October 16, 2013
The brilliant oranges and blues that have ruled the farm for the past two weeks have now faded into solemn grays and ochres, more appropriate as a herald of the dying back that fast approaches.
The dash and fever of the summer have faded, too, giving way to a more contemplative state. There is something in the autumn air that stirs the mind; the days when clouds brood low over the hill, the crunch of leaves beneath boots, mornings and afternoons wearing wool sweaters – all this calls us to turn inward as the trees do, when they let go of the leaves that reach for the sun and content themselves with a focus on their roots, their center.
Autumn is the passage from vibrancy to dormancy, a seasonal walk from life to death. To watch nature undertake this solemn march is to learn the natural way of dying. Brilliance fades into sedate beauty, quickly tumbling clouds slow, warm soil cools.
1612 was an old ewe, our oldest, and her hold on life had been loosening since the beginning of the summer. All season she was at the back of the herd, observing from afar the rush toward the grain bucket, declining to follow the herd in their leaps over the stream. She slowed. As the nights cooled, she slowed more.
She stopped seeking the company of the herd, preferring time to herself under the apple trees in the grove, or sunning among the thistles. One imagines that she was seeking her center, more easily found alone in the forest than among the helter skelter crowd of young lambs, new mothers, and courting rams.
This past weekend, she curled inward. We found her under the protective trunk of a long-dead tree on a painfully clear morning. Leaves sighed underfoot as we moved her out of the pasture.
She was buried, as all non-food farm animals are, in the richness of the compost pile. Her body, so heavy when lifeless, will lighten. But she will not float away into the air. Instead, she will seep into the ground, foster delicate roots, and become the grass itself. Death leads forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it. Nothing collapses. -ww