A Dash to Maine

Yesterday I did barn chores at 4:30 AM and by 5:30 was on the road to Maine. Yes, Maine! When I was in college I spent summers in Lubec, in the farthest downeast tip of the state, so the entire expanse is filed in my mind under NINETEEN-HOUR DRIVE — but in fact western Maine is only six hours away.

What a happy revelation! To think that I can drive six hours west and still be in New York, but six hours east will get me to Maine! As an adolescent I was convinced by the novels of Kenneth Roberts that no state could stack up to it, and now just seeing signs saying Androscoggin and Kennebec had me smiling at the wheel.

Why was I in Maine? To buy two Clun Forest ewe lambs from Kimberly Trider-Grant and her husband Arthur at Field’s Edge Farm in Leeds. They were willing to sell me two pretty girls at a price that would allow me to jump-start my registered flock.

Kim and Arthur could not have been kinder or more welcoming. Kim apologized for the mud in the barnyard (she doesn’t know mud!) as they took me for a tour of their beautiful barn, built by their son. It is large and airy and perfect for sheep in the cold and snowy northeast. I looked around in green envy, taking mental notes for improvements someday in my own barn.

Because the barn is right behind the house and Kim and Arthur are both fond of sheep, their sheep are much tamer than mine, which (since I live a mile away) currently see me up close only at feeding time, in winter, and at fence-moving time in summer. The Grants actually had a picnic table in the barnyard, and I imagined myself eating lunch or working on papers surrounded by contented sheep. How idyllic! Another great idea for “someday” — in a paddock from which cows and horses are excluded.

I found this photo of Arthur and part of the flock on their farm’s Facebook page.

Kim and Arthur’s five children are grown and they downsized to a smaller house and built this farm only in last half-dozen years. Kim designed the perfect, cozy farmhouse herself — incidentally making sure there was room for her woodburning cookstove in the kitchen. Wait a minute, I wanted to interrupt, you’re living my dream!

Kim is a knitter and is very knowledgeable about wool. She showed me the front of a sweater she had just finished, a lovely, complicated pattern of hand-knit cables. My big sister, my sister-in-law Margaret, all my crafty friends, and even Lucy would have been more informed and appreciative; I could only gape in awe. “That’s Angela’s wool,” she said, fingering the yarn affectionately. Kim sends her wool out for testing and has the test results neatly catalogued in a notebook. She knows the micron count of each of her sheep’s fleeces.  I wouldn’t recognize a micron if I met it in church. I immediately thought, I must get more serious about wool.

In the bustle of choosing the two lambs and loading them with Arthur into giant dog crates in my minivan (it was too raw and rainy to transport any creature in an open truck), I didn’t remember to photograph any of the gorgeous flock until the last minute, just before leaving, when I took this quick shot of a few ewes looking at me over their shoulders in curiosity.

I was thrilled to meet the Grants. Not only were they generous and thoughtful (Arthur packed me a lunch for the long trip home!) but I had a warm sense of sharing the same journey with Clun Forest sheep.  They have been shepherds for only a few years longer than I have, but on a larger, much more professional scale. Thus Kim is farther down the road, but not so far ahead that I am hopelessly behind. I was excited to think how much I can learn from her.

With my cows I have all my Keeping a Family Cow friends with whom to brainstorm and problem-solve. With my sheep, ever since my first mentor Bonnie moved away, I’ve been entirely on my own. As I drove home last night on lonely and twisting back byways, I was struck by the perfect metaphor — talking to Kim I felt much the same comfort as one has seeing the glow of red tail lights to follow in the dark. Kim and I are even discussing the possibility of sharing a nice-quality Clun ram in the future.

Meet Field’s Edge Geranium and Field’s Edge Magnolia.

The girls rode home in the van with only occasional bleats of bewilderment, listening with me to Christmas carols. They are in the lambing stall for now, and tomorrow will meet the rest of the crew.

Thank you, Kim and Arthur!

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6 Responses to A Dash to Maine

  1. Elaine Murphy says:

    They’re as pretty as the flowers they were named after!

  2. Jessika says:

    Oh they are beautiful! I am trying to find a way to get to Kim’s myself. It is so difficult with milking and heifers calving now too. I do HAVE to go to Augusta on Dec.16th. I’d like to line something up then. It will be a LONG day if I can swing it.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      I’m sure it’s incredibly difficult for you, Jessika, as you are further away! (Not to mention the six children, the calving heifers, etc.) Have you let Kim know you want to come? I think the meat buyer is stopping at her farm this week. I know Kim will be as helpful as she can be.

  3. Beth says:

    Those are beautiful sheep. When I look for livestock on the internet, I don’t get the results I’d like. How did you find out where to buy yours? Thanks!

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Beth, I spent a long time researching sheep breeds when I decided to get more serious about them. I was very interested in Cheviots (my friend Bonnie, who lived here and taught me about sheep originally, bred Cheviots) for their hardiness and good mothering, but in the end I went with Cluns, which as another hill breed have a lot in common with Cheviots — for, alas!, the very superficial reason that I liked their black faces. I am a member of the North American Clun Forest Association (NACFA) and I learned of Kim through their Yahoo group.

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