This morning Red and I went up to gather the old sheep and to take them out to pasture for the last time. The sheep in the center, 0633, is staying with us, she will be one of Maria's wool sheep, all going to the new farm. The farmer is coming to get the first batch of the others this morning, the second later in the day. I will be posting several messages and photos about their leaving Bedlam Farm.
Red and I sat with them for awhile, a half-hour or so out in the pasture, and I felt this great connection with them, this great surge of feeling and affection. Gratitude too, because they have affirmed so much of what I believe about the natural lives of animals, and the powerful lessons of the farm. I said goodbye to them. You are not objects of pity for me, I said, I respect the real nature of the animal world. You were never pets, you were doomed from the beginning, all to be bred or sold for meat, as will be your fate. I love and respect your farmer, who took great care and at cost he could barely afford to give you a summer on grass.
He may keep some of you longer, but I suspect those of you are ill and failing will go to slaughter. I have seen you struggle and suffer more each day, succumbing to parasites, failing legs, disorientation. I am hopeful none of you will suffer longer especially at selfish human ideas of what it is to be humane. This is what I would do if they were my sheep, and I understand and support the farmer's decisions completely. I am not one of those who believes I know what other people should do, only what I should do. I am not a cable news commentator getting paid to distort truth and understanding by eternal argument.
These sheep are nothing but lucky, having lived better lives than most of the sheep on the earth. I will always respect the true nature of animals and never turn them into piteous creatures for me to exploit so I can feel good about myself. I was touched by their sense of community, their seeming concern for one another, their acceptance of life. I am glad for you, old sheep, I told them, that you will not suffer the fate of so many humans in our world, medicated and reconstructed at great pain and cost and then tossed into prisons and confinement facilities for the elderly, ought of sight and mind of the rest of the world. That will not be my fate, and I am grateful it is not yours.
One angry New Jersey man posted a message on Facebook saying it was clear I was only concerned about money, just trying to save on hay. He will never know how right he is. Anyone with a farm who is not worried about money will end up back in New Jersey quickly enough. I need the pastures the old sheep are using, especially in this dry summer, or I will have to buy hay in September – money I do not have. I am glad this man doesn't have to worry about money. I think about hay and feed and fences and vet bills and grass all the time. I worry about money every day. And my farmer friend worries about it even more. He doesn't have book advances and royalties coming in. And he doesn't have a blog. I wish more farmers would have blogs – I tell them this all the time – and then perhaps the legislators and self-righteous people of the world would understand the real life of real animals. And the lives of farmers.
As in politics, the animals world is filled with so many schisms, eternal arguments, iron positions. No one listening, no one hearing, no one thinking for themselves. That is a much sadder reality than the one facing the old sheep. There is no sane reason to argue with people like this. I won't do it. They are far past hearing.
I pray for my farmer friend, facing such a tough road, scrambling every day to keep his farm alive while people faraway sit in their apartments and suburban houses and terraced lawns making judgments about his life and mine. I will pass on participating in that. I will work to focus on the meaningful time I spent with these sheep, inspiring my photography, helping me see how to age, how to accept life rather than hide from it.
Sitting in the pasture this morning with Red, I was surprised to feel tears running down my face. Why was I crying? Was it because the old sheep were leaving? No, not that, I realized. It was for this sudden feeling in my heart, this image I had of having to say goodbye to Maria one day. I was crying for that.