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The Quill
Of the
Is Art
For The Mind
And Heart




~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 118............Winter 2004  *~~


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Winter Chaos

It's all a winter wonderland out there though technically my calendar says that it is autumn. How can it be autumn with all this snow on the ground?splash dot!


Gazing out the window, I view naught but a wonderland, though sleigh bells are not ringing in these parts – and for nearly three days and nights neither were our telephones. The white landscape is breathtakingly lovely, but it also bespeaks the fact that on Saturday night nearly six inches of heavy white snow fell down all around us like a wet blanket. It broke two huge and spreading limbs from the umbrella willow in our front yard, the one that stands right outside the kitchen window. Indeed, trees fell over and power lines were severed. First our telephone was dead. A few minutes later all power was cut off. All of that lasted for more than three days.splash dot!


noble old willow

photos courtesy of Julie our friendly neighbor

We did not realize it until later, but all that flashing blue light we saw in the sky that night was not lightning striking from some fierce storm behind all the snow clouds. It was actually two large electrical lines that had fallen to the ground in our back forty, one severed line dangling like a whipping snake over our fence line. I asked one of the line men yesterday what would have occurred had I touched my own fence during that time. He said, "oh, you would be OK unless the line had actually come down on your fence."splash dot!


I told him it had. "I could have been electrocuted right there on the spot – just opening this gate, right?" He looked at me and agreed that that probably would have been the case.splash dot!


Well, all is well that ends well, or so the saying goes. Neither Stan nor I came near those fences during the height of the storm when those lines must have fallen. We were inside by then, well hunkered down in our bed listening to trees fall and branches crack when the storm really took over full force. Though we had been in the barn earlier digging trenches so that water would flow away from two of the buck pens, we came back to the house by the time the big flakes began to fall. It seems that it's well we did.splash dot!


Today things are again back to normal. I have a computer that hums again with electricity and I can again answer my e mail. When the telephone finally worked and the lights came flashing on all over the cottage, I felt I had entered the right time zone quite suddenly. I flew to our computer to see if I had missed any Christmas orders over our "three-day extended vacation from civilization." Indeed, I had.splash dot!


Someone wanted to purchase a mohair throw as a Christmas gift. Am I too late? I asked myself. Has she already given up on me since I did not write back speedily?splash dot!


"Yes, we still have the tartan plaid throw as pictured on our website," I typed out in my answering e mail last night. How good it felt to be, at last, connected to civilization. Even then I typed my letter with trepidation, for the telephone's dial tone had been going on and off all day, causing me much consternation. Any moment, I knew, I could again be disconnected from the world and be right back in the Neanderthal age.splash dot!


Well, as it turns out, she wrote this morning and asked us to please send the mohair throw to her loved ones in Connecticut by overnight mail.splash dot!


"Mission accomplished," my husband said after handing me the postal receipt with all the details of his transaction written upon it. One more crisis averted, I said to myself. The mohair throw made of yarns I spun on my wheel here in the southern Cascade mountains of Oregon will be there in Connecticut by Friday afternoon – the day after tomorrow. We live in a fast paced world, indeed.splash dot!


The blue spruce that stands near the now vacant garden shrugs off the wet snow that hung heavy on its branches. A warm and luminous sun shines today. Saturday night's fierce snowstorm is only a vague memory, and though we found ourselves without power and telephone for too long a time, we somehow survived. The sound of that whirring generator is still ringing in my ears. At least we were able to pump water to the house and most importantly, to the goats in their barn.splash dot!


We kept kerosene lamps lit up in the evening and when nightfall arrived, went to bed with the chickens. Indeed, we both wondered aloud what people did in the "old days" when they didn't have computers, televisions, VCR and the like. Probably went to bed with the chickens, I surmised. What can one do by kerosene lamp light except play a hearty game of checkers, perhaps?splash dot!


The day before the power came roaring back into the all these wires that keep things humming around here, we stood in the barn before the daylight entirely faded. There was a doe flagging – signaling she was in heat. Stan, on the spur of the moment, decided to shear her back end so that she'd have an easier time of it when we put her with the buck.splash dot!


He took out his electric shears and I held her by the horns. He plugged the cord into an electrical socket in the barn. All was silent around us, the shears lifeless as a still life painting. My husband looked at his Osters and flicked a switch once, twice…splash dot!


