When it is -11 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 C), the snow doesn’t so much crunch as it …squeaks.
I wait in the dark at the gate. Again. Yesterday was a meal best left behind for the post trauma to come. Today I voice a prayer for ‘no new mamas’.
I listen deep inside like an equitorial tracking station pinging for space craft. Was that something? No.
The wind has mercy. I am only marginally cold except in my exposed face, but I am imaginative enough to bring up my dear Jack London in the similar dark but way worse.
I trudge and squeak down to the rambling pile of desuetude called our barn. The snow is a Godsend. It insulates the ground from a truly deep freeze. Some old timers say a February snow is worth an April fertilizing. We shall see.
I pass the spot where we lost two lambs yesterday. Another motto: raise ’em on the ground. In other words, hope your lambs be small and easy to birth. Raise ’em on the ground, not in the womb. These were among the largest lambs we have ever grown in our thirty winters of joy and pain and shepherding. Too large to make it safely out. You don’t want to know how hard we tried.
I see the ewe who lost them both. Yesterday, after my wife heroically midwifed them out, the ewe licked and licked and licked them. A bleat, a sideways look to us. She paws the lambs still sticky and golden from birth. Post trauma. I walk into the barn.
No new mamas. My prayer has been answered. I break the ice in their water buckets. Later I will swap out empty buckets for fresh ones and hope desperately that the so-called frost proof hydrant at the barn has not frozen. That would probably mean hauling water from the house. An all day affair. We have done it before.
I think about my wife upstairs at home, deep in the piles of blankets and cats. I imagine that warmth like the shot of bourbon I probably should have had before I came down here. She took the late evening duty. She is the real shepherd of the two of us. I got the early morning duty.
I feed out hay and a little grain. The ewes and their lambs are snug in their little lambing ‘jugs’. Sufficient unto themselves even to eleven below zero. The expecting ewes outside stir with anticipation so I toss them a few flakes of hay to keep them from talking behind my back as I trundle uphill to the house, to the warmth that loves me and doesn’t want to kill me.
At the gate I note that my beard is icicled where I have been breathing. I turn off the flashlight. Frozen photons rain down from the new moon sky. It is dark matter lambtime in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.