In some parts of the world, it’s lambing season. I’ve seen some beautiful photos from bloggers in rural areas, and I want to share my “Lamb” story, too.
Steve and I went on a cross-country camping trip in the summer of 2009. One of our primary destinations was Zion National Park in Utah. We chose to camp in nearby Dixie National Forest. The National Forest designation allows camping free of charge anywhere within the boundaries. The land is also used for other things, which present something of a mystery to me. Houses are built in National Forests. ATV roads and logging operations also exist there. The official motto on many National Forest signs is “Land of Many Uses”. You’re never really sure what the land is being used for until you get there, drive around, and check it out. This was my first experience traveling like this. I was used to researching websites and making reservations with check-in and check-out times. Steve assured me that traveling without plans is mostly safe and more of an adventure. “Be open to what arises” was his Zen-like mantra. This trip would definitely shape our relationship, and I was excited about the possibilities.
After bumping down a narrow ATV road in Steve’s Toyota Camry, we discovered a nice spot in an aspen grove away from the big camper-trailers that had gathered in the valley for an off-road rally event. We parked the car and began to look for level ground to set up the tent. In the quiet of the woods, I heard a faint sound. A bird with an unfamiliar song…rather like the sound of a bleating…goat? “Did you hear that?” I asked Steve. Odd. I picked up a roll of toilet paper and began to look for a likely tree to designate as my powder room. Then I saw her. At the base of an aspen, dirty white fur blended into the leaf cover and the white bark. She let out a mournful cry. “Maa-aa-aa!” Oh, my goodness! “Steve!” She was skin and bones. A dry umbilical cord hung from her belly. Her long tail was caked with mud. She rose and began walking away from us. She was shaky and obviously hungry. We started throwing out questions to each other. What do we have here? (I guessed a goat because sheep don’t have long tails. What did I know?) Where is her mother? She needs help. What should we do? Where can we take her? How do we catch her? How involved do we want to get? Where is the ranger station? How long would it take to get there? It’s getting dark; should we set up camp and make dinner first?
We decided to catch her and drive her toward the ranger station, even though we knew it was closed. I put on my leather fire gloves and picked her up. She weighed almost nothing, but I wanted to be gentle and careful of her sharp hoofs. We set off slowly toward the populated area of the forest and came upon a big, white pickup truck we thought might belong to a ranger. It wasn’t a ranger, but a local who was able to tell us that we had a lamb and that there were free-ranging flocks in the forest. We drove back to camp with this information, hopeful that we’d come upon a shepherd on horseback whom we’d seen earlier. As we set up camp, the lamb stayed close. We tried to feed her milk from a water bottle, but she just didn’t catch on. She was bumping and nuzzling between my legs, looking to nurse. I felt helpless not having the equipment she was seeking. Steve wanted to allow her to sleep in the tent with us that night to keep warm. I feel like an ogre now for saying ‘no’, but I was more “citified” back then. She slept on a blanket just outside the tent with her back against its slope all night. In the morning, we made breakfast, took pictures and figured out a plan.
We decided to take a hike. Perhaps we’d find the shepherd. Perhaps Lamb would find her mother. We set out with Lamb following for a bit, then she turned around and sat at the base of the tent again. We went off toward the valley overlook. Suddenly, I heard a clanking bell sound and the bleating of…SHEEP! The flock was in the valley! We raced back to camp, put Lamb in the car, and drove off to the valley. I will never forget the image of Steve crossing the road with Lamb in his outstretched hands, little legs flailing. It wasn’t so easy as just setting her down off the side of the road, though. Oh, no! She kept following ME! I’d creep as close as I dared to the flock without scaring them further away, set her down and then turn and run toward Steve. He was laughing his head off because bounding behind me with more energy than she actually had was the little Lamb, ears flapping, leaping over the tall grass. Obviously, we had to use more stealth, more trickery. I crept very carefully in toward some ewes, put Lamb beside me and stayed stock still. Finally, she recognized her own kind and started moving toward them. As she moved in, I moved back, until finally there was enough distance between us that she couldn’t see me. She began pursuing the ewes, bleating and trying to nurse. My last vision of her was rather sad. She came up behind a ewe who turned and knocked her off her feet with an angry neck butt. I saw Lamb’s white legs upended in the grass. She hadn’t much strength left, but I hoped her persistence would get her some milk. Or that the shepherd would show up soon. I turned toward the car in earnest and forbid myself to look back.
Of course I’ll never know the exact outcome of our encounter with Lamb. I am grateful for all that she taught us about being open to what arises, talking about how we want to behave toward others, and acting with compassion in the best way we can. That little Lamb was instrumental in our formation in many ways, and I hope that we were able to help her.