At about 4 a.m., storms woke me with whipping winds, large hail, and breaking tree branches. My dogs are all terrified of storms, so the bed was packed with canines fearing for their lives. Since Rick was out of town, there was a bit more room in the king-sized bed than usual. It’s amazing how much space a couple of terrified dogs can take up. (Lisa typically cowers in her soft crate during storms, leaving the dash under the bed covers to the boys, Coda and Chance.)
As the storm swirled around us, the dogs hunkered down and rode it out, feeling safer in my soothing presence – I always speak softly but firmly, telling them to lie down and then assuring them that we will all be OK. Yet my mind was aflurry with all the horrible possibilities of things that could be happening out in the distant Timber Pasture where our lamb flock currently resides — and they’re still so young. My mind reeled with possibilities, and sleep eluded me.
Having sixty-one lambs out in that pasture is much like bringing in an equal number of four-year-olds: they are still at the stage where they put pretty much everything in their mouths and are afraid of very little. Most of the lambs are now weaned yet have little experience with the larger world around them. They know just enough to really get themselves into trouble — and that scares me. Leaving them alone, even on a good day, leaves me wondering what they will get into and whether they’ll be able to get themselves out of it as easily.
The flock generally loafs under the most closely spaced group of trees in the pasture. Most of these trees are full grown, yet they are ringed by a number of less mature trees with low branches, which give the flock some cover. During the heat of the day, this location is perfect: it has plenty of shade yet also gets a nice breeze from the west, even on the calmest days. The lambs doze off at midday or play tag around the trees, and it looks perfectly designed for a flock to spend time on hot days during Iowa’s spring and summer.
Yet with the advent of this early-morning thunderstorm, my mind imagined a much less pastoral scene. The dirt they sleep on became rivers of mud coursing down the hillside. The mature trees became lightening rods, drawing the storm in, while the branches of the smaller honey locust trees bent down in the winds, grabbing at the lambs with their wicked thorns. My mind’s eye saw the loose branches up in the trees — often called “widow-makers” by those in the tree-trimming trade — falling to earth and spearing my babies as they slept. It wasn’t only the dogs that cowered through the storm; this shepherdess was fearful as well. I pushed the black thoughts from my mind, but they were insistent — for my defenseless lambs that had nowhere else to go, there was danger out there in the dark!
The storm passed, and within an hour it was all over. The lightning had moved on, and the rumbling of the thunder was soft and distant. I quickly got dressed, hopped on to the four-wheeler, and went to see how many of our little ones had been injured — how many killed. My mind thought back to all the sheep we’ve lost over the years to wicked weather: the lamb hit by a falling tree in high winds, the ewe injured by blowing debris in the tornado, and more. I tore out to the Timber, eyes searching. Was that a lamb down over there? Did that fallen limb hit any of the little ones?
In the end, my fear was as baseless as the fear of my dogs. I walked the entire field, carefully searching for the killed, injured, and maimed, but during the entire time, I found only gamboling lambs ready to play. I filled the creep feed in the shelter as the sun rose over the horizon, and the lambs all swarmed. Not one was limping, no one was bleeding, and there was not a single injury. They had made it through the storm without a single scratch. Of course they did! What was I thinking?!
Yet Iowa storm season is far from over. The weather forecast for the entire next week is filled with icons of angry storm clouds and flashing lightning bolts. Thankfully, this coming weekend the lambs will move into the barn for the final round of weaning. They will be both near the house and safe from the elements — sheltered from the winds and hail, and protected from flying debris. As a result, I will sleep a bit more peacefully — if that is at all possible with two terrified border collies at my side. Yet, as with raising children, I can only protect our lambs to a certain point. In the end they must become sheep who thrive on our Iowa pastures; in short, they must grow up. But maybe just not quite yet.