Sunny’s Big Skip

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Yesterday I took Sunny, the little lamb of my heart, to the large animal clinic at the University of Illinois at Urbana. It was a big experience for both of us as we had never been to a vet that specializes in livestock animals. He had never been in a vehicle and I never drove a lamb anywhere. We took to the highway as an odd yet fitting couple under a cloudy morning. As we pulled out of the driveway I stopped shortly to put some grass in his basket to nibble on the way. I kept the music at a soft level and smiled when I looked over to see a long piece of grass being nibbled at the root and hanging out of the side of his mouth as we wheeled away. The cloudy light struck just enough in his eye to reveal their chocolate nature as they peered up at me.

Since taking him into my room in attempts to sustain and encourage his life to thrive we have formed a remarkable bond. He gets cozy on my chest and folds his legs underneath him, rests his chin upon my clavicle, and falls asleep making the slightest of breathy sounds. I have retired the notion that death is an option and have continued to love him deeply and nourish him whenever he cries in the night and day. I have been very pleased with his gradual improvements and caring for him is a practice in patience. I have never expected him to bounce up like a completely healthy lamb because that was not the start he was handed in life. He was handed a different set of obstacles from the beginning and so if I expected anything it was slow progress. I have been so happy to see him make improvements while continuing to research lambs, conditions they may be susceptible to, and illnesses that follow suit to the symptoms Sunny appears to hold. There were many markers of health which indicated positive growth; he had continued to gain weight, his eating had been more vigorous and steady on the bottle, and his lethargy improved bit by bit but in the most incremental of ways. The latter of which has been the prime point of my concern.

It worried me to see him gaining weight but remaining relatively still for most of the day. His joints appeared stiff and difficult to move. I began to wonder if he suffered from joint ill, polyarthritis, or a bacterial arthritis which would explain why he would get up, take a few steps, and lie back down. I have learned that some lambs suffer this condition, continue to gain weight, their joints become so stiff that it is painful and they remain lame while only getting larger. Sheep as such end up needing to be put down due to their illness. If caught early, however, a simple antibiotic treatment would prevent all of that. I felt the joints in the front of his legs which seemed to be slightly swollen and I wondered if he was in pain.

The veterinarian, students, and vet techs were all fantastic and knowledgeable. Upon entering the clinic everyone fell in love with Sunny immediately and fawned over him as they donned their baby animal cooing voices. I loved to show him to everyone as he shined so brightly and made everyone flourish with happiness. They would say, “Look at that little sprout of white hair! Little Sunny! Are you the sunshine?? You sure are!” and I would say, “I call him my little Sunshine Sprout!” and kiss him on the head. There was not one person that we passed who did not fawn over him and give him their special voice.

I brought a bottle and jar of extra milk for our road trip and brought it into the clinic with me as well in case the doctor wanted to see how he nurses. After bending his joints, feeling around, assessing his walk, watching him lie down after a tiring small walk, taking his vitals, and watching him nurse, an assessment was made. The doctor did not assess that Sunny suffered from joint ill, specifically because of the way he would lie down when tired as he would lay with pressure on the joints- whereas a lamb with polyarthritis or joint ill may lay to the side or completely abandon use of a limb. He did agree that Sunny’s joints did feel swollen, his gait was entirely stiff and guarded, and appeared to have more hampered movements of his front right leg. So, we ran some blood work to see what his vitamin levels are and how much colostrum he received from mom shortly after birth (I am still amazed that this can be assessed by blood work!), and to check for any other potential infections that may be occurring to cause his symptoms and developmental delays.

Sunny was given an anti-inflammatory for his joints and potential pain in the meantime while we wait for blood results. The veterinarian said that if he had inflammation and pain that was preventing him from walking, and contributing to his lethargy, that the medication would show immediate results within a day. I felt it imperative to write now to say that today has been Sunny’s first most healthy day which was filled with such remarkable vitality! Although he sleeps in a playpen in my room, I take him outside during the day to get fresh air and to give him the opportunity to be among his natural elements and walk around. Typically he will just lie in the grass, get up to take a few steps, plop back down, nibble around, and will not leave the area from where he was originally placed. It is as though you sat a turtle down, came back to check to see how far it had surfed 20 minutes later, only to find it moved a few feet. Today he followed me around the barn as I did chores! He would still stop to rest in little nooks as needed but he would get up and move around on his own and he would sometimes follow in a tiny gallop!

