Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Peaceable Kingdom

I'm woken around 3 or 4 am by the pressure of my aging bladder. If I'm lucky, I can turn over and get another hour's sleep. But sooner or later and always before the sun is up, I'm woken again, either by the bladder, or, more often, by the patter of canine paws on the laminated flooring.

Flame wants to pee.

We have learned, after having Flame for nearly four months, that she must be taken outside immediately. Otherwise she will make her way down to the kitchen floor and piddle there. The laminate flooring in the kitchen is warped and cracked by generations of Womerlippi farm dogs having piddled there. We won't change the flooring. It's not worth it. Within a week, some dog would have piddled on the new flooring.

As for Flame, she doesn't mean to be a bad dog. Her manner is sweet and gentle, her heart is in the right place, and above all, her conscience is clear. She just can't help it. She's a rescue dog. She spent the first one-and-a-half years of her life in a cage with a mean Rottweiler. She's only house-trained as long as we can see her and she can see us. Otherwise, she piddles on the floor.

So I groan lightly so as not to wake the wifey and get up and take her and Ernie out before Flame piddles in the house. They piddle happily. They and I taste the air and check the weather. We go in. I leave them on the porch. I do this because we've learned by now that if we don't leave them on the porch, either Flame or Ernie will go upstairs with their dirty paws and climb onto the bed -- my side of the bed! -- and snuggle down inside the sheets while wifey is sleeping blissfully. If we let them do this, I'll have to wash the sheets again that evening after work, when I'm already tired and grumpy. So they stay on the porch.

Except that then they play. When they play they are noisy. Very noisy. These two can break furniture and knock full-grown (fool-grown?) Englishmen over by slamming into either while playing. They also growl and sing and whine at each other while playing, especially Flame. Wifey would, no doubt, like to sleep. She usually does. Husband would like to read the paper and drink his coffee in peace and quiet, especially considering it's 4 or 5am and he can't go back to bed because he won't be able to get back to sleep.

So we separate them. Ernie, the better-behaved of the two comes inside. Husband makes coffee, chiding Ernie all the time not to go upstairs and get on the bed with his dirty paws. Eventually Ernie, the better-behaved, lies down under husband's paper-reading, coffee-drinking red leather armchair. The first sip of coffee, the first newspaper article. Ahhhh....

All is well in the kingdom of men. For about five minutes.

Then the ewes, who have lambs that they must feed whenever the lambs wish to feed, and who deeply appreciate the injustice of this, cry out for grain. If we have to feed these little lambs, they say, you have to feed us. They can do this right under the bathroom window, not ten feet from the husband's chair. The bathroom window is double glazed and fixed tight against the Maine night, but that doesn't matter.

Mind you, it's only just now getting light. But the ewes can see enough to eat, and they can see the lights on in the house, and, being sheep, they don't have the intellect to appreciate the nicer things in a life's morning, the coffee, the dogs settled for once, the online newspaper. And so they bleat. Loudly, in fifteen-part harmony.

Older ewes sing bass. Younger ewes sing tenor. Lambs are sopranos. The ram's bleat is more like the growl of a dog, or a bear. It's not really a note at all, as we understand sound. It's a vibration. A challenge, "Come and feed me, you fat lazy English b%^%$d, or I'll knock you over."

And then Flame, who hates to be alone, and is also hungry, starts to whine.


So we get up and feed first the dogs, who are closest to us, and thus take priority. It's also convenient to keep the dogs occupied while feeding the sheep, or the dogs will harass the sheep, especially the lead ewes or the ram, through the fence. Lunging and barking and hurling doggy insults across the wire is not conducive to the harmony of the farm's morning.

Then we feed the sheep. First they get some grain. Oats and bagged feed, a three-to-one mix, about a cup per ewe, raises strong lambs and protects against white muscle disease. The ram, who is twice as big and ten times as mean, gets three times as much.

Then we check their water and top it off if the hose isn't frozen. Cold water on one's husbandly sweat pants (which one wears for pajamas or to lounge around the house around here, three point-five seasons of the year) or down one's wellies is not particularly conducive to husbandly morning harmony, but, well, wetness happens on a farm. And water, dear readers, is the least worrisome of wet things available on this small farm.

Then they get hay or led out to grass. And then we feed and let out the chickens, who are the least insistent of all the animals, but who can still work themselves up into a pretty good clustercluck each morning. Occasionally a chicken will have worked itself up to the point that it will exit the coop directly from the perch in full flight, a chicken-missile aimed directly at the sleepy husband's chest or head. Very harmonious.

Then we take the dogs for a good mile walk, down the dale to the brook on the snowmobile trail, and back up again. In our pajamas. With wellie boots and a smelly wool sweater. We never meet anyone on our walks, so why worry?

Finally, last of all, we feed the husband. There may even be a second cup of coffee.

By which time all is peace and calm around the farm. Finally.

Until the wife gets up.

And she wonders why I go to bed and get up so early.

How do you spell "oblivious?"


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