The ram raises his head, nostrils flaring, upper lip curling… as invisible hormones waft through the air to his corner of the barn. He climbs up on the gate to see where this aphrodisiac is coming from. It engulphs him, hitting him over the head. From the depths of the barn - heat, lanolin, wool, hormones, waste, moisture, all combine; rise and attach to walls, clothing, hair; filling nostrils. The pails of water are kept from freezing…the ones that sit within the depths of the barn.
But the north and east doors to the barn, remain open, bringing the chill of winter winds, freezing the pails of water at the edge of the barn, as they pass over them. Without these winter winds, the sheep would get sick. They clean as they work their way through the barn, pushing and purging.
When I brought home my first goats, I insulated the north and west walls of the barn with Styrofoam to help keep the prevailing winds out, attempting to save the girls from the harshness of winter. I had read that Angora goats were sensitive to draughts. But since then, my farmer wisdom has grown and the insulation is long gone except for a few pieces, behind which the barn sparrows have stuffed straw for nests. My neighbour and friend, Bill, stood and scratched his head when I did this…and laughed. I warn the resident sparrows that they are next to go along with the remaining pieces of Styrofoam… along with the mess they make.
In early winter at dusk one evening, I emptied out a bucket, to find a young sparrow that must have just tumbled into the water. Picking him up, I held him in my hands, warming his body, trembling and gasping for air. In the house, I dried him off, put him in a box, turned out the lights and said good night. Come morning, I set him free to fly back to the barn to climb back into his nest, behind the insulation.
I regret that the siege of winter might not come this year as it is early February and we have not used our snow plough once. Could it be- we will not have to come out to do battle with winter, hiding in snow drifts and layers of clothing, our cheeks pink, toes tingling, breath warm and moist against our scarves. During such a siege, the barn becomes a fortress, its frame hidden away behind a wall of snow, quiet and alert; where everything within is heightened, colours deep and full, sounds which echo and emotions that hang in the air.
After engaging winter with snow ploughs and shovels, we retreat to the house with icy gloves, feeling pleased that we have done well. We wait, coming together over hot drinks as the siege continues, all the time listening to winter raging. We draw even closer together… over our combined efforts.
With morning, we emerge thrilled, staring at the spoils of war: a study of contrasts…spreading monochromes of whites and tiny perfect crystals that cling, flat hard patches of ice and sculptured snow drifts which lean and we all separate and dig our way out to cars, back to the world.
The bedroom window is open to a cool breeze. It carries the sound of a pair of Red tail hawks as they hunt the perimeter of the property. Life is easier for them this winter. They hunt the exposed mice that scurry over the mud.
The wool hats, scarves and mittens remain lying on the seat by the front door and I think…not today.