- Saving Luna
I name the first lamb born on our farm Luna, because she arrives sometime in a night with a full, or mostly full, moon.
It's still above the western horizon, dropping toward the black swells of the Alleghenys, when I push into the barn to find her, slicked with amniotic fluid, on a pile of straw in the center of a stall. Her mother, V322, named for the scrapie ear tag mandated by the State of Virginia, crouches in a far corner, watching Luna with mild distrust, as one might eye a fellow occupant of the drunk tank on the morning after. I know from Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep that V322 should have, within seconds of her lamb's birth, begun to lick her clean, mark her with maternal scent, and push her to her feet to nurse. I pick Luna up and carry her to her mother, lay the lamb at her front hooves. V322 gives the tiny ewe a quick slap with the tongue then trundles to the other side of the stall, swiveling away to stare into the plywood. I scoop up Luna again, march over to V322, and press the lamb into her mother's snout, smearing blood and mucus into her flaring nostrils. Her mother chokes and tries to run, but I pin her to the wall with a knee to her side and my other hand around her neck. She will mother this, our first lamb, or she will die resisting.
Later I'll learn to expect the lambs to die. It's what they do. That first early spring, when Luna is born, our flock stands at twenty. It will peak at forty in mid-June, then die its way back to under fifteen by first frost. Later I'll learn not to name the new ones, the weak ones, the boys who need to go for meat before they start reeking of musk and trying to hump their mothers.
I win the first round. The mother cleans her lamb, nudges her to her feet, and pushes her back to the udder. I watch Luna bumble around the swollen teats, fall and rise again, nibble at a tag of V322's crotch wool, made stiff with caked feces and placenta. I wedge open Luna's [End Page 91] cooling mouth with one finger and place it over a swollen nipple. She closes her eyes, the teat between loose lips, like a forgotten stogie. I give it a squeeze, then another, squirting streams of hot milk into the ewe lamb. She wakes, struggles, and coughs. Milk dribbles over her face and down my arm. I feel her belly, no larger than a lemon, swell and warm.
Not the sterile line drawings of birth and suckling in Storey's Guide to Sheep. It left out the sour tang of spilled milk, the moist heft of the passive lamb, the glower of a new mother. But still, a spring lamb, a sign since forever of renewal and rebirth and the unbroken circle of living.
I saved Luna.
I savor my moment of earth-mother superiority, savor the barn dust shading the front of my jeans, savor my sloppy ponytail, mostly brown, a few frizzles of gray popping out in single strands. The crackle of gravel under tires out in the drive calls me from the stall, and I walk out to wave in a former work colleague. I hope I have a bit of mud smeared along one cheekbone. I hope I smell of grassy hay and spicy lanolin. I hope he, with his Nordstrom's suit and preowned (but still pricey) Saab and wife at home with the latest AGA stove, envies me and my easy connection to the rumbling wheel of life.
Before we moved to the farm, it had been so linear. I aged, put on weight, trudged the slow incline of a mildly competent Senate staffer's career path. My pay increased, my children grew and left, I traded one husband for a series of bad dates for another husband. We all remained civil and fine friends, the ones I'm speaking to, that...