I just wrote on Monday about my new friend Lily, who had come from Montana in August and who was following me around in the pastures each day as I made my rounds. It’s unusual for an adult from another flock to transition to the Peeper Hollow flock and shepherdess so quickly, and I was enjoying her company as I visited the field daily to check on breeding markings.
Yesterday was a busy day for me. Our hay guy called as I was getting up in the morning and asked whether he could deliver the rest of our alfalfa. I knew that saying yes meant having my whole day thrown off. I would have to hurry to get myself ready, feed the dogs and get them settled, and then move two groups of sheep who were in the way of the coming truck and hay wagon. Yet I wanted to get the rest of our hay into the barn for the winter, so I sped through most of my routine early and then helped unload the hay wagon, finishing off the huge wall of hay in our Sheep Barn. By the time I got the rest of the house and barn chores done, it was a little after noon — at least a couple of hours behind schedule — before I was ready to check the fields.
For reasons I still don’t completely understand, I decided to change the marking crayons on our working rams as I made my way through each field. I suppose I was feeling frustrated by so many things in my world right then (a lost cell phone, parasite issues with the ram lambs, and a laundry room makeover that’s already two months behind schedule) that I thought I would simplify at least the crayon markings. The rams had made good use of the red crayons, so finding new markings among the sea of red was getting complicated. By switching to green, I would be looking for an entirely different color, making new markings easier to see and eliminating at least that one small daily frustration.
Changing the crayons takes time, however, and this pushed my arrival into O’Connor’s pasture even later in the day — well beyond my normal 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning. As I left Nahe’s group in the Timber, I noticed that Lily was not at the gate waiting for me — and that was unusual. As I neared the gate, I realized that I was mistaken. She was lying down on the other side of the gate — but she wasn’t getting up. That’s when I started running.
When I reached Lily’s side, she was no longer with us. She had died either during the night or while waiting for me in the morning. Unlike the sheep who grow up on our acreage, Lily was new to the many slopes and hillsides in each field. She obviously went to lie down near the western gate and cast herself with her legs uphill, unable to get back up. After some amount of struggling, she could no longer fight in this position and suffocated next to the gate — perhaps while waiting for me. I am crushed.
I know that things like this happen. I remember losing Kolorado in exactly the same place and for the same reason in May of 2011. I know that new sheep are especially at risk of being cast on our hillsides. I just don’t understand why it always has to be those we are most attached to. In this case, why Lily? We were just getting to know each other. She was my new friend. I haven’t formed attachments yet to the other girls that came in that load — only to Lily.
The other girls from Montana are now even more afraid of me. They know Lily is dead and they know she was my friend. They will no longer come to watch the other sheep eat graham crackers from my hands. Every time I entered the field today, they ran for the far corner, desperate to get away from me. They want nothing to do with this shepherdess who befriended their companion and then lost her.
I know that they’ll get over this, that I will eventually win them over. But right now I’m not sure that I want to win them over. I’ve loved and lost one of that group already. I’m not sure that my heart can take anymore right now. Instead I’ll continue my work and leave the befriending for another day — or another week, or another month. For a time when my heart is a bit stronger.