Tag Archives: Sheep

Packing Light as Light Can Be

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At 18, I had dreamy visions of traipsing around the world, my guitar slung over my back. Except… I didn’t own a neck strap and my massive, overstuffed orange backpack took up all the available space on my back.  (Photo by Justin Clark on Unsplash)

I have never been a good packer. I wish I could put my hands on the photo of me in my late teens wearing bib overalls and sagging under the weight of my bright orange (very uncomfortable, rigid frame) backpack. Draped over the top was a very thick, voluminous wool poncho (it wouldn’t fit inside the bulging pack). Because I couldn’t squeeze everything I wanted to take inside, I also had a large shoulder bag as well as my camera slung around my neck. And a purse. Oh yes, and a leather passport holder, tucked inside my shirt. I looked ridiculous for various reasons, but if you knew what I had inside the pack you’d really be laughing…

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Several books (assorted recreational reading as well as guidebooks and train timetables and hostel guides and such-like), a collection of notebooks and pens, a dozen spare rolls of film (because heaven knows you couldn’t buy film in Europe), a stash of tuna fish, a tin opener, spare shoes, multiple pairs of jeans and sweaters and tops and shorts and sandals and… and… and…and… Yes, I do believe I also started that trip to Europe with a guitar. Not stuffed into the pack, of course, but bashing against my leg in its unyielding hard case. The guitar was one of the first things I ditched at a hostel somewhere along the way, collected later as I retraced my steps from hostel to hostel, collecting possessions I realized I did not have any use for.

What a difference a few decades make. I don’t have the least bit of interest in pack-muling my way anywhere these days. I just weighed my pack for the Camino and it came in at a whopping 12.5 lbs – including the pack and a super lightweight sleeping bag. Not only have I pared down what I need to carry on the Camino to a bare minimum, I have way more computing and camera power tucked into an outside pocket than I could even have imagined on my last backpacking trip. Train timetables? Thank-you, Internet. Hostel guide? Internet. Books – recreational and reference plus a bonus stack of magazines? Digital library. Communications center? No more waiting to find a Post Office in some remote village each week so I could send home a TELEGRAM (!!) all of three words long – AM ALIVE. NIKKI. Occasionally I would splurge and make a three-minute phone call back home to let everyone know more or less where I was and where I was likely to be during the following week. Facebook posts? An up-to-the-minute Instagram feed? Hah! Postcards lovingly scribbled and then mailed (usually from the same post offices where those telegrams came from) took ages to get back to Canada and by the time they did their contents were very old news.

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And the new pack itself? We found a used Osprey pack online and it compresses down to carry-on size while still having tons of room for the modest amount of stuff I am taking. And it’s so comfortable compared to the Orange Beast I schlepped around way back when. Granted, I was a lot younger, but still…

That orange pack nearly killed me when, after renting a sturdy shopping-style bicycle in the Lake District I decided (somewhat ambitiously) to ride across England to visit some relatives near Newcastle. In a single day. With all that crap strapped to my back and stuffed into panniers and tied to the back of the bicycle.

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This is pretty similar to the bike that nearly met its end in England’s last patch of wilderness….    Photo by Khachik Simonian on Unsplash

Things went very sideways when I took a shortcut (you can hardly blame me, I was trying to avoid the massive mountains in the middle of England) and wound up slipping off a slick, moss-covered smallish cliff thing, doing a summersault, and crashing down into the forest below still clutching my handlebars. Said handlebars were somewhere up and behind me where the bike landed and wedged itself against the base of the cliff. Unfortunately, the sturdy frame of the backpack (still on my back) jammed itself into the frame of the bike rendering me helplessly pinned to the ground, unable to get up. Lying there, staring up at some picturesque English trees, I had visions of people, years later, stumbling across my skeleton entangled in the rusty bike frame. I imagined them flipping through the mouldy pages of the Collected Works of Franz Kafka pulled from the tattered and faded remnants of that pack and wondering if the tuna fish was still edible.

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The Lake District is a gorgeous place – until you have to pedal up and over those mountains to leave… Photo by James Qualtrough on Unsplash

Obviously, I managed to extricate myself eventually and other than the fact the bike chain popped off, neither I nor the bike suffered any serious damage. Unfortunately, the bike chain was cunningly protected by a steel shield and though I had all manner of things with me, a screwdriver was not one of them. That meant I had to carry the bike over hill and dale to get to a tiny farm way down in the valley below in order to get some assistance from the resident farmer… but not before being charged by a very angry ram protecting his harem. That was a very long field to cross, I can tell you – being battered and bashed by a furious sheep every step of the way.

