open country

Brown Horn, one of the pet lambs with a soo mooth, cocked his wee black face to listen to the heavy rains on the roof of the shed. I noticed for the first time that his ears have no black markings; they showed up pink in front of the bare light bulb – an endearing curiosity, he hopped and jumped back to where I was sitting.

The water was building up on the hard-packed dry ground of the steading and was beginning to run into the shed. The mother and Noah in me decided that I should protect the animals from the flood so I began scraping up the loose straw that falls from the trailer and out of the twinning pens. I piled it up at the entrance to the lamb pen to soak up most of the water.

I walked out of the mellow light into the dark cold outside. As I leant the shovel against the stone wall of the old pig-house it was suddenly lit by a bright light – it was eleven o’clock at night. Just for a split second my mind swarmed with why my putting down my tool created a reaction in the skies of mythical proportions. Would a phantom speak or a higher power give me a message?

I felt frozen in the intense light but this was psychological. The average lightning strike only lasts for 30 millionths of a second. At its peak power, the stroke’s energy output is one terawatt (one trillion watts). Thor was the godly embodiment of this huge strength, in human form, but was also associated with farming. Did he bring the rains to quench the dry grounds to make the crops grow and relieve the overheated beasts in their winter coats?

The thunderstorm had been raging for at least quarter of an hour – the dogs howled at the thunder claps, accentuating the cacophony of legend. Even indoors I wanted to watch the incredible flashes so I pulled back one curtain – purple-blue filled the window.

The first few weeks of lambing had been bathed it that perfect May sunshine although the heat was taken off by strong winds – perfect drying days for the washings. In the big field, the ewes and lambs spent much of the day under the old beech and horse chestnut trees.

In the wee field they gathered at the drinking hole by a rickety vehicle bridge; the lambs found shade by the rushes. At the other end of the shed, the doors open on a small paddock lined at one side with huge old sycamores that hum lazily, ominously with bees.

In contrast to the sun and the beautiful palette she creates on the earth there were the stressful times, the reality behind food production. I helped with several prolapses – slippage of the womb so that it sits partly outside the body.

However, I had managed to avoid assisting with the slippage of a whole lamb bed after birth. I have never seen anything so graphic in my life. David, the shepherd, has never asked me to put on plastic gloves before. These were huge on my hands, designed to go above a man’s elbow they almost went up to my shoulder.

Normally my rubber over-trousers are covered in dry mud or sticky milk, that night they were covered in blood. All the work clothes from both of us went straight into the wash. My emotions went in waves from repulsion to empathy for the ewe’s pain and discomfort.

The ewe was not fit for both her lambs the shepherd lifted one and placed it in with the other pets. The ewe grazed in a field beside the cottage with her little one. The wee lamb with white ears that was listening to the rain is her other lamb. He now had a new mother and was out grazing with her.