I am getting used to seeing sheep. I’ve been familiar with their existence, obviously, but being in their presence, regularly and willingly, is new. They stretch across fields, lazily chewing, sometimes producing a baaing racket I can hear when their round bodies are barely distinguishable in the distance. If I stop to look at them, they stare back, unmoving, waiting for me to move on.
In springtime, sheep are surrounded by energetic, taut-legged miniatures, lambs not yet fluffy and focused on chewing and staring but bounding and bleating with abandon. They leap between fellow lamb-friends and explore new sounds and suckle the reliable, nurturing milk of their mother’s teat.
Lambs do not strictly appear in spring, but most breeds produce young as the ground produces fresh grass and the plants blossom in dazzling color. Ewes gestate one or two (or three or four) lambs for four-and-a-half months and generally birth them on their own between December and June.
The springliness of lambing is more for onlookers than for participants in the lamb-making process. For farmers, lambing involves some math before their sheep go into heat; they must plan out one half of the reproduction equation, which amounts to one ram for every forty to sixty ewes. They need enough rams for the best baby-making odds. It sounds like it should be a delicate matter, but it’s also business. Lambing is intentional. How many lambs do they need, and when, and how will the animals cooperate?
Like wearing florals, writing about new life for spring is groundbreaking. Especially this spring, when nothing feels new; nothing feels lively. We’re witnessing something catastrophic—opportunities extinguished, societal structures failing, and above all, hundreds of thousands of lives lost to a new disease we barely understand. I see lambs frolicking on a hillside, and in the same breath I feel joy and resentment, wonder and a lingering question of how dare I enjoy this gentle creature amid… all of this?
These lambs aren’t bred for life; at least not their own. Most will be slaughtered before they are six months old and sold for parts—some for eating, some for wearing, some likely for less palatable purposes. I wonder if the demand for lamb meat and wool will be as high in the coming season as farmers anticipated six months ago, when they selected their rams, when we were in the era of the before.
We are in the now, not the after, but these lambs were not intended for the now. The lambs joyfully chasing one another about the countryside, blissfully unaware of the strange situation of the humans passing by, exist because of a vision of the world that no longer exists. The world as it could have been, or should have been, or that we wanted it to be. The lambs don’t know any better, and neither did we.
I doubt I will remember much of these days. They blend together relentlessly, rotations of the earth utterly indistinguishable from the passing of weeks and the turning of months. We’re almost halfway through May, yet April barely happened at all. When I look back on the past sixty days, I think mostly of the lambs in the fields. I suspect, if this persists, I will eventually notice the absence of the lambs. I hope I remember that, too.