Then we remembered. "No electricity!" I reminded him. We both laughed and he unplugged the useless machine.splash dot!


So, leaving the doe fully clothed with all that mohair still fast upon her, we placed her with the buck of our choice. It seems that she was not hindered in the least from being bred, my favorite silver buck making fully sure that nothing would deter his youthful prowess.splash dot!


In the meantime, with dusk gathering quickly on a white landscape, we went in to light the oil lamps, eat a small repast and then play a game of checkers before retiring with the chickens.splash dot!


noble old willow

photos courtesy of Julie our friendly neighbor

Spring Just Around the Corner

This year has been a good one, all things considered – and after all, spring is around the corner. The herd seems stronger than ever these days. We culled a few, always a difficult decision to make – but we see the rewards of our labor already. We have kept the "cream of the crop" – fifty does whose lineage I have nearly memorized. I can tell you their sires and grandsires, their dams and granddams. If you press me, I can possibly go back even one more or possibly two more generations.splash dot!


There are days I take out my "goat book" and peruse the lineages of the goats that are in that barn. I consider all the hard labors of breeders who came before me and I see their work means for me high quality mohair on goats of color.splash dot!


Hay we purchased this summer is some of the finest we have ever stored in our barn. This year's batch is grass hay laced liberally with clover. Wonderful stuff – and the goats think so, too.splash dot!


Another three tons of grass hay is set aside for "kidding season." It is even richer, greener, like new-mown grass, but dry. That's their "candy" hay and they're going to love it. I won't be able to dole it out like I do this more leafy hay which stays neatly in its packaged flakes. That "candy hay" is going to fall to the ground in great lofty piles of green goodness and I'll have to first take the goats outside the barn enclosure before feeding them, for it is their tendency to stand under the hay I throw down to them. I don't want all that V.M. (vegetable matter, the bane of hand spinners' fleeces) in that mohair.splash dot!


Yesterday morning as I stood up in the hay loft surveying my woolsome herd downstairs, I pulled from the third tier of the pile another buxom bale. It had dawned cold that morning, we were still without any power, and my hands were numb with cold. Snipping off two long strings from the bale, all that clover hay unfurled itself like an accordian bellows. Its fragrance was heady, aromatic.splash dot!


The fragrance of summer, I thought to myself. I still recalled the hot, sweaty time of it when Stan and I stacked that hay in August, bale after burdensome bale, swiping our brows all the while in 90 degree sweltering heat and how I wondered a time or two if I could possibly lift another. On this frigid December day, however, warmth seemed far from me. I plunged my cold hands into the hay's green midst and left them there for a long moment. The blood started to circulate once more.splash dot!


Perhaps there is only one kind of loft that I like better than the loft on a mohair blanket, and that's got to be the the hay loft where all of that wondrous hay is compactly and carefully stored away as fodder for our herd until the tender grasses arrive again. The angora goats milling around in the barn below became insistent then, so I reigned in all my romanticized thoughts about clover hay and barn lofts and completed my morning chores without any further adieu.splash dot!


And, A Poem

Though the holidays are around the corner as I write this, I realize that you'll be reading this column right when you are in the midst of kidding and/or lambing season. I wrote this poem with thoughts of all the shepherds and goatherds that I have had the pleasure of knowing. Each one of you, in your own way, has been an encouragement to me. You have inspired me without knowing you did, and taught me, not knowing that while you carried on your conversation you were actually doing so.splash dot!


May the birthing season, when all the lambs and kids drop on the ground, be a grand one for you! (And though I write about sheep and lambs here, of course I think of those of us who are keepers of the goats!)splash dot!


the spinning wheel

The Shepherdess

Her hands alight to spindle as she spins her silken thread
The fibers soft within her palm, thoughts dance inside her head
Perhaps a shawl with yarn so fine," her mind says readily
Or a frilly scarf or two," she adds, as her wheel turns steadilysplash dot!


The sounds of bleating are in the air; she stops the wheel to rise
Her ears fast tuned upon her flock, she hears some distant cries
In the yard, her feet now fleet – she runs to find a ewe
Is giving birth to a fledgling lamb – no wait, she sees it's TWO!splash dot!


