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Country Lifestyle: Lambs Symbolize New Life in More Ways Than One

A photo of Colleen NewquistWhen I started this blog, I talked about living “as if” – the notion that if you want your life to be a certain way, start living as if it is. So I’ve been trying to live as if we have the country lifestyle I want. In just two months, it's remarkable how much closer I feel to that life.

What has made the difference? My husband, Michael, says it’s mostly a state of mind. That’s true. Being at the wheel of an SUV has helped, too. As silly as it sounds, swapping my two-door BMW for a Jeep Cherokee might not be best for gas mileage or the environment, but it has done wonders for my psyche.

 Leicester Longwool lamb

Driving a Jeep has its practical side, too. When we visited Eau Claire recently and checked out an abandoned house for sale on 37-acre scenic tract of land, I had no problem navigating the uphill, deeply rutted dirt driveway. Back home, it was much to fun to take advantage of a sale at Menards and load 30 bags of mulch into the back. And crazy as it sounds, it was just as fun to unload it all and schlep it around the yard. It was great to be outside and moving.

That’s part of my “country” mindset – a determination to be more physical and do as much as I can for myself. I spend so much of my day on my butt, in front of a computer, or in the car, commuting back and forth to the city, it’s wonderful when I have the opportunity to get my hands dirty.

I’ve noticed a shift in my willingness to exercise more independence, too. Not that I’m anything but independent – I mean, really, I’ve hardly been the type to depend on my husband for anything but partnership, love, and laughter – but I’ve always been content to let him do a lot of “guy” things. Whether it’s true or not, I imagine I’ll get the most out of rural living if I just do what needs to be done when it needs to be done and not wait for someone else to do it for me. Plus Michael has made it abundantly clear that if I want to be a farmer of any type, that’s fine, but he wants no part of it. His passion is for making art; when it comes to tilling a field or shearing sheep, I’ll be on my own.

So when the warning light came on alerting me that my tires were low, I did something I simply wouldn’t have done before – I bought a tire gauge, used it, and put air in my tires. Ridiculous, I know, that I’m finding even a tiny source of pride in that. I can hear you laughing from here. It’s not that I didn’t know how or didn’t want to – I just didn’t need to. I could mention it to Michael, procrastinate about taking care of it, and then he would just do it for me. Now I have my own tire gauge, and I’m feeling pretty cool about it.

I was so emboldened, in fact, that when I found a dead young cardinal in the yard, I did something else I never would do – I picked it up in my garden-gloved hand, carried it to the fence between our yard and the nature preserve, and buried it in a shallow grave. Now THAT, I admit, is something I would completely avoid doing in the past. I’d get always get the willies about touching dead animals. At most I’d pick up a dead mouse with a plastic bag and then grimace while running to the nearest garbage can, repulsed by the faintest contact with its limp body. I’ve never had any problem with looking at animal remains – like a deer skeleton in the woods – but touching them, that’s a whole ’nother ballpark.

I decided I’d have to get over that, and pretty quick, if I imagine any livestock roaming a future farmyard. The closest any of us suburbanites usually get to the cycle of life and death is when a pet dies – and many of us will spend inordinate amounts of cash in attempts to keep them alive on the way to the inevitable.

I want to get closer to the nature of living and dying. I think it will help me make better sense of the world and my place in it. We are such a death-resistant society, going to great lengths to live long and look young. I want to live well, look like who I am, and live long enough to feel like I’ve had a most satisfying meal – one that I grew and harvested, cooked and shared with many wonderful people. The ones closest to me will hang around to help do the dishes.

Jacob lamb at Three Fates Farm

But before that most ordinary of endings, there’s a lot of living to do – and a lot of life to be celebrated. This weekend we stopped out at Three Fates Farm to see the 23 lambs born in the past few weeks. There is no better symbol of spring, I think, than a little woolly animal hopping across a pasture, bleating plaintively.

The lambs are so cute, I can hardly stand it. Rare-breed Leicester Longwools and Jacob sheep, they will mostly be sold for breeding. There are standards to be met, though, and it’s possible that one or two won’t measure up. The unlucky ones will become dinner. Looking at them now, in all their adorableness, it’s hard to imagine not getting emotionally attached. But that is the suburbanite in me speaking, the one who has only known animals as pets, not commodities.

Will I ever make it past this point? Time will tell. In the meantime, I’m an inch closer to the nature of living and dying – most especially the living – as the cutest lamb in the world sucks at his mother’s udder.

Michael and I stand in the crisp spring air watching the lambs, smiling. At this moment, there is no “as if.” I’m living exactly the life I want.

mountain woman
5/7/2010 10:34:13 AM

Colleen, Thank you so much for your very kind words.

almost country_1
5/1/2010 9:14:31 PM

I think what I love most about writing this blog are the words of encouragement I receive, most especially from the three of you! And while you thank me for sharing my story, you inevitably share more of yours, for which I'm grateful. I'd like to be sitting around a fire sipping beer with all of you right about now. And Mountain Woman, my bravery is nothing compared with yours--to have lost your love and to love again takes tremendous courage. I'm glad you found Mountain Man.

nebraska dave
4/29/2010 10:56:37 PM

Colleen, we all go through a time when we reflect on where we are and where we want to go. Sometimes it takes a crisis like your situation to jump into a new life style. Some would say that is the mid life crisis time. It’s a scary thing to step through that door into a totally new say of thinking. Some friends will think it’s great and other will think you’ve lost your mind. I do admire you for pressing into the new life style with passion and no regrets. It seems to be the season for new farm life to begin. Many Grit blogs have been about new baby goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens. I’ll have to be satisfied to see the new goslings on the golf course lake and the new baby squirrels frolic through the tree limbs in my neighbor’s yard. My tiny speck of real estate would hardly support any animal life. Learning new skills can be a great way to move forward in your new direction. It’s amazing to me that your determination has overcome fears you’ve had. I thought it humorous that your SUV have you attitude to go places where no BMW has gone before. It sounds like you have the determination and willpower to make your dream come true. Thanks for sharing your story.

hank will_2
4/29/2010 4:13:39 PM

Hey Colleen -- Nice work with the tires and the Cardinal. Most especially, thanks for letting us in on what is going on inside your mind as you unlock some of it's doors and take the bold step through them. Lovely lamb photos too. Hank

mountain woman
4/29/2010 3:36:13 PM

Colleen, I was so touched by this post. You said something so important when you said you are living exactly the life you want. We only have today for sure and to savor each day, to be in the moment enjoying all around you is a true gift. I know first hand this is true because my first husband was killed suddenly one day and all the time I thought we had was gone. On a lighter note, I think you are very brave. I still can't pick up dead birds (although thankfully there's only been one)and Mountain Man won't let me near our vehicles. I loved your lamb pictures too. Enjoy the journey Colleen. I'm having the best of time reading about it.