Just this weekend I said to a friend, “I hope to see the day where Sunny skips like a lamb in the pasture.” He said, “You will. Your love is keeping him alive!” That made my heart soar and buoyant with more hope as we fed him. Today was the day of Sunny’s great skip. He had a delightful little trot with momentum and gained speed. He rose energetically to follow me multiple times, wiggling his tail as he followed suit, and even braved the slippery tile of the living room to follow me entirely into the kitchen! I laughed because it delighted and surprised me to see him speeding behind me to catch up, moving with abandon of such lethargy I had been used to seeing in his movements. Simply nursing from the bottle used to tucker him out so much that he would lie flat on my thighs after suckling and immediately fall asleep. When the doctor mentioned immediate results should be seen if inflammation and pain was his issue, I thought to myself, “In Sunny-Time that means it will be at least 3-4 days to see any differences,” but after two doses of medication he is quickly becoming a spritely young fellow.

Today, Sunny turned an entirely new leaf. It warms my heart immensely to see him easing out of pain and growing into himself as a healthy lamb. The doctor said, “It seems to me that the persistent nursing and love has treated Sunny quite well, Mom,” which all felt so good to hear. I have cherished my moments with him in the rocking chair feeling in my heart that it was a special time for us, knowing that he would not always be so tiny, and knowing that in time he would be so big that he could no longer knee up on my chest, nor would he cry for me in the night to feed. He is sprouting before my very eyes and I savor exactly where we are, not wanting to miss a beat in his development. Sunny’s flowering hour is upon us. 

Love wins. It always does. Sometimes, it even gives us new legs and new leaves.  

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How The Body Tells A Story

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I woke up this morning bleeding at dawn as the sun crawled to the rooster’s crow. As my eyes roused, I realized I began menstruating in my slumber and so I went in search of underwear and absorbent supplies. “A good sign of fertility,” I thought, as I touched my tummy and thanked my body. Once the baby lamb saw my feet teeter from the bed to the floor, however, he began his moan of hunger which took over any primary response I initially had to take care of myself as I rose to the day. In the night when I scoop him up to feed him, I throw a towel over my shoulder which runs lengthwise down my body, sloping inches off of my shoulder, so that I can swaddle him snuggly making sure to secure his bottom in the towel in case he starts going to the bathroom as he nurses. I figure it might save me a few night gown changes in the twilight of a long evening. Before I could find any underwear I scooped him up the same way in a towel and got an extra one for myself, placing it under me in case I bled more as he nursed. He laid on my lap and took the nipple all on his own, suckling with vigor, and I told him what a good job he was doing, each day, getting better and better, “My little big boy.”  I told him that mommy needed a towel this morning, too. He sniffled in response flaring his top lip and rubbing his head under my chin. I kissed him over and over on his forehead rocking him as he sniff-sniffed. I liked us there as an animal pile in raw forms. I could feel his heart beating on my thighs as he snuggled his head below the weight of my breast.

We’ve not known all week whether or not he would make it, leaving me with no other option than dedicated hope and faith in nature, love, body warmth, loving words, and especially those of belief. He has not sprung to life hopping about like the other new lambs in the pasture and he has days of living ahead of them, but I remind myself to be patient. His first days were not easy. In fact, I would say it’s amazing that he is still alive at this point, and so his slow progress is rather victorious. His mother, Godiva, has had problems nursing her lambs in the past. This time around the story is similar and her kids were not getting the nutrients they needed. Over the weekend one of them died. Godiva and her surviving lamb were put into their own pen in the barn, but she still was not taking great care of her baby and he just lay in the straw in a little ball. She made it very difficult for me to bottle feed him in her presence as she lunged at me with her forehead after backing up to stamp and gain momentum. The little guy was then moved to a pen with the baby goats that formerly lived in my room. There, he balled up under the heat lamp looking only to sleep as the other goats were curious of his scent attempting to figure him out.  Then, that afternoon he came to the nursery of my room so that I could feed him more frequently and try to nurse him to better health.

