We started with two sheep on our farm this summer, a ewe and her lamb, but the ewe died soon after her arrival and now near Christmas we have just the lamb, a girl. She is small, black, Icelandic, and her name, as my daughter decreed it, is Night Sky.
Night Sky’s mother died of cabbage (too much cabbage) and I am partially, if not entirely, to blame. As I had an abundance of it in the garden this summer, I started throwing a few heads into the pasture for the sheep. But I was always conservative with the amount I gave them, knowing from experience how sheep can overindulge on a sudden windfall of new feed.
All went well for a month. But one morning when I went to feed the animals, I knew something was wrong. The ewe, though she came to me, was not herself. She was lethargic, her eyes shadowed. I immediately thought cabbage but just as quickly dismissed the idea. She had been eating her daily allotment for weeks. Why would she suddenly overeat?
The next morning she was still up and seemingly improved somewhat, and I went away for the day. When I returned, however, she was down, her mouth cold. She died in the night.
Quetzal and I buried the ewe in the morning first thing. We chose a spot not far from the pasture. Quetzal watched as I dug the hole, and she helped with covering by throwing in a few shovelfuls of soil. But mostly she watched the lamb.
“Night Sky doesn’t understand why we’re hiding her mommy,” she said. “See how she is”?
I did. I was watching, too. The lamb was alternately running in circles and watching by the gate. She was holding her head unnaturally high and crying frantically. It made me sad and kept me sad. It should never have happened.
But by day’s end this too had passed, and I can report these months later that Night Sky flourishes. She wears heaps of black wool and has run of the place. The chickens occasionally dash between her legs, and once from out of nowhere the cat jumped directly onto her back. And a black bear passed by one morning, a full-grown adult hurrying along the fence and heading due east. What the lamb made of that fright I don’t know. Only that she was a long time in her shelter that day, one she seldom uses.
It is well after dark, and my wife and Quetzal and I are lying in the yard and watching a meteor shower. We are on our backs, deep under blankets, and we each have a pillow. There is no moon and little incoming sound. There is just enough meteorite activity to keep our attention. Quetzal, who since the time of the bear sighting has been overly frightened by the night, has just announced (uncertainly) that she is no longer afraid.
Then suddenly we hear an unexpected sound from the pasture. It startles us in much the same way that the meteors have been startling us. Quetzal, excited and her head lifted off her pillow, exclaims, “That was Night Sky! Did you hear her”? She points at the sky. Struggling with her share of the blankets, she finally gets herself propped up on one elbow. “Listen,” she tells us. And then she says this: “Night Sky: night sky.” She highlights the difference with a change in voice, in intonation. “Do you get it?” she asks. “That’s called ironic.” And then as if to verify the truth and wonder of it all, she rolls over onto her stomach and looks at my wife and me.
We nod our heads. We agree entirely. Although I don’t say anything (and in the context of the fact that Quetzal is six) I recall the times at the university when I tried explaining irony to incoming freshman–how a handful of them never got it, how many who did get it, didn’t care.
Ever since the death of the ewe, Quetzal and my wife have been asking that I bring home a new sheep for Night Sky. Please please can you find another sheep, they’ve asked. A boy sheep. And I’ve said, Yes yes I will bring home another sheep, a boy sheep.
But I have not.
But for Christmas I am finally going to fulfill my promise by bringing one home—a brown boy sheep with beautiful (so I’ve been told) curved horns. I’m getting this sheep from my friend Dave on the day before Christmas. Once back here on the farm, I’m going to hide him overnight in the woodshed. Then on Christmas morning after the last gift has been opened, I’m going to unwrap my surprise sheep. He’s going to have a red ribbon around his horns and a rope around his neck. I would like to lead him (pull him) directly into the kitchen, but I know that’s not a good idea. So I’m going to tie him to a tree near the back door and give him a bit of chicken feed. Then I’ll call Quetzal and Serita, and the six of us (counting the sheep, the dog, and the cat) will share the fun of surprise. When later we all together move the sheep into the pasture and introduce him to Night Sky—that will be still more fun. A brown sheep in the pasture on Christmas morning. And talk of baby lambs come spring.