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Ian & Raven raveian@wolston.com 541-971-0372



by Raven OKeefe

we cry when we bury the baby lambies.

the old boys in the feed store would scoff themselves silly. if i'm in town afterward, when one of the little ones has to go in the ground, the old boys ask Whatsamatter honey, you're not smilin today?

we lost a lamb last night, i say; we just buried him.

Aw hell, them lambs they'd as soon die as look atcha, we lost forty-some-odd lambs here two-three years ago during that cold spring, '96 was it? they'll die on ya all right. haul em out to the back forty for the coyotes, there's always more comin.

maybe it's because we're relatively new at this, maybe some day we'll just haul em out to the back forty. but to us each new lamb is a delight and a treasure, a little wet wobbly miracle making a sound more like a kitten than like a sheep as its mama hums to it, teaching it who it belongs to. they do hum, you know. it's not their usual baa when they want food, or their general bitching about the lot in life of sheep. it's a soft low hum, almost a purr, that lets the lambies learn to recognize them from among all the other sheep in the pasture. and the babies give back their tiny little bleats, ending in question marks. maaama? MAAAma?? when you pick them up they smell so sweet, lanolin and milk. they snuggle in your arms and try to nurse on your chin, your nose, your earlobe. they wonder: maaama?

every one is a marvel, but some are special. Truffle was one of those. he was my first little shetland lamb, so much smaller than the others, a tiny dark brown bonbon lying in the wet grass beside his exhausted mother. it didn't seem possible he could even be alive, but the little sides moved, the ears twitched. and before he could even see or call to his mama he was struggling to get to his feet, tiny twig legs splaying this way and that as he tried to figure out gravity, wobbling a step or two at a time. and he won my heart, just that easily.

he grew big and strong, bouncing around the pasture with the others as they had their wild lambie races around and around their grazing mothers. lots of other lambs were born, some we lost before they drew a breath. some we've had to fight for every day, so fragile they are. some we fought for so long and hard, only to feel their last little breath sigh out as they lay in our arms. but Truffle was strong, healthy and sparkly.

by the time he was nearly ten months old, he was very much the big boy and didn't want to stay with the ewes and other lambs any more. he insisted on going across the irrigation ditch to hang out with the rams, making romantic overtures to any ewe he thought he had a chance at reaching, and then crossing the water again in the evening for the sweet grain and hay that the ewes and lambs get.

but even big boys make mistakes. the irrigation ditch is flooded, cold dark fast water racing across the fields sweeping sticks, branches, even huge railroad ties away scornfully. even a big boy is no match for that force. we found Truffle, the little big man, in the cold water. and we had to put him in the cold ground. and we cried for him, for all of them but especially for him because we had thought he was safe.

maybe some day we'll be like the old boys at the feed store, Aw hell them lambs'll die on ya.

i hope not.

--Raven OKeefe