He is black with dense curls and loosened tendrils of white atop his crown which circles his left ear. The span of his face and bridge of his nose is much wider than that of a goat. His eyes are sweetly chocolate in the sunlight and his eyelashes are distinguished by their long drape against all other hairs which swirl. Little nubs of horns emerge among the curls. When I first brought him inside to nurse I would gently pry open his mouth with my fingers and insert the nipple which would rubber around and milk would spill out the corners of his mouth. Our first night together I stopped counting how many times I got up to feed him; his belly was so small and unaccustomed to taking larger quantities of milk that he could only take half an ounce at a time and I was impressed when he would take 1-1.5 ounces. That was the night of the full lunar eclipse, the Blood Moon. I wrapped him up in the towel and we would gander at the different stages and hues of murky crimson, contemplating the complexities and beauties of the universe in half sleep. Another milky awakening would disclose the moon’s dance arching the trace of a former star’s path and reveal a swollen umber russet. A moon moan later he would drink under a rosy illuminating surface. By 5 AM the sky began to clear to cerulean and the moon shined an effervescent white light which illuminated the spring snow anchored to the budding trees and glinting reflections down below on the pond. I laid him back down in his crib and was able to sleep for an hour and fifteen minutes before his next feeding and my departure to prepare bottles for the rest of the babies and spending time outside to care for the rest of the animal friends in need of food and water. The moment I was done with everyone else, I warmed his bottle, and brought him right back to the rocking chair for another suckle of sweet milk.

Each time I would feed him I felt pangs in my heart. His heart beat and blood warmed his body but his demeanor indicated the opposite of health. I felt my heart and mind riding the cusp of motherly love and self-protection. The desire to give to him fully was rampant but my worry for him rode my brain all the same, and as I held him I was realistic in accepting that his then warm body may not make it, and that maybe one of his night cries wouldn’t indicate a desire for food, but would instead expel a parting breath. The morning after the bleeding moon I took him to my chest in the rocking chair and fed him, picking the mucous from his eyes, and I sang to him, “This little lamb of mine, I’m going to see you shine…This little lamb of mine, I’m going to see you shine…See you shine, See you shine, See you Shine…” Warm tears welled in my eyes and I knew it was the moment that I was committed to the full belief in his life and that I would fully love him for whatever moments he would be here to let me try and help him out of the rocky start his life was grown with. People always think there is a great division between humans and animals and that the same things that comfort humans cannot be felt by animals, but I don’t believe that either. The warmth of an animal is the warmth of an animal, and the tune of one cry can still be felt by the animal with another cry. I remembered how warm my eyes felt when my mother sang to me as a child and I only hoped that inside his tiny body he felt comforted.

Godiva was not doing a great job of cleaning off the little lamb either, and so he smelled like a mixture of a newborn baby and clots of feces. I got a glass of water, towels, and wash cloths, and I laid him upon my desk up against my chest as I began to soak the soiled matting of his curls. I worked through chunks bit by bit, warming the crusted pieces with dabbles of water, waiting for the chunks to soften and then picking them out with my fingernails. I worked through his body this way and then towel dried his curls to make sure no lingering moisture would leave his body chilled. I never knew I could become so acquainted with a lamb’s butt, but there I was, sponging and picking at the little guy in an attempt to make him more comfortable. He has since peed on me twice and pooped in my lap countless times which I immediately take care of and dispose of. I accept all of his fluids, all of his smells, all of his baby lambness, and his little details swell my heart with their endearing nature.

Within a week prior I was driving around gazing at neighboring farms, daydreaming, and I came across a farm with white lambs grazing in the pasture. “I wish we had lambs,” I thought, mostly because I have never been graced by a lamb in my life – only adult sheep here on the farm. Within that same week we were surprised by the sudden and unexpected sprouting of lambs in our own pasture which indicated that one, or many, rams were not castrated properly. There have been many additional lambs born ever since. I see them out there bouncing around forming friendships with other newborn lambs, or skipping at their mother’s side over tree roots, coasting down a hill, and I know how young they are. They are younger than this little boy in my room. Their spritely enthusiasm makes me realize how much tender care this little guy needs, and gives me hope for the day I will first see him skip, should I be graced with that day. For now, we just take things not even day by day, but piece of day by piece of day, by peace of day.

