Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Year of the Sheep.

Sheep seem to be an integral part of 2013 for me. The first quarter of this year is associated with these creatures in many ways, and all by chance. 

I feel like it means something. 

As I sit at the Shepherd's Hey Farm kitchen table here in Maryland, I wait another night for ewes to go into labor, to experience innocence's birth. I thought this "New Year" post would have come earlier, having had been there for the immaculate mucus and blood of a life's beginning. I had imagined the life-changing secrets to be had, to be held, ultimately to be shared here as a big-bang-start for this new year of sheep.

What I'm learning though is that Nature has it's own course, bringing with it a whole new sense of what patience not only means, but entails. Thus, I shall put into practice what Nature continues to put forward, bringing her teachings into the full experience of waiting for this truly miraculous occasion to come.

Why then am I writing if I haven't yet had this pictured experience? Lee Langstaff, who runs Shepherd's Hey Farm, sent me the following Op-Ed from the NY Times that is not only fitting for my year of the sheep, but also for my reasoning in taking steps away from city-life to reconnect with Nature herself. 


One Life in One Place

by Roger Coehn 
Llangurig, WALES
I came up to this small Welsh village the other day to celebrate one life lived in one place over 83 years at one with the land and with God — the kind of life that is dying out in a restless world. 
The life belonged to Alun Jones, born in 1929, the youngest of seven children, on a farm in central Wales called Ystradolwyn. He never moved from there. He knew every inch of the dales and, it seemed, every one of his sheep. He loved the lambing season. London, a five-hour drive away, was a remote universe. He liked a bit of banter in his cheery voice. But, as his Presbyterian minister Jenny Garad put it at his funeral service, he believed above all that, “You got on with it.”
Jones died last week after his lungs, the source of that voice so often raised in joyous song, gave out. He was a neighbor of sorts. My father bought the next-door farm 40 years ago. His amazement at my wandering never abated. “Well, boyo,” he would say, and shake his head; and when once again after a couple of days I made the unwise decision to leave those dales, he would bid me “Tara” with a wave of his stick. 
I was talking to his son Tony, who runs the farm now, a couple of days before the funeral service. We mused on Alun’s life and his loss. Then Tony brought the conversation to a close saying he had to finish building a fence up in the wood. “You got on with it.” 
Urban livers wallow in emotion — about death among other things — because of a dearth of necessity. Cut off from natural patterns of life and death, they become sentimental. Reality shows take the place of the realities of life. You do not find heroes among the dales. The word would be considered indulgent. You do what has to be done. 
A vast human experiment is under way: What happens to humanity when it is cut off from the anchors of rural life? As early as the 11th century a French cleric named Marbod noted that, “Town takes a man out of the truth of himself.” 
One of the scariest things I have read recently was this: “Owing to rapid urbanization in the developing world, the volume of urban construction for housing, office space and transport services over the next 40 years could roughly equal the entire volume of such construction to date in world history.” 
That sentence appeared in a study of the future published late last year by the U.S. National Intelligence Council. This spreading gridlocked concrete jungle will cater to the 60 percent of the world population (4.9 billion people of a projected 8.3 billion) who will be living in cities by 2030, up from about 50 percent today. In 1950, less than a third of humanity was urban. 
The problems arising from this rapid transformation are usually framed in economic terms — water and energy supply, transportation challenges, housing. But the deeper question is moral.
Once most of humanity is estranged from nature, rootless, unfamiliar with the rhythms of the seasons and the cycle of passing and renewal, bound by material considerations alone, uncomfortable with solitude and silence and darkness, jostled by the crowd and the hum and the neon, the danger is that some essential ethical ballast and reference is lost. 
The funeral was about essentials. It was held in an unadorned chapel. The minister related how Jones did not talk much about his faith but expressed it in the hymns he loved to sing. “Faith gave him joy in living and courage in dying,” she said. 
She quoted from John, Chapter 10: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees.” 
The minister did not talk about a contemporary culture of hirelings — here was a faith that would never hector, that was not angry, that was intrinsic to community. An all-male choir raised their beautiful Welsh voices. The roof might have lifted off to the heavens. 
Afterward, at the graveside, there was a last hymn: “In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.” 
Back at Ystradolwyn, there was news: A January lamb! It never happens but had. Last year a ewe fell on her back and when that happens she cannot get up. The crows come and always go straight for the eyes. Why, nobody knows. The ewe usually dies, infected through her eyes.
Jones had put the ewe in with the rams for protection just in case she survived — and this one had. In fact she had not merely been kept safe but pestered by the rams. And here — in the form of a January lamb from a blinded ewe — was the fruit. 
“Look after the stock and the stock will look after you,” Jones once told me. Now over in the sweet by and by, he would have liked this story of near-death and life.