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the crying game

Posted 12/6/2009 8:06pm by Catskill Merino.

Yesterday was slow; it drizzled most of the day; market goers stayed inside. Worse, temperatures fell into the 40's as the daylight diminished; loading the truck was painful: gloves got wet, fingers got cold. 

On the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel it began to snow.  The snow got heavier as I drove northwest into New York, but my fellow drivers were surprisingly bold for the first snow of the year and I was able to safely go 60-65 MPH on the NYS Thruway.  At the farm, I unloaded the unsold lamb into freezers and stroked Poem in her kennel, bade her good night  before I drove home, stopping at a convenience store—as is my habit—for a pint of Häagen Dazs Vanilla (from the seed pods of 100' tall orchids) that I microwave to savor in semi-melted spoonfuls—the cream, the sugar—as I dreamily watch Book TV on C-Span: Eric Etheridge took questions about his book Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders.

I usually sleep well Saturday night; market marks the end of the week and Sunday has the attitude of a day off even when I must go to the farm, as I usually do, to feed the sheep, work Poem and plan work for the week ahead.  The sky above was blue, the fallen snow was bright and I wore sunglasses; I moved slowly through my chores and saw myself in a TAZ, Temporary Autonomous Zone, a mental space that eludes formal structures of control by an anarchy of the self; for me, this rebellion is first psychological then political using TAZ to devour its own anarchistic strictures as a serpent devours its tail. 

Just the sun, the sky, the snow, the sheep, the dog—nothing more and nothing less—no yesterday, no tomorrow, no money, no debt, no love, no hate...just simple things to do.

As I got off the tractor to start filling the feed pails;  my neighbor, Dale, wearing deer-hunter orange overalls, whizzed by the barn on his four wheeler; seeing me, he stopped and motioned for me to come over.  He smiled proudly, "My buddy shot a coyote for you, in the woods this morning; hit it from his tree stand with a .30-06...ran in a circle, spewed blood everywhere on the snow..."  "A dog or a coyote," I asked.  "Coyote," he grinned—my heart sank—but I forced a smile and said, "Great! hey, thank you," hoping my words didn't sound as empty as they felt.  "Thank him, he's bringing it back on his four wheeler..."

The coyote was on the rack behind the seat, legs in the air; its blood still dripped into the wet snow that diluted it pink below the Yamaha.  It was a bitch, healthy, 2-3 years old, about Poem's weight, 25 lb.  Her eyes were closed; the mouth was slightly open, the tongue out to the side.  Her teeth were purely white; I felt compelled to touch one of the 3/4 inch long canines; it was dry, not wet as a tooth should be.  There was an exit wound where the heart had been; it was a good, quick kill.

"My buddy shot a coyote for you..."  Dale had said.   His words rang like a church bell only I could hear standing there silently in the circle of orange-clad deer hunters who joked about the kill.  I stared at the blood on the snow.  This real coyote had become Proust's fictional madeleine*. But  instead of a mother-loving childhood being awakened, as eating the cake had done for Marcel, another memory of the more recent past came up:

The dead coyote didn't do this—no coyote did—this was done by a neighborhood dog last September.  (see The Crying Game II)   A coyote would have taken this ewe by the neck and killed her in seconds to eat her liver; this carnage is from a humanized dog, a pet dog; judging by the number and extent of her injuries, my guess is that the attack lasted almost a half hour; the dog  chased her round and round (as the flock watched) and bit her repeatedly in the hind quarters (the mark of a dog attack)  Tiring, she finally gave up and went down. knowing she was going to die, but domestic dogs rarely kill, they play with their prey.  They play at being wild; this is their nature. (I see it in Poem, I work with it, I train her to use her nature for me, to herd sheep with just the threat of her teeth, safely, proudly.) Down but alive—the play-crazed dog gnawed on her left leg—she lost wool, she lost skin, she lost blood, the flesh was gone, the will to live was going...  Why did the dog stop?  Probably because the ewe stopped struggling, as she had resigned herself  to die.  Bored, the dog left; but it will come back.

I remember

the morning after, when I was treating the ewe with iodine, Dale came by to ready the tree stands for the coming season (he runs a hunting club in the woods behind the pastures) and saw the ewe.  He grimaced, "A coyote?"  "No, a dog," I said.  He looked at me questioningly.  "It's always dogs," I said, "if you see any dogs back there you kill them for me."    "Yeah, " he said. "Tell everybody who hunts the woods, collars or not, shoot them."  "Yeah,"  he said nodding his head.  Dale's a hunter, an outdoorsman with a ready smile, a gift of gab, but he said nothing, after looking at what  domestic dogs can do, rather he looked like he'd come down with the flu.  As generalizing, as predjudicial and as difficult as preemptive killing is, I said what I had to—this is part of the pact—my job is to protect my sheep. With a surgeon's scalpel, I went back to the ewe, both red and real blood on my iodine-orange hands, to cut more ripped skin away from the leg, preventing infection, to help her heal.

