family or to tour the castles or to sit in the pubs.
I would always answer, “No, I go for the lambs.” I couldn’t get enough of them: tiny newborns with bellybutton cords still hanging as they nurse, babes lying atop ancient stones formed into mystic circles that no one really understands, roadways clogged with flocks moving from place to place. I’d wake up mornings with the windows open, small voices outside bleating for mothers who had wandered away—Scottish Blackfaces, they are called, a breed that originated in Scotland and England before being brought to Ireland in the 19th century. Twelfth-century monks raised them for their wool to make clothing.
With my own animals to look after, those annual pilgrimages are over, at least for a while. But now Ireland has come to Bittersweet Heritage Farm in the form of Ariel, a Scottish Blackface. The ancients are alive in her twinkling eyes, which embody the history of thousands before her. Each of her tiny steps connects these pastures to her origins across the sea. How could I refuse to give her a home? It’s like coming home each time I look at her.
As we sit in the pasture every afternoon, I imagine we’re at the center of a stone circle in the motherland. She looks up at me with her tiny face and I see my pot of gold, right here on my very own farm.
Dyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross ﬂock, goat milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.
ALL PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK