September 1 2013
We were eating lunch outside, another balmy, midweek day, commenting once again on the peace of our surroundings, our music of preference being the sounds of nature and particularly the farm sounds; the moos and clucks, baas and cock-a-doodle-do’s, that punctuate the rustle of wind, the chorus of cicadas and birdsong, and occasionally the distant barking of the shepherd’s dogs.
We’ve come to learn the difference between a moo for food, the rhythmic moo-groan of labor, and the near constant howling moo that indicates a calf has been separated from its mother. And so it was, that midway through lunch, I realized that the bleating I was hearing didn’t sound quite right to me. Telling Joel I’d be back in a minute, I crossed the lane and walked up the slope to the sheep enclosure. I could see Silvia and Vincenzo’s small herd huddled together on the far left, but could see nothing amiss. Yet still the bleating continued. And then I felt, or saw, something to the right of the pasture. Unmistakably a dead sheep. I let myself in the gate and walked to her, her stomach ripped open, the blue eyes already fogged by death and most distressing of all, the unbroken sac of lambs. I ran to get Silvia and together we ran back to the pasture. It was Silvia who saw the second ewe, also gutted, the lambs torn from her belly already partially eaten. The phrase, “wolfed down,” came to mind with its hideous original definition, for it was most surely a wolf that had come a-hunting.
This is the fourth sheep they’ve lost to wolves this summer. No one can see where or how they are finding their way in to the enclosure. We wept a little and then Silvia called Vincenzo, who would later bulldoze the dead sheep into the earth. I returned to table, needless to say without my appetite. The image of the first ewe etched into my mind forever, the black sac, that would soon have delivered two babies, carrying the sinister finality of a mortician’s bag.
It was a brutal reminder of nature’s savagery and had more impact on me than the global news of cruelty that we humans inflict upon each other, which, as horrendous as it is, we have come to expect. Who was it that said “One death is a tragedy; 20 million is a statistic”? Inured by the media’s images of starvation, genocide and torture, we chose, when we moved to Europe, to disconnect from that teat. At first we would take a brief online look at the NY Times Week in Review on Sundays, but even that became too much to bear. The grim futility of wars and uprisings and the inability to change anything, made the partaking of such information seem like self-inflicted toxicity.
Instead we chose to surround ourselves with beauty, and peace, taking in good food and fine literature, with liberal helpings of philosophical conversation and much laughter, along with the near-constant gazing at the curvaceous hills, the embrace of golden light, the moonbeam on our bed.
How close we came to idealization. That bleat of nature was a bucket of cold water, a reminder that there is no Eden. There are wolves and vipers a-plenty here in this oh-so-pretty landscape. And I’ve done battle myself this summer with armies of ants and aphids and beetles as they advanced upon my precious plants. All of which is naught compared to what Silvia and Vincenzo contend with on a daily basis; rains and droughts and failing machinery. The loss of four sheep and their unborn offspring is incomparable to my sole loss of a lavender plant, their loss an enormity hard to comprehend.
Yet nature does balance itself continually, if not always at a pace to match the impatience of man. A new calf was born this week and more are on the way. Gianni and Luana’s litter of pups, born 2 weeks ago were, along with their too-old mother, at death’s door the first week. Now, thanks to Luana’s ministrations, they are fattening up nicely, eight of the ten having survived. These white pups are the next generation of sheep dogs, three from a previous litter having been taken by the local shepherd, his flock thus protected from the wolves. Six of the pups were already spoken for when death struck here this week. Now Silvia and Vincenzo will take the remaining two as a safeguard for the future of their flock.
In spite of this week’s rude bursting of our idyllic bubble we look with gratitude toward our Tuscan Autumn while our thoughts stray to those slaughtered in the Arab Spring; a season that withered in bud, bypassing summer and going straight to the bleakest of winters.