This ewe (#313) survived, she no longer limps and is doing well; if all goes as planned she will have a lamb in the spring.

I like to listen to coyotes howling; they blend beauty and danger. 

I remember

one night, near the house, I heard an incredible antiphonal chorus of a bitch and her pups, the call and answer of medieval chant, I was mesmerized—no piece of music has ever affected me like that—I lay in bed, listening, unbelieving, enraptured.  The song was coming from the south, the sheep were to the west.  Were they safe, were they all there?—the music faded—I slept.  Nobody is ever missing.

I remember

Dream Song 29

There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart   
só heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time   
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry’s ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

And there is another thing he has in mind   
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly,   
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;   

But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody’s missing.   
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing.

The Dream Songs, 1969.  John Berryman.


*Madeleines are perhaps most famous for their association with involuntary memory in the novel À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past,) in which Marcel experiences an awakening upon tasting a madeleine dipped in tea:

And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal...

And suddenly the memory returns.

 —Remembrance of Things Past, Volume 1: Swann's Way,  Marcel Proust, 1913.  Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff.

Posted 10/6/2009 9:52pm by Catskill Merino.

Bitten Yearling

This yearling ewe is the second victim of the dog attack; she almost died even though her original injuries were less severe than those of 313.  I found her two days after the attack.  The body areas, where I'd clipped the wool away,  were covered  with maggots, 1000's of them.  The flies found her before I did; they are attracted to wounds beginning to heal.  I didn't see her when I looked the flock over on the day of the attack; the bites were superficial and hidden by her wool.

She was bitten in the four places you see iodine: the upper flank, the belly, the hock and the dock.  I noticed her during the daily, mid-paddock flock check with my herding dog Poem; she didn't get up when I walked toward her—something was wrong—she looked at me helplessly, then I saw the flies around her dock.  Taking hold of her, I parted the wool over her tail; I saw several maggots, then more squirming away from the light.  I detest flies. Treatment for fly strike is to clip all the wool away from the affected area exposing the maggots, bathe the area in peroxide, dress the wounds with iodine and administer a fly repellant—this took almost 2 hoursI was surprised how far from the dock (where the flies first laid their eggs) the maggots had spread under the wool. 

Being alone and having no tailgate on my farm truck, I took her in the cab with me and drove her back to the special care area with my free arm around her neck in a loose headlock in case she jumped around.  But weakened by the ordeal, she went along for the ride; the truck smelled of iodine.

Dogs play with sheep, they chase them and bite themsometimes ripping the flesh away to expose tendons and bones—and before finishing off the sheep, the dog will leave because it's bored or hungry and go home for a bowl of Puppy Chow in the kitchen.  Playful dogs  kill sheep slowly; their victims are eaten alive by fly larva, death in the warm Summer months comes in about 3 days.  "Where is Puff, Spot?"

A newsletter reader, a dog lover judging from her email address, demanded that I unsubscribe her from the mailing list after the first installment of The Crying Game—she didn't comprehend the unhappy irony of happiness is a warm gun—and I did take her off the list without making comment on  her prayerful advice to me about my fences on my property;  but I must dedicate this to her dogs in hope they never stray from her.

I know all there is to know about the crying game
I've had my share of the crying game

First there are kisses, then there are sighs
And then before you know where you are
You're saying goodbye

Don't want no more of the crying game
Don't want no more of the crying game

The Crying Game, sung by Boy George, written by Stephens, Geoff.

Posted 10/1/2009 2:38pm by Catskill Merino.

The Monday before last we put the ewe flock (~200 hd.) into a new 7 acre paddock, their last rotation of the year as growth slows this time of the year;  the forage was 4' tall and weedy with golden rod and other late-season growth.  A Cornell Cooperative Extension agent had come out to look at the pastures; after walking through the brushy paddock, she said, "Yes, let the sheep in here, they'll eat what they want and leave the rest."

But what scared me about that paddock was its height; I couldn't see what was in there and when the sheep entered it I wouldn't be able to see them when they moved away from the fence lines that had been cut the day before with a roaring 15' rotary cutter behind a 125 HP John Deere tractor.  I hoped the noise of the farm machinery would tell any unseen predators in the brush that man was coming and they should "be gone!"

Weedy Paddock 

Tuesday morning when Dominique arrived at the farm she noticed that 30 odd ewes had knocked the fence down, gone over it and were in another paddock—this meant trouble—inside the brushy paddock, she found the rest of the flock; they were agitated.   She saw  that 313 had been  severely maimed. She called and I rushed over with Poem.  Forensically, I wanted to know what she'd come upon, where the sheep were, where the fence was down, where 313 was bitten, where in the paddock had the attack occurred, and most importantly were there other victims of the attack.