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Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

Fortunately, the bike served me well as I held it up between me and the curly-horned monster like a shield and managed to stagger backwards all the way to the gate — and safety — on the far side…

But, I digress. I have no intention on this trip of straining myself unduly. I am still a few weeks away from my departure date so I will repack and reconsider several times more, but before I set off I’ll post the exact contents of what’s in the new pack – just because I can!

Buen Camino! (because, I think, once a person has packed the bag the trip has already begun!)

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Shearing Day

Pieter, the sheep-shearer in action…

So quick, smooth, and efficient!

So quick, smooth, and efficient!

Very Quiet Sheep

After the shearing was done, from a distance it looked like all the sheep had lined up neatly along the fence and fallen sound asleep! Can’t wait to see what Leola (of Leola’s Studio in Duncan) will get up to with those piles of fluff!

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Sonya and Celeste

Sonya (half Cotswold) delivered a huge, robust lamb (Daddy is Babar, purebred Cotswold) yesterday. Mom and baby are doing well.

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What’s the Farmer Reading? Wise Acres

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Wise Acres, by Michael Kluckner

You would think that given a few minutes for purely recreational reading I might pick up a satisfying work of historical fiction or a glorious coffee table book full of photos of horses in exotic locales, or something… But no, I reached straight for Wise Acres, by Michael Kluckner, a memoir about a middle aged couple who sell their place in the city and buy a tiny farm not that far from Vancouver.

Like any good memoirist, Kluckner (who is also an artist) can write about the most mundane of subjects and make them interesting and, even better, often funny. The creatures on his farm (sheep, geese, hens, ducks, cats, etc.) are wonderful characters, each with a personality, a history, and a particular relationship with the author. These are not numbers and quotas and pounds of meat on the hoof but sources of companionship and entertainment as much as sustenance.

Of course, this means Kluckner is constantly struggling to find a way to balance his sentimental side with the practical and it is perhaps this aspect of the book and Kluckner’s story that I found most compelling. Certainly, I struggle with having too soft a heart for someone who raises animals for meat and at various points as I read I found myself nodding and sighing, thinking how much easier my life would be if I lived in the city and was a vegetarian.

Kluckner spends the most time talking about his sheep operation, which was simultaneously instructive, reassuring, and a tad horrifying to someone like me who is quite new to shepherding.

Woodblock prints by Kluckner illustrate each chapter (for those interested in Kluckner’s art, visit his website for more images). A thoroughly enjoyable read, Wise Acres will appeal to city folk thinking of moving out to the country and country folk wondering whether it might be time to cash in the sheep and return (or move on) to a more urban existence.

Welcome, Babar! Go Away, Snow! (NABLOPOMO)

Welcome, good sir...

Welcome, good sir…

Babar the Cotswold ram arrived today and is now in with the ewes to be bred. Given it was a perpetual motion kind of day, it’s actually a minor miracle I managed to get this quick (terrible) shot when our new boy arrived in the sheep shelter. It didn’t help that he had no interest in posing, but immediately dove into the grain bucket…

After polishing off the few morsels of grain left in the tub, he shot out the door and chased the girls around. I'm sure he's thinking he's arrived in a pretty cool place!

After polishing off the few morsels of grain left in the tub, he shot out the door and chased the girls around. I’m sure he’s thinking he’s arrived in a pretty cool place! This did not, however, make for a relaxed photo session.

Rushing around for the humans continued after the ram delivery – had to do a bit of Christmas shopping (it’s never too late to get started…) and then convince all the Christmas turkeys that, yes, they really were going to bunk up together even though they hardly know the rejects from the breeding group. How, exactly, they can tell each other apart, I don’t know – but they certainly keep track of who’s who and today there was an awful lot of restructuring going on in the turkey hierarchy.

Then, the rest of the evening chores by headlamp as the turkey rodeo went on for far too long and darkness overtook me before I was done… A very long sigh when I spotted Olivia’s piglets ambling around nonchalantly with the adult hogs (what!?). Nothing to be done at that point except open up all the gates between the pens to make sure everyone could find room in a proper shelter during the night.

Good thing I did so because when I went down to the barn to do the late hay rounds for the horses and goats, it looked like the farm had been transplanted into the inside of a snow globe.Okay. Thank you. That's enough snow now... Okay. Thank you. That’s enough snow now…

No relief in sight (except, perhaps, for the snow… the temperatures are supposed to stay mild, so I doubt this will stick around for long). Busy, busy for the next few days and right into the holidays. Despite myself, I am feeling most definitely festive!

