The Story of Rose
A border collie and a newborn lamb in a blizzard.
Rose had an inch or two of snow across her head and back. I had not seen Rose like this—close, intense, still. She seemed to know what she could do and what she could not do. And right then there was nothing she could do. She seemed protective of the ewe. She did not look around or try to leave. Rose seemed to have the sense that this was her responsibility.
I tried to pull the ewe up to her feet but could not; she just kept flopping over. Her eyes were open, warm breath coming out of her nostrils, her stomach rising up and down ever so slightly. I kept poking her and talking to her. “Get her up, Rosie,” I pleaded. “Get her up.” I thought of the sheep up in the pole barn, agitated by our presence and the cries of the ewe; the wind whistling across the pasture, and the snow piling up. Rose changed her demeanor, and when she heard the command and the tone of my voice, she began nipping at the ewe, first around her nose, then to the rear.
The ewe was at first silent, then seemed to emerge from a trance. Rose charged, then backed off, and charged and backed off again. The sounds from the ewe were stronger, and Rose seemed to quicken her pace, circling the ewe, the snow blowing off her coat as she raced back and forth. Get her up, Rosie, get her up. It was just the two of us, up in the pasture, far from the world, working together in this powerful way. Don’t give up, Rosie, don’t give up.
Then suddenly the ewe was on her feet, bleating and searching frantically for her baby and butting Rose. The ewe began to head out into the storm looking for the lamb, and Rose knew to cut her off, to get the ewe between her and me. She either slipped on the slick hillside or collapsed, falling on her side into the deepening snow. I struggled to get the ewe up, sliding in the mud and ice and snow, my toes and fingers burning in protest against the wet and cold.
I realized that I knew how to get the ewe into the barn. I stumbled back into the barn, grabbed a sling, slipped it under the lamb, picked her up, and brought her out into the storm. Keep her there, Rosie, keep her there.
And she did. I knew she would. When we got close, the lamb began crying out, and the ewe recognized her voice, then her smell. Frantic, she forgot about Rose and began moving toward me, toward her baby. I saw her bond with her baby and was shown again what a powerful instinct mothering is. I started moving backward toward the barn, sliding and falling but holding the lamb out in that sling. The ewe, uncertain, began following me, and when she panicked and tried to bolt, Rose got behind her and nipped at her to turn her back toward me.
The four of us—me, Rose, the ewe, and her lamb—were in this strange and ancient ballet, down the steep hill, back and forth, sometimes in circles, sometimes in a straight line, until the lamb and I made it into the barn. There the ewe balked, refusing to come in, and ran right over Rosie and began to climb up the hill to the pole barn, her safe place.
Rose turned into a wolf right there, barking and circling. She seemed larger to me, so determined, and then the ewe turned and ran toward me, deciding a man and a barn were much safer. I backed into the pen with the lamb and the ewe followed, and then I closed the gate and the two were safe and warm inside.
I rushed into the barn shed and got a jar of molasses and mixed it with water—energy for the exhausted ewe. There was no sweeter, deeper feeling than seeing that mother and child in their pen, dry and warm in a storm. We did it, Rosie, we did it.
And then I saw Rosie turn her head toward the barn door. She ran to it, and then I saw her swivel and tense, her ears up, fully alert. Something was wrong, something had happened, and I heard the cry that she had just heard, piercing and sharp.
Another lamb. There was another lamb up there. She had twins, I thought; she must have had twins, and both of them had been searching for her in the storm as she lay on her side.