February 19, 2008

Lambing Time in the Rockies

It has been a little perplexing to me, as I wander around the western states to attend poetry gatherings, festivals and vintage events of one kind or another, that the overwhelming hero icon of the opening of the west was, is and always will be the cowboy. Much of this image is purveyed by many that are about as far away from the land as one can get. If the truth were told, some of the most published authors and poets in the western/cowboy genre are white-collar folk – advertising executives, slick cover magazine publishers, school teachers, state government bureaucrats and so on. Most that I know don’t even keep a couple head of steers and are uncomfortable around horses. It makes me wonder just how genuine the whole western movement is sometimes. It can’t be real when the sheepherder, the miner, the homesteader, the railroad worker and the farmer and their women and children are excluded from the lore of the west – as it twists around to being all about and only about the cowboy - - - just ain’t the truth.

This poem is about a sheepherder, Jess Croft who was a mentor to my brothers and me during our formative years. Jess was a good man who taught us principles of life in homespun earthly parables that endure to this day. One comes to mind – After docking and castrating lambs one day, he took a handful of tails and asked us if we wanted to grow our own herd of sheep. Of course we all did. He then buried the tails saying that he was planting sheep seeds and that next spring they would sprout into lambs. This got our attention – but somehow it didn’t ring true. He had a twinkle in his eye when he then explained that if we really wanted something, it would have to be founded on the truth – and not just on something somebody said. Lamb tails don’t sprout into lambs. Don’t believe everything you hear. Learn the truth. Well, go ahead and believe this poem – it’s all true.

Lambing Time in the Rockies
by Paul Kern

On the way to the ranch we had to stop,
At a country store to pick up some pop,
Some pliers and pairs of gloves for our hands,
As well as a bunch of small rubber bands.

The pickup took off with a spurt and a wheeze,
For a few days of lambing up in the trees.
It rolled out of the lot and onto the road,
Heading on up once we’d picked up our load.

We stayed in the cabin just built and brand new,
With a Franklin stove and round eight inch flue.
It kept the place warm in the cool spring air,
In the Rockies again, we were glad to be there.

Grandpa Jess cared for the rams and the studs,
The rest of the clan grew the beef and the spuds,
It had been a good season with lots of new lambs,
About sixty were born to the yews and the rams.

The work of the day went forth as planned,
Long dirty tails each got a new rubber band,
Some of the lambs got a freshly docked tail,
Not to mention a good reason to wail.

Females ran in a pen to bleat and to moan,
Young bucks winced whenever they’d groan,
As each was castrated and sent over beside,
A vat holding gallons of sheep dip inside.

Some ewes were covered up to their throats,
With smelly stuff that soaked their coats,
Those that went in couldn’t wait to get out,
To shake themselves off, to bleat and to pout.

Counting the ewes Old Jess kept a tally,
The rams had been sent down to the valley,
As lopped off tails piled up in the grass,
He counted and recounted one more pass.

One more time he scratched his head,
One ewe was missing, he hoped not dead.
Old Jess jumped up and into his jeep,
All through the trees he looked for his sheep.

About the time when the sun sunk low,
We finally found her and hurried to go.
The pregnant ewe lay all distressed,
Unable to birth the lamb that pressed,

Against the birth canal too small,
To let a lamb struggle and crawl,
Out to the air, to light and to life,
Grandpa Jess slowly took out his knife.

He opened the opening a wee little bit
Then onto the ground he took a sit,
To pull the dead lamb from out of the ewe,
Relieved from all that she’d been through.

He picked her up slowly, got a good hold.
She was sweating chills and getting cold.
He then placed her gently back in the bed,
Of the jeep pickup where she quietly bled.

Back to the ranch house on a dirt road,
He anxiously carried his precious load,
Then the truck hit a rut that had a big rock,
The ewe flew out and lay there in shock.

In the dirt she split and came unwound,
Her innards fell out and were lying around.
Carefully lifting her up once more,
He put her back in and closed the door.

Back at the cabin we hung our hope,
On boiling water as we took out the soap,
A needle, some thread, iodine and bands,
Grandpa Jess carefully washed his hands.

He went outside and washed out the ewe,
As best he could, as best he knew,
Then placed her insides back inside,
And closed her up by sewing her hide.

Old Grandpa Jess had done his best,
We went to the cabin to get some rest.
Jess prayed mightily for that old sheep,
Hard as he could, then dozed off to sleep.

Sleep can come in many a way,
The sheep didn’t see the new dawning day,
My throat got lumpy as I watched Jess weep,
Love for his herd went bone marrow deep.

Staying in the cabin just built and brand new,
With a Franklin stove and round eight inch flue,
Part of me grew up in that cool spring air.
That wrinkled old man had taught me to care.

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