Sunday, March 31, 2013

The sweetness of trails

Follow the trail of cans through the woods. They glint in the sunlight, hanging from maple trees, just under the taps we have pounded into holes Dave drilled. One of these days, the temperature will get above freezing and the sap will rise in the trees.  Theoretically, it needs to freeze at night and rise above freezing during the day for the maple sap to run. We’ve now had three weekends of cold weather and two days of above freezing weather. The sap didn’t run either of those two days. “Maybe it’s because the wind was out of the southwest,” we said the first day. Maybe it’s because there is at least three feet of snow on the tree roots, it can’t tell the air temperature is above freezing,” we said the second day.

It actually doesn’t matter. The days spent in the snowy woods are full of joy, beauty and conversations  with good friends and family. The sap will rise in the maple trees sometime this spring. It will drip from the taps we’ve installed and fill the silvery cans. We’ll empty the sap in the cans into buckets and carry it back to camp where we’ll boil it down over an open fire until there is only a quarter inch of thick, sweet liquid in the bottom of a 6” deep pan. Then we’ll pour off the syrup and use it for pancakes, granola, pecan pie, and a new discovery this year, maple syrup sauce on vanilla ice cream or snow.
At this time of the year, following a trail through the woods can lead you to incredible sweetness.

Pecan Maple Syrup Sundae
1 cup maple syrup
2 T butter
¼ cup undiluted evaporated milk
vanilla ice cream or fresh snow
Boil syrup and butter together for six minutes or until mixture reaches 225 degrees. Cool. Stir in ¼ cup evaporated milk.
Sprinkle pecans over ice cream or a scoop of clean fresh snow.  Pour sauce over pecans.  The snow absorbs the sauce so that there is none in the bottom of your bowl. Our friends Budd and Marguerite had snow sundaes when they were children with cream and sugar. The maple syrup and pecans are a modern variation.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Pink and pregnant
one week away from lambing
freshly shorn ewes wait.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Weeping Camel

Last night, Dave and I watched The Story of the Weeping Camel. It was a charming, fascinating documentary about a family of Mongolian sheep, goat and camel herders. That movie shows the best depiction of an animal mom rejecting her baby that I have ever seen.

It is not uncommon for a ewe who has had a hard labor or who has two or three babies to reject one of the babies. She either doesn’t allow it to nurse by moving every time it heads for her udder, or by kicking the lamb, or by butting it with her head,  or if they are no longer in their pen, by continually walking away. It is the most frustrating experience that I as a shepherd have ever had. We try a variety of different techniques to force or  trick the ewe into accepting her lamb. Sometimes we rub the rejected lamb on the accepted lambs, hoping that a different smell might help. We check the lamb’s mouth for sharp teeth. We try to retrain how the lamb sucks. We put the mom’s head in a stanchion so that she can’t move away from the baby. We hold the mom down and physically put the baby on a nipple, opening its mouth and sliding the nipple inside with our fingers. All the while, a clock is ticking in our heads. Babies need that milk. Twenty-four hours is the outside edge of how long a lamb can live without milk. It really should have milk with in the first couple of hours, especially in the winter, when the cold rapidly leaches heat from those tiny bodies still wet from amniotic fluid. It has to have that first milk from it’s mother to keep it warm, to make muscle and bone and nerves an skin, and to provide the antibodies it needs to survive until it has begun to make antibodies on its own in about 6 weeks.

If we can’t get the baby to nurse, we have to feed it colostrum (milk that is produced in the first 24 hours after birth) from its mother or another ewe or dried colostrum that we buy from the vet and reconstitute when we need it. If we can’t get the mom to accept her baby, we have to begin bottle feeding it with store bought lamb milk replacer. It’s not hard to bottle feed lambs, in fact it is really fun, but it does cost time and money. Usually, bottle fed lambs don’t grow as well as lambs who have been accepted by their mothers. In the long run, anything a shepherd can do to encourage a mom to accept her babies is worth doing. We learned a few new techniques  watching the Mongolians last night that we might be able to use when lambing begins on the first of April and we also realized how lucky we are to be raising sheep, not camels.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Country Driveways

Our driveway is ¼ of a mile long. From the road, it goes down a hill, through a woods and then up a hill to our house. In the spring, tiny purple violets bloom in drifts along the edge of the gravel. In the summer, leaves arch over the drive, creating a green shadowy tunnel. In late autumn, the rising and setting sun glows through the bare branches on either side. Winter brings ice and snow drifts, which are also beautiful but often inconvenient to the people using the driveway. Our upper driveway is open to the winds in three directions – west, north, and east – perfect for drifting snow. Once we’ve had a snow and cleaned the driveway, we begin the endless job of opening drifts. The more snow and wind we have, the more often we have to clean the drifts. Even a day with no snow fall can fill our driveway with feet of blown, drifted snow.

Last winter we had so little snow that we never even hooked the snow blower to the tractor. This winter is different. Dave and I have been snowed in for five days already. Kate, the friend who house sat for us while we were visiting grandchildren, was snowed in twice. She called a friend with a plow and he kept the driveway clean while we were gone.

Just having a clean driveway is not always enough. When our kids were teen agers, they learned how to drive up and down the driveway without getting stuck. You don’t back up too far when turning around at the house. You keep to the middle of the driveway when driving up or down. You drive up the slopes in first gear, as fast as possible.

Their friends frequently got stuck. We’d pull out the shovels, scatter wood ashes under car wheels and teach people how to push a car out of the snow – accelerate slowly, don’t spin your wheels, rock the car back and forth, and push, push, push harder.

Now we have a new American, an immigrant, who feeds our sheep when we’re gone. Hashi ran his car off the driveway at least twice. It’s not surprising; he’s only been here for three winters and the last one had almost no snow. He drove in Somalia but not in snow.  Last week he called me from the trees off the edge of our drive. I couldn’t imagine explaining to him where to find  the ashes and how to spread them under his wheels, how to push a car, or even how to accelerate correctly; so I gave him the names and phone numbers of several local car towing agencies. After two weeks he had conquered the snow on our country driveway or at least he hadn’t gotten stuck.

Yesterday, our driveway was again full of snow. Thigh high drifts crossed and re-crossed it. Newton and I spent ten minutes clambering up the drifts to the road and back down again. Dave had the drive way blown free by 1:30. It looked clear and open, with high banks on either side. When a delivery person called to ask about passability, I told her it was fine. The driveway was fine, but the driver hadn’t been trained by Dave or I to turn around at the house. So we got out the shovels and the ashes and then, with our fingers crossed, sent her up the driveway again.  I’m sure we don’t have the only county driveway.