On December 11th, 2016, we were reminded that we share our land and our life with many creatures who have lived in this environment for many generations. John went out to feed the sheep their breakfast and found Reyna, our beautiful 2015 ewe, lying on her back dead. She was in the corral, gates closed, and all the rest of the sheep were untouched. But Reyna had been killed and dragged several feet. Apparently her killer had intended to move her to a more sheltered space to feed off her. Perhaps the killer slipped away when John opened the door; perhaps the dog had barked when he noticed activity in the corral–at any rate, the killer was not around. Stunned, we studied the dead sheep and the surrounding area, wondering what kind of creature could have done this. A coyote would not have been able to drag the sheep. Any dog-like creature would have chased, and all the sheep would be showing signs of stress. This had been a silent killer.
My sister Cathi and I studied the muddy ground nearby, and she was the first to spot the tracks.
Still shocked, I called the vet’s office. I wanted to know if anyone had reported predators in our area, and I wanted to know if I should call anyone to report our loss. They had not heard of any recent predator losses, but suggested I call the Department of Fish and Wildlife. An hour later, Bud Weaver, tracker for the Department, confirmed our suspicions: this was the work of a cougar.
The most amazing thing is, two hours later, Bud and his hounds had treed and shot the cougar. He was not a healthy-looking animal and we do not have lovely pictures of him. This is the first and only time I have seen a cougar in the 31 years we have lived here.
On Sunday the 19th, we were home all day doing farm chores, weaving and spinning. When I went to the barn to feed the sheep their dinner, I found Raven standing near a newborn lamb, licking and calling to it. In anticipation we had already set up a lambing pen, so it was very easy to get this experienced mother and her baby into the nearby pen. John just picked up the wet lamb, held it under mama’s nose, and walked backward into the pen. 20 minutes later Raven took a quick break from lamb-licking to lie down and deliver its twin (a few grunts and three pushes was all it took). Two boys, both white, 12 and 11 1/2 pounds. A classic, easy birth and a great way to start the 2017 lambing season. We had hoped for a natural colored ewe lamb, but we’re happy to have these healthy little guys. The one on the right is less than 5 minutes old in this picture.
John continues to work on two projects, one at home and one at the Damascus Fiber Arts School. The tightly packed rugs take many months to complete. In this photo you can see how John’s architectural drafting skills contribute to his weaving. He takes plenty of time to create the design, then prints out several copies so he can try different color schemes. There are always adjustments to be made once the weaving it underway, but it’s essential to start with a good plan.
The challenges at the floor loom seem a bit different. I decided to weave a “leftovers” piece, using leftover yarns from John’s tapestries for the weft and some finely spun two-ply dark brown weft yarn made from Jan and Jeff Jacqua’s Jacob fleeces. I planned to space the warps wide–4 per inch–to give the thick Romney yarns lots of room to celebrate their color and texture. I use a spreadsheet rather than a drawing to record all the yarns and determine the sequence of colors and treadling patterns that I will use. With this weaving, after two inches I knew I needed to rethink my plan. Rather than packing it firmly, I decided to lay the yarns in very gently, allowing a lot of space in both directions. Here is what it looked like on the loom.
On the loom, this piece was sett at 42 inches wide and the warp was 3 yards long. Off the loom, it quickly relaxed to 35 inches wide. But once it was fulled (washed in very warm water and hung to dry), its character changed.
Now just 27 inches wide, the fabric is very thick and the twill patterns are less evident. I was determined not to worry about “what it is.” But looking at the fabric, I am thinking of a couple of big couch pillows with these beautiful colors.
In January, we give the ewes a booster shot to prevent overeating diseases, and we check their bellies and udders to assess how close they are to having lambs. With hand shears, we cut away some of the wool that can make the udder hard for baby lambs to find. This year, we noted that a few ewes were observed consorting with Robert in early and mid October. Add five months and you can predict that lambs will arrive in March.
Sure enough, they did: all but one arrived within 10 days of each other, then there was a gap of about three weeks until the very last baby was born to a first-time mother. We have six females and two males. All were good sized, generally over 10 lbs. However, we lost two big, apparently healthy lambs during the birth process. Most likely they got stuck and the cord was pinched. Life on the farm definitely has its ups and downs.
I (Marilyn) am not an accomplished knitter. It has to be simple or I will be ripping it out over and over, especially since I only knit when watching TV. I so admire beautiful lace and cables, but I stick to the basics. I managed to knit a new hat, three pairs of finger-less gloves, and a vest, all with hand-spun yarn. Knitting side-to-side goes quickly and produces vertical stripes, which are necessary for my shape!
For several years, the Northwest Regional Spinner’s Association local chapter has organized a wonderful retreat early in January. Lyn Ward, our wonderful president, took the lead to find venues, make all the arrangements, and manage the registration. It’s been held in the cabins at Silver Falls State Park for a couple of years, but this year we went to the Alton Collins Center near Eagle Creek. There is no agenda other than spinning and relaxing for a weekend in the company of some wonderful people. Here is proof:
John has increased the size of his weaving projects, and the results aren’t mats, they are small rugs. Two now reside upstairs in our study and bedroom. They don’t slip when laid over carpet. Each rug represents many months of spinning, dyeing and weaving, not to mention the sheep’s year-long efforts to grow the wool.
This rug was inspired by an embroidered bird motif made by Pueblo people. But when daughter Tracy saw it she exclaimed, “It’s a turtle!”
This dark blue rug is one of a pair that were inspired by the Zapotec weaving style of Mexico. On the bed is a blanket Marilyn made using the floor loom and a “summer and winter” weave structure. She thinks of it as “Windowpanes.”
It was a beautiful day for the October pumpkin harvest and as always, we had family and friends out to pick the pumpkins, wash the mud off, draw straws to determine the order of selection, then choose pumpkins to take home. After we harvest, we have some hearty harvest soup and then load the cars.
On the day before John was to depart for Australia for his annual family visit, a wind storm struck. We had plenty of warning, and spent time taking down our umbrellas and making sure there were no loose garden implements that could fly around in the wind. We rounded up our headlamps and made sure they were working. We should have filled several buckets with water for washing and flushing, because in these parts, high wind = no power, and no power = no pump to retrieve water from the well. It was fine for the first 6 or 8 hours: we cooked excellent meals on the grill outside and boiled water for tea. We found ways to spin and weave with our headlamps on. But when there was still no power the next morning, we were missing our showers. Buckets of rainwater heated slowly on the stove provided a pretty good substitute. You can live without power, but it changes the pace of things–which is not terrible except that the rest of the world which is not without power seems to be spinning at a much faster rate and sometimes it is hard to step onto that moving walkway. Nevertheless, we made it to the airport and John is on his way to see his mother and sisters. Given that over 70,000 people lost power, we were grateful that ours was restored in just 24 hours.
This year we realized we have more sheep than we need. We had 9 or 10 breeding ewes and expected they would all have lambs, but 5 of the 6 yearlings also produced lambs. And the fleeces from all these lovely animals were filling the studio. Marilyn spent the summer washing fleece after fleece. John sold a few fleeces to his fellow weavers, and Marilyn sold some fleeces and some roving at her summer spinner’s retreat. But still, there was a mountain of fleece in the studio. We were determined to reduce our flock to 6 breeding ewes and to market our fleeces.
For us, sometimes the best way to market live animals is to load them all into the truck and take them to the auction yard. Shearer Beth had taken five lambs, but we still had some older ewes and additional lambs that needed to go to market. So one Sunday afternoon we loaded all these fine animals into the truck and off they went. Prices were good that week, and now our flock is down to just 12 animals. 4 of those are market lambs that will ultimately go into the freezer, leaving us with a flock of 8.
We’ve never tried to sell fleeces at the big gatherings. But the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival makes it easy. You just show up Sunday morning with your table and your fleeces, pay an entrance fee, and the people start coming at 9:00. We had five fleeces, all washed, with shiny white locks and nice information sheets that told the weight off the sheep, after skirting, and after washing. Three were lamb fleeces, one was from Robert the ram, and one was a ewe’s fleece. At 10:00 we still had them all and I began to worry. Were there too many Romney fleeces to choose from? Were the other fleeces less expensive–I had not spied on the competition to find out what they were charging. Did people only want the exotic Wensleydales and Jacobs? But it turns out other people shop like I do–they walk around and look at everything, then plunge. By noon all our fleeces were gone and we were heading for home. Income from wool sales this year: about $500. Income from flock sales: about $1000. Beautiful woven rugs, shawls, knit items: can’t value them. Home grown lamb in the freezer: yummmmm.
What wonderful tomato-onion-kalamata olive salads we had, night after night! Tasty fresh broccoli, grilled zucchini, bell peppers, green beans, and corn. Then there were the pears, the beets, the blackberries, more tomatoes, corn and beans, hot peppers–all to be processed and stored for later. The warm dry summer meant that we were surprised at times: abundant tomatoes, but not very big. Failed crops of strawberries and raspberries but gallons of wild blackberries. Having a garden is always an interaction between the human, the climate, the soil, the plants themselves, and all the other creatures large and small who want to consume those plants.