NABLOPOMO – The Road Less Travelled (Traveled, if you are in the USA)

Today’s Blogher/NaBloPoMo prompt:“Tell us about a time when you took the less traveled path.”

Who knew there were actual mountains plunked in the middle of England? [Wikipedia]

When I was fresh out of high school I strapped on a backpack and headed for Europe. First stop was England where a fair few of my relatives lived. Being of an adventurous nature, I thought it would be cool to do a bit of exploring by bicycle.

A couple of problems presented themselves. For one thing, I had no bike and for another, no money. This meant I was crashing on various relatives’ couches, camping, and staying in youth hostels. At one such hostel in the Lake District, a small sign at the entrance stated, “Bicycles for Rent.’ The rate was cheap (or I wouldn’t have proceeded) and I was young (and a tad under-informed, or I wouldn’t have proceeded). My map interpretation skills left something to be desired -when I had a peek at a map of England, I noticed that the Lake District was over on the left and Newcastle (not far from some friendly relatives – with a couch) was over on the right. And it didn’t look like there was a whole lot of distance between the two points.

Which there wasn’t, on the map – but I soon learned that the skinny neck of England is full of some very steep mountains, inclement weather, and vicious beasts.

Having rented a heavy duty, old-fashioned ‘shopping bike,’ I loaded all my belongings (it was early in my trip, I hadn’t learned, yet, about the difference between essentials and excess baggage) into the bike panniers, the handlebar basket, and my backpack. Then I started to pedal, setting off on what I thought would be a pleasant trip across the country. The total distance to the nearest relative’s house was only 97 miles and I figured that being young and fit I could easily make it to the other end before dark.

Hah!

The hills began immediately and with all my heavy gear strapped to my person and my bicycle and the total lack of gears to choose from on said bicycle, it wasn’t long before I began to sweat. I stopped to peel off a layer or two and the badly loaded bike flipped over into the ditch. I hauled it out and climbed aboard. The hill was soon so steep, I could no longer pedal, but had to resort to pushing my unwieldy load up and up and more up and up.

I ate an apple as I slogged along, not daring to lose more time by stopping. This bit of nourishment soon wore off and, on a downhill section, I ate a scone. This, too, wore off halfway up another massive hill so I ate a hard-boiled egg. I was now out of food until I found some sort of village which, I had been led to believe, were to be found around every corner. Not, apparently, on this route, The road I was on clawed its way through a wild part of England that nobody had ever thought to warn me about. No vehicles passed. Certainly there were no pedestrians to worry about running over. Just miles and miles of hills, leading toward higher mountain-like hills, dotted with sheep and stone walls and, as the road snaked higher, vicious wind and ice pellets.

I put back on my layers, took turns gripping the icy handlebars with one hand and then the other, blew on my frozen digits and then stuffed one hand at a time under my thick sweater.

It was about this point that I spotted a little sign off to the side of the road, a sign placed at the entrance to a picturesque path that led, enticingly, down hill. “This path rejoins the road farther on.” The sign sounded promising as the road was heading up yet another steep incline. I figured some clever engineer had built this gentle path to go around the hill and I would save myself a good deal of time by taking this shortcut.

I veered off the road and down the path less travelled. Almost as soon as I had headed down into a glade of trees just starting to bud (it was early spring when I made this journey) the wind dropped, the evil hail/sleet stopped, and the sun came out. I stopped to peel off my now-soaked layers and for a short few minutes, felt smug.

This feeling ended at about the same time the path disappeared. One moment it was there, the next, I was on some sort of bone-rattling jumble of rocks and gravel scattered willy-nilly over an increasingly steep hillside. And, while I was still headed in a generally downhill direction, it was no longer clear at all where on earth I was supposed to be going.

Run-off from the hills above gurgled and splashed over mossy rocks and when I could no longer thread my way through the chaotic mess, I hopped off and once again pushed the bike. Actually, it was more like I skidded along, trying not to let go of the monstrously heavy beast as it slithered and bucked its way along like a feisty pony determined to be free.

At first I tried to lift the bike over the worst of the rivulets, but soon the trickles of water were more like rivers and I gave up and splashed my way doggedly onward, still convinced that sooner or later I would, indeed, rejoin the road.

