Every year I wait anxiously for the first lamb of spring. It has been twenty years now that this has been my routine. You would think I might get used to it. But there is something about the appearance of new life, in all its vulnerability and wonder, that still holds me.
This year when the first lamb arrived I was gone. It was only a few hours after I had left for a night away from the farm that my friend Lori, who was keeping watch over the flock, texted me.
“They don’t get much newer than this,” she wrote, and then sent a picture of the little ewe lamb, still wet and stunned looking, as her attentive mom was cleaning her.
As soon as that first lamb is born, my anxious vigilance relaxes. It’s not that the perils of lambing aren’t still just as real. It’s that now I am in the middle of it, and I have been reminded that life does indeed find its way.
So last night, when I pulled up to the farm gate after a full day of work and scanned the field to see how the flock was doing, my reaction was almost casual when I saw another lamb, also very new, and also huddled close to her mom.
My friend Meighan, who is building her own house on a piece of property next to my farm, was with me. She had already jumped out of the car to open the gate (it is always nice to have a gate-opener with me) when she spotted the lamb. Her reaction was very different than mine. “A lamb,” she called out, and excitedly went over to the fence to take a closer look.
It was late in the day, and almost dark. I left Meighan with lamb and mom and drove on up to the house so I could change into my farm clothes and go back out to attend to this new life.
By the time I got there, the ewe and her lamb had moved closer to the rest of the flock. The flock had gathered up by the pasture gate as they always do when I get home. They know that I am about to let them out to graze in the nice green yard for just a little while before being herded into the barn for the night.
Ewes about to lamb move off from the flock, and ewes with new lambs stay with their lambs even when the rest of the flock is leaving. I am impressed by this instinct to stay behind that overpowers the instinct to go with the flock. Sheep are at their core flocking creatures. Their survival almost always depends on staying together. The urge to stick with the crowd generally dominates any tendency to strike out independently.
But for ewes with new lambs, another impulse takes over. So when I opened the gate to let everyone out for their evening snack, the ewe with the new lamb took only a few steps in that direction, before she turned back to stay with her baby.
Meighan and I went to the barn and made a little pen, equipped with a bucket of water and a manger of alfalfa. Then I went back to the pasture and picked up the lamb. Carrying her at ewe-eye level, so her mom would follow, I walked her into the barn and settled the new family in for the night. Walking back to the house I said three prayers. One for the casual way this second lamb arrived and for my casual acceptance of that. A second for the joy that Meighan experienced in the wonder of new life. And a third for the two ewes on my farm still waiting to give birth. Spring is indeed a season of new life, vulnerability, wonder and grace.