Two years ago my elderly friend Allen and I were putting in my septic system. Actually, of course, Allen was putting in the septic system and I was the flunky helper. He designed the layout of the leach field, ordered the #2 stone, ordered the sewer pipe, cut and glued all the connections, and operated the excavator. My job was to stand in the trenches and hold the pipe slightly off-level while he showered stone around it. Then I had to unroll geotextile fabric over each length. The fabric was not difficult to manage, just awkward, like spreading sheets on a double bed.
Whenever it was time to unroll the fabric, Allen would shut off the excavator, climb down, scramble over the open trenches, and take the opposite end of the roll. The weather was cold and raw; we had been working for weeks; he was tired. I hated to see him make the effort to climb up and down from the machine.
“Don’t worry, I can do it,” I would say. “Stay safe up there in your seat.”
He flapped a hand and paid no attention. As the day wore on I felt increasingly terrible watching him pull himself back up into the excavator. Didn’t he understand I worked alone all the time, doing far harder tasks?
“Really, I can do it!” I insisted.
Allen looked at me as if I were an idiot and spoke patiently. “It’s easier with two.”
* * *
Sunday I had a child with me all day. The boy had made an impulsive poor decision; since for various reasons he couldn’t be sent home, he was suspended from the school program and working with me. I’ve known Babs since he was eight years old. He’s now thirteen. We didn’t discuss his problems, except for me to say, “I guess you know your decision was stupid?” He sighed and agreed. “Really stupid.”
It was a dank, raw day. The great thing about a three-page To Do list is that you’re never at a loss for something to do. I told Babs we’d just start at the top of the day’s list and see how much we could accomplish.
We ferried wire panels down to the bottom of Betty’s field to build a sheepfold. Sheepfold is an old English term for “sheep pen.” In Yorkshire they were built of dry stone.
Ours would be less picturesque, built out of old T-posts and welded wire.
Babs and I worked together with little conversation. I taught him how to slam posts, check for plumb, and pull a measuring tape across the diagonals to make everything square. In an hour we had our sheepfold.
Our fold is only 16×16, the size of a barn stall. The idea is simply to give me peace of mind. If the power in my electric fences ever fails, as it did last year with an early snowstorm, I can lead the flock down to the sheepfold for the night and know they are safe from predators.
One of the panels was already cut so we made that the gate.
The sheepfold is almost invisible already and should virtually vanish once the leaves are out. Since I pasture my sheep on borrowed land I am always concerned about how things look.
Next we had to move the new shelters down the highway. This year, instead of balancing them precariously in my truck, I had borrowed the school stock trailer for the day. Babs and I grunted equally.
Each one just fit.
Down at Betty’s it took both of us pulling on ropes to drag each shelter from the driveway out into the field. Babs never complained, but by the time we got the second shelter out into the grass, he flopped to the ground to recover. Then I showed him how to put up electric netting and we set the fences.
Next we went back to the barn to worm the sheep. Babs is from the city and suspicious of most animals. I reassured him that I would administer the worming medicine while he stood outside the stall recording the number of each eartag on a pad. He was relieved.
Forty-five minutes later, that job was done, and it was time to load the sheep into the trailer. By now Babs had become an expert in directing me with the trailer. We backed it tight to the door. Babs volunteered to stand outside to block any escape while I led the sheep in with grain. It worked seamlessly.
Down at Betty’s we backed to the opening of the field. There were two directions in which the sheep could run when unloading. I wasn’t worried because I knew they would follow a grain can anywhere.
I handed Babs a can of grain and told him that I would work the trailer door while he led the sheep into our fencing. However I had forgotten how frightened Babs is of animals. The moment 23 sheep poured out of the trailer, Babs took off like a hare — too fast for the sheep to follow. The flock was confused without a leader and scattered. Luckily they know my voice. “Sheep! Sheep! Sheep!” They galloped to me in relief.
In five minutes we had all the sheep inside the electric fence. Triumph! We had accomplished everything on my list for the day.
The sheep are officially out on pasture for the summer.
By now Babs and I had been working for eight hours straight, with a half-hour break for peanut butter sandwiches. We were both starting to flag. We drove the trailer down to the farm and Babs washed it out with a hose while I brought the horse and cattle in for the evening and fed them. We took the trailer back to school and unhitched it. We ferried water to the sheep.
Babs asked at one point, “You usually do all this by yourself?”
“Wow,” he said.
I turned to him and smiled. “But it’s definitely easier with two.”