The size of the rocks grew as I made my way along until I was in the midst of some wild boulder strewn landscape, moss everywhere, water gushing all around me. I thought of shouting for help, but the water was now so loud and the wind had picked up again and even had there been anybody anywhere nearby I doubt they would have heard me.

I considered turning around and dragging myself and the bike back up the hill, but that seemed too much like giving up and, besides, I was ravenous by this point and I knew there was no food back there anywhere.

So I kept going and would have kept going except I slipped on a particularly slick boulder perched on the side of the hill. My feet flew out from under me and though I tried to stay upright, the weight of the bike, all my unbalanced gear, and the total lack of traction sent me sailing off the top edge of the boulder and onto a thick tangle of brambles below. The bicycle landed on top of and behind me, wedging my backpack between the bike frame and the base of the boulder.

With my arms pinned behind me and entangled in the backpack straps I could not move. I imagined somebody eventually finding my bleached bones in a heap framed by the remains of the rusty bicycle, the tattered orange ribbons formerly known as my backpack caught in my rib cage. They would speculate what on earth this girl with a backpack full of poetry books had been doing in such a desolate place, perhaps the last desolate place in all of England.

This, of course, was long before the days of cell phones. Nobody had any idea where I was or what I was doing. My dropping in on the relatives was supposed to be a jolly nice surprise. Hah!

It took some time and some contortionistic moves but eventually I was able to free myself. I, fortunately, was relatively unharmed – superficial cuts, scrapes, bruises and a raging hunger that had me eyeing the moss for its possible nutritional content.  The bike, sadly, was not in such good shape.

The crash had dislodged the chain and the chain was hidden behind a steel plate. I supposed this was to prevent pants cuffs from becoming entangled, but it meant there was no way for me to pop the chain back into position. The bike had no tool kit and though I was travelling with very important items like brass rubbing equipment, a good luck jade elephant, and my John Denver songbook, I did not have a screwdriver.

There was nothing to be done except drag the broken bike downhill. I certainly wasn’t going back up at this point and I figured that this being England and all, surely sooner or later I would have to come across some sign of human habitation.

And, indeed, after half an hour or so of slogging through more streams and around more boulders and over more fallen logs, I came to a fence. Never have I been so thrilled to see a sign of development in a rural area!

I threw the bike, then the backpack, and finally myself over the fence and surveyed the scene before me.

Me dragging my crippled bike into what I thought was safe territory.

Me dragging my crippled bike into what I thought was safe territory. [E. Colin Williams]

I had emerged into an open meadow. The rich green spring grasses were soaked after the earlier rain. White dots moved about in the field and I realized with glee that I had wound up in a sheep field! This was a great sign, for surely where there were sheep there would be a shepherd. And, where there was a shepherd, surely there would be a screwdriver!

I started dragging the bike across the field and soon spotted a gate way over on the far side. I was making my way toward this promising destination when the sheep spotted me.

I had always been under the impression that sheep are sweet, docile creatures that travel in groups and generally try to stay out of trouble. This might be true of ewes and lambs, but it is most certainly not true of a ram who believes his ladies are in peril.

The ram, who sported a pair of impressive horns, took one look at me dragging my broken bike across his field and decided I was clearly up to no good. He lowered his head, took aim, and charged. I managed to get the bike between me and the charging beast, The impact as he battered the bike was impressive. I staggered backwards, still holding the bike in front of me. I yelled and tried to make myself look fierce while stumbling toward the gate, fending off the crazed ram with kicks and arm waves and strings of expletives not at all appropriate for a young woman.

Never underestimate the fury of a ram protecting his girls.

Never underestimate the fury of a ram protecting his girls. [E. Colin Williams]

Somehow I managed to get myself and the bike through the gate where I collapsed in the grass, gasping for breath.

Which is where the farmer found me. He looked completely baffled to see me there, by now leaning up against his gate post.

“Where did you come from, lass?”

“Through your sheep field.”

“But… there’s nothing up that way. And you had to come past Jock?”

I nodded.

“Best you come inside and have a cup of tea with my wife.”

Given I was about to expire with starvation, I agreed. And, while I enjoyed a lovely cup of tea and a warm scone with cream and preserves in the farmhouse, the kind farmer fixed my bike.

Before long, I was back on my way with instructions as to how to get back to the main road. Several hours after I had taken my detour, I spotted a little sign off to the side of the road, “This path rejoins the road farther on.” Doggedly, I pedaled right on past.

Sometimes the road less travelled is less travelled for a reason!