On command Poem gathered the flock to us as she does and we looked everybody over as they milled around us; at that time, we saw no other victims.  313 was off to the side hobbling;  I called Poem away and we loaded the ewe into the back of the truck; Dominique got in and held her for the bumpy ride back to the barn where I could more closely examine and treat her.

Based on the evidence: that 313 was bitten in the hind quarters, that only one sheep was attacked,  that the she had been bitten many times and not killed, that the attack lasted 10-20 minutes I  determined  that the attack was by a dog not a coyote.

Horror of horrors, it looked like we may have fenced a dog into the paddock with the sheep—in the 3 1/2 years on this property this was the first predator attack—there have been no fence transgressions.   My electric fences are considered the most effective  type of fence at keeping coyotes and dogs out; but unfortunately, they would be equally effective at keeping them in, and this is what probably happened as the ewes had been in an adjacent paddock for the last 3 weeks having had no problems there.

The dog was gone when we got there, it probably got out where the fence was down.  I supposed  (hoped) it got hit by the fence while trying to escape and this shock(s) would discourage it from coming back—only time would tell if I was correct.  It was late in the day; I had no place to put the ewes but based on the facts as I sifted them, I decided to keep the sheep where they were.  Yes, this was a gamble, but it was the only bet I had.

My rifle and hand guns hadn't been cleaned for years; I might need  them now.  I drove to a late-night gun store to buy solvent, oil & patches; and I bought ammunition for my stainless steel .357 SP101 Ruger revolver; I loaded it and drove back to the paddock at nightfall, the time when predators stalk and kill.  I wasn't going there to kill—doubting the dog would return so soon and in daylight—I was going there to make noise; .357 's are loud hand guns.  My purpose was to shoot and scare away all bad guys within earshot.  I fired rounds into the ground pointing the revolver at the points of the compass directing the gun-sound 360 degrees.  The sheep looked at me like I was crazy—round and round I went in my death-defying dance—then with hope in my heart and an empty gun in my hand I bid the girls good night, Poem and I drove home.  I slept well; what would happen would happen, I had done what I could.  But  at dawn when we  headed back to the paddock—getting closer and closer—my heart  began to pound as loudly as my .357.  When I saw them, the ewes were quiet and chewing their cuds with that dreamy look in their eyes; I felt silly, but I felt good like I'd  survived a natural disaster. 

Just driving up to the paddock and honking the horn may have worked as well as firing my revolver there; but I like to shoot the .357.  With the hammer cocked the slightest pressure pulls the custom trigger; it is incredibly accurate for having a 2" barrel and it really kicks. Morning and night, for several days, I went there and shot up the ground, firing in all directions, seeing myself playing drums of the spheres, "POP, pop-POP, pop-POP"  or "pop-POP-pop, POP, pop," I varried my 5 shot tattoo.  The dog hasn't come back, maybe I was right, maybe the fences are still effective, or maybe it wanted nothing to do with the beat of my dancing gun.

Next: Another victim.

Posted 9/28/2009 9:48pm by Catskill Merino.

The film (by Neil Jordan) begins as a psychological thriller; IRA foot soldier Fergus (Stephen Rea) and a unit of other IRA members, including a woman named Jude (Miranda Richardson), kidnap Jody (Forest Whitaker), a British soldier. They want the release of jailed IRA members and threaten to execute Jody in three days if their demands are not met.

While Fergus guards Jody, they develop a bond. Jody says he knows that Fergus won't kill him because it's not in his nature and tells him the story about the frog and the scorpion: the scorpion, wishing to cross a stream, asked the frog to let him ride his back over the stream. When the frog asked the scorpion how he could be sure that the scorpion would not sting him, the scorpion replied that if he did sting him, it would mean death by drowning for both of them. The frog complies, carrying the scorpion on its back across the stream. Before they reach the other side, however, the frog feels pain and realizes that the scorpion has stung him.

The frog asks, "Why did you sting me, Mr. Scorpion? For now we both will drown!" The scorpion replies, "I can't help it, it's in my nature."

The  sheep asks, "Why did you maim me, Mr. Dog?"  The dog replies, "I can't help it, it's in my nature."  They say a good shepherd's nature is to turn the other cheek; but caring for sheep, my nature had to become different. 

I found the ewe, tag # 313, in the morning; she had been bitten many times by a neighborhood dog; it  gnawed her left rear leg to the bone at the hock;  the attack must have lasted 20 minutes or longer judging by the number of wounds. The dog was playing with her, ripping at her hind quarters as she tried to run away; a coyote would have taken the ewe by the throat and killed her in seconds.  I respect the nature of coyotes, they kill efficiently, they don't mess around, they kill to eat.

I clipped her wool with a hand shear to expose the bites, I cut the torn skin away with a scalpel to expose the flesh preventing infection. I applied iodine to her wounds and I put her on penicillin to be administered IM for 10 days. 

She will recover but  probably walk with a limp. 

Shepherds in Virginia say, "A dog never crosses my property." 

"Happiness is a warm gun," sing the Beatles.