She smiles, quick joy upon her face at the hues that greet her eye
For one small lamb is charcoal gray – one brown as well baked rye!
A cry is heard three stalls away and she's fast upon its sound
And through the corner of her eye she sees a wooly moundsplash dot!


The ewe is small and needs her help (this is her birthing day!)
With careful hands she pulls a lamb whose whose fleece is red as clay!
Big and stout, he finds his spout - while our shepherdess reels with glee
(For at first it seemed he would not come – he could not come!) - so small the ewe, so big was he!splash dot!


She has bred them with care and waited so long; her hopes and dreams have been many
Lamb fleeces now dry – (what lungs – hear their cry??) – one as red as a new copper penny!
How long she had waited to see the lambs drop – five months that seemed more like a year
Ask our shepherdess now, “was it all worth the wait?” “Oh, yes, and e'en the tears!”splash dot!


With red iodine and soft tender touch, she looks lovingly to those small lambs
Watching them closely to see that they nurse, checking again on their dams
Afterbirths dutifully slip to the ground, small tummies are well filled with milk
Both of the sheep are now nursing their young (whose fleeces are softer than silk)splash dot!


She has tended them soft and hath mended them oft, the flock she so well maintains
…And when she takes note that they need her no more, she is off to her own home again
The time has passed swiftly and a full springtime moon is a globe in a vast starry sky,
Her hair stands on end for a moment in time as she listens to two coyotes crysplash dot!


It's the end of the day and sleep looks so inviting, but she knows she has no time for rest
All the sheep are dropping lambs - and shepherding is what she does best
Two ewes are soon due and she hasn't a clue if they'll drop their lambs tonight
So every three hours she'll check on them both (making sure that all is right!)splash dot!


A quick bite to eat and then off to the barn – her life is a blur in this season
She wouldn't trade it for gold, or so I am told, it gives life such meaning and reason
In her hand swings the lamp though a silvery moon casts its own brilliant rays on the ground
Her footsteps fall fast, they fall fleet in the darkness, all the while making nary a soundsplash dot!


The barn door swings open and she finds all is well, which doth make her heart very light
(For when all is well with her flock, you must know, that her whole world is suddenly right!)
The sheep gather ‘round her, closely and tightly, their bodies as warm as the sun
…and she calls them by name – a task she does nightly – and they come to her all one by onesplash dot!


"Come Bonnie and Darcy!" she cries in the night, as the shadows and light play a game
Not one of them missing – her voice is like music– and each one doth quite know its name
One butts hard another and the whole group then jostles, each one wishing plenty of room
She muses a bit on the softness of wool, the yarns and the wheel and the loomsplash dot!


One stops all its eating walking near to her side, nibbling low at the hem of her dress
And she reaches her hand to touch the soft wool, nay, not to touch – but rather caress!
And when she sees that all is pure calm, while spring moths flit 'round a barn light
And that all her sheep chew their cuds quietly, and none will be lambing tonightsplash dot!


One more time she finally turns back to her home, considering chores now well done
Back to the house, where her own household lay – their laughter as bright as the sun
The lamps now paint their gold on the walls, their light all aflame and all moving
The house is now quiet, night fast upon it – so, once more, she pulls forth her rovingsplash dot!


The children now sleep - the ones in the house – and e'en the ones in the byre
And it is now that she makes her way to the wheel, the one standing there near the fire
All quiet now, the home and the barn, and her thoughts move forward in time
To green pastures and lambs at the sides of their mums, all fat, with wool so finesplash dot!


She well oils her wheel, sets in empty bobbin - and all is now in place
The wheel now turns 'round and 'round on its axis, treadling foot setting pace
The yarn – such a fine one – is mohair and wool; she sings as she spins and well fills that spool
With skeins in her baskets of varying hues, she spins the fleece shorn off the ewessplash dot!


The roving slips through careful fingers as the wheel continues its turning
All is silent within the room except the lamps that do hiss with their burning
We view her now with hands fast filled with her batts and yarn plies and skeins
…and in the gleam of spring's starlight, her wheel spins round and againsplash dot!


Her hands alight to spindle as she spins her silken thread
The fibers so soft within her palm, thoughts dancing through her head
"Perhaps a shawl with wool so fine," her mind says readily
"Or a frilly scarf or mayhaps, two," and her wheel turns steadily
And her wheel turns steadily.splash dot!


the spinning wheel


goats butting heads


scripted signature


Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484