First Red, then Kim came, as I crouched down next to the dead lamb in the barnyard. Kim put her nose to the lamb, stood there for a while then walked away. Moments later she was back. Never before have I seen her stand so close to Red, never has she been so calm around me. We stayed that way for a while. Jon and I going over what may have happened, trying to make sense of the dead lamb.
Kim watched as I pulled the lamb from the ice that held it to the ground. Little teeth and the tip of a tiny pink tongue. My responsibility for the care of the sheep came crashing down. I want to know that the lamb was premature, born dead, that I couldn’t have done anything for it. That I couldn’t have saved it. That I didn’t do anything to contribute to it. We never expected a lamb this early, it’s too soon. But still I can never really know for sure.
I cradled the lamb in my arms and held it out for Kim to sniff one more time. Jon offered to take it out into the woods, pry it out of the ice, but I wanted to do it. Partly to own my responsibility for it and partly, because it was all I could do. The least I could do.
I carried the lamb into the far pasture, Kim baaing as I walked away. Over the fence and across the stream, past the stone wall I saw a clearing under a tree. The whole way I talked to the lamb, a prayer of sorts I guess, although I don’t remember what I said until I laid it on the ground. “You’re long gone, let your body nurture another during this cold winter, the way you were not able to be nurtured”.
Kim was a really good mother. Even I, who have very little experience with sheep and lambs could see that. She tried to protect he lamb from Red and from me, only leaving its side when she tried to distract us by running in circles and kicking up her hind legs. And if we lamb again next year, I know she’ll be a good mother again.
My friend Suzy, said this will make the arrival of the rest of the lambs even more special. I think she’s right. I think I’ll appreciate the sheep and lambs even more, having experienced what could happen. Understanding that each live birth could just as easily have a different outcome.
Later, when I was back in the house, I wondered if this was all a bad omen. Our first lamb born dead. But I don’t believe in omens anymore. Real life can be harsh and awful enough without having to bring superstition and the preternatural into it. It’s not an omen, it’s just life.