milk of human kindness

Of late I’ve been wondering how many orphaned blogs pine away in cyberspace? Mine has been swelling their ranks for over six months now. Perhaps an internet adoption or fostering agency should be set up that takes care of them while their owners/parents have turned their backs on them and left them cruelly abandoned?

As Valentine’s Day has just passed, and we should all be filled with love and flowing with the milk of human kindness, I’ve decided to rescue my poor little orphaned blog.

Shalders (oyster catchers) usually return to Shetland in time for Valentine’s Day and strut the meadows, long red beaks to the ground, in search for worms and grubs, but this year there’s no sign of them yet.

This winter somehow seems the longest I’ve ever lived through since arriving on the shores of the Shetland Islands thirty-seven years ago. Its calendar date was of course unchanged, but its actual start dates back to last summer. A cold, wet, windy summer, that turned into a cold, wet windy autumn and continued unchanged until now – give or take a few days between weathers when the sun broke through the clouds or the garden was brightened by a sprinkling of snow and a hard crust of frost.

the 'poodles'

I always move into winter laden with a multitude of good intentions: cleaning, oiling and repairing