Yesterday, I scooped him up into a towel and a favorite woven blanket. I put his bottle in my big sweater pocket and a vile of lavender essential oil in the other. We lumbered down the stairs and out among the big hickory trees in the soft sunned grasses and lied down. His ebony curls absorbed the sun rays and he bobbled his head around and gummed at the grass and a dead leaf. I massaged him and we talked. I dabbled small bits of lavender oil into curls that could not be reached by his mouth, and as the oil dispersed into the air it was soothing. I lay on the woven blanket and I was glad that he opted for the natural element bed of grass, seeds, twigs, and the fallen half-life of the previous autumn’s leaves. We both took in the healing sun rays, the whistling birds, and the distant gobbling of turkeys. He and I stayed outside until it was again time for me to load up the other bottles with milk and visit the baby goats to nourish their bodies.

This morning as I laid him back in his crib and changed my clothes to begin the daily cycle of bottles and hay runs I paused at myself in the mirror and in mind. I have spent two lunar cycles here on the farm, and my body has followed suit with its own cycles of life. Above my underwear and crescenting above my hip are tracks of bruises which are all from tiny goat hooves anchoring into my body for stability as they nurse. Within these lunar cycles, they have grown and been nourished, cherished, and loved – the very imprint lies beside my belly. My thighs are peppered all the same with dark circles and knots from adult goats perching upon my muscles as they jump up to curiously taste my hair; others are from falls on uneven ground, marks where I have tripped over maple roots; some are from opening gates with my knees while my arms are full of hay; others have origins that are entirely unknown. There are calluses on the underbelly of my knuckles where the weight of water buckets hang heavy with friction. Standing there with red braids folding down my shoulders, amidst my second lunar cycle, listening to the lamb knee down into cozy post feeding comfort, seeing myself flecked with bruises, I was able to see a woman from the outside, mid-story, flower sprouting, some clearly maternal version. There stood a body that answered a call, and in turn, has gotten a world of meditations, teachings, comforts, insights, and an avenue to express unconditional love which boils from within. My work with animals and people is for life, and there is no way I would rather live, than at home in the world with hoof bruises as a mark of another creature’s nourishment. It is a cycle of giving so fair that I feel for the rest of my days I will spend nurturing such relationships – for the joy of the creatures, the joy of myself, and introducing that joy to as many others as possible. Animal stewardship consistently expands my heart and funds soulful contentedness. You pay duty to another creature to assist them through their point of path but what you receive in return of this relationship is multifold and “duty” becomes the wrong word entirely. Ah. The lamb is in my heart.

Animals heal us in myriad of ways and touch us across many spectrums. It is a truth I feel significantly and so I have spent many of my adult years learning how to bring more animals and nature into my own life and into the lives of those I love. The relationships and teachings of each are so rich that you do not find yourself begrudging lack of sleep when you find yourself nursing every 45 minutes to an hour, and it is how you find yourself picking poop out of lamb’s butt as it cries, and it’s how you laugh when it pees all over you.  Today my heart swells with what is known: that I am already a mother of many, and I am strong enough, and independent enough, to bare the bruises and glory of a homestead. This is my mother body. This is my life’s work. And each day the sun rises is another opportunity for me to dig my roots deeper and carve out the homestead of my future while I work at the one I am at now, in service to the animals and land, here at Antiquity Oaks. Beautiful dreams and plans coalesced this week in my heart and mind and I felt that glorious CLICK which comes along with my desire to jump into my next big plan of life adventure. Last night as the little lamb fell asleep yet again, sweetly tucked under my chin after exploring my face, my heart felt as warm as my eyes did to my own mother’s song as I rocked him gently into slumber.

I felt how glorious it is when you sway in a gentle moment of All Things Coming Together, just like the little constellation of hooves as a reminder on my side.