Reflections from the Swamp
He wanted $125.00 for two lambs on the condition that I took an ancient “yow” in the bargain. I stuffed the sheep into the back seat of the old blue 78 Volare and rolled out into the clear blue spring morning. I had livestock! I got lucky at the Carp Co-op and bought a hundred chicks that someone changed their mind about. Usually, one has to order chicks ahead. I purchased a heat lamp, some feed, and a watering can.
Nothing had ever felt better. We found an abandoned farmhouse in Corkery. The deal was that we could rent it for two years and use the rent money as a downpayment. There is a God, life is good, and I think the backseat is starting to stink. Who cares! How many people do you know who make $12 an hour and have four kids and a bride who can still dream of owning a house?
The house appeared at the end of the dirt road, standing tall against the swamp below. The hundred-year-old house was set back about 700 feet from the road, seemingly alone in a vast sea of fresh green grass peppered with wildflowers that had never seen a mower. As I drove over the culverts past Coady creek, I imagined that the sheep were approvingly casing out their new home. Only then did I notice that I had no fences to speak of. A sad remnant of a wire fence followed the driveway to the house. A gap appeared in the fence big enough to drive through, so I veered the car into the field and parked.
No neighbours lived nearby. I figured that the sheep would be better off in the field than in my car, so I let them out. I shoved out a turd sitting on the seat with my hand and wiped my hand off on my pants. I made a note to buy one of those pine-scented deodorizers that hang from the rearview mirror. Having no experience with sheep, I scanned my memory, looking for connections. All that I could come up with were biblical references. “The sheep will follow the good shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want”. I mistakenly assumed that the sheep would stick around because I was obviously the good shepherd. This Bible passage didn’t apply to me.
I brought the 100 chicks into the summer kitchen of the house and told my bride about the sheep. She gave me one of those looks that let you know that this may not end well. My bride grew up on a farm and remembered that chicks sometimes suffocate when they pile up in a box corner. She remembered that wolves find sheep easier to catch than deer. We had a circular plastic kiddy pool which we placed in the summer kitchen and filled the pool with the chicks. My bride was worried about them catching a chill in the barn. The kids were upset that they had to use an old discarded bathtub instead.
The next day I went out and couldn’t find the sheep, except for Granny, the old sheep. Like the kids, I assumed that the sheep were exploring the surrounding area. They must be having a great time! The kids came home for supper, but the sheep were still exploring somewhere. Oh well, they’ll come back tomorrow.
The chicks in the summer kitchen were starting to stink. I changed the newspapers we had placed in the pool.
My neighbour, whom I had never met, came over in his truck on Saturday morning. We exchanged greetings, during which I learned that he was a fifth-generation farmer from across the road. I told him that I was a first-generation farmer from the city. He said, “I already figured that out.” Do you know anybody who may have lost a pair of yows?” I didn’t know what a yow was and asked him. He said a yow was a female sheep. Yes, we did; I hadn’t seen them for a few days. He wasn’t sure if he believed me, so he asked me what they looked like. I said they were short and fluffy. “Fluffy? he said. Well, they’re over in my barn.” Before he left, he said, “Nice bunch of chicks you got there; most people around here keep their chickens in a barn or coop. You can come over and pick up your yows now if you like.”
My neighbour didn’t offer to bring the sheep over. I drove my Volare across the road and into his driveway. Two or three of my neighbour’s brothers were fixing a tractor and enjoying each other’s company. Catching sheep, straddling them while clinging onto their wool, and shuffling them to the Volare was a task to behold. I opened the back door and stuffed her into the backseat. I repeated the finagling until both sheep were in the car. I opened the rear windows enough to allow the sheep to stick their heads out and let in some fresh air.
One of the brothers remarked, “Those yows look pretty comfortable back there with their heads sticking out the window.” I wasn’t sure what to say, so I replied,” Yes, they do, don’t they. I don’t have a dog, so I take them out for drives on Sundays. We often go to Peterson’s for ice cream.“
On Sunday, we went to St. Micheal’s Corkery for the first time. After mass, people would go outside and chat. Nobody knew us. I joined a circle of men standing around smoking and making conversation. One man piped up,” Yesterday, I talked to a neighbour. It seems that some city folk moved into the old Scott’s place. The guy doesn’t have a truck or a dog, so he takes his sheep over to Peterson’s for ice cream on Sundays. We all started hysterically laughing. “Holy Mary, what’s this world coming to!”
Two years later, I was helping a friend who was painting a house in Galetta. During a break, some of the other workers asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Corkery. “Corkery, he repeated. Did you ever hear about the guy from Corkery who took his sheep in his car to Peterson’s in Almonte for ice cream?” “Yes, I replied, I hear about him all the time.”
We have since had a truck and a dog and no longer raise chickens in our summer kitchen. Andy Warhol said everyone is famous for fifteen minutes at some point in their lives. Try bringing some sheep out in your car for ice cream on Sundays, and your fame will last for years!
Don’t raise your chickens in the summer kitchen room! It’s not worth the kind of fame you might want. Clean out the kiddie pool you used to start chickens before giving it back to your kids. Believe me, I now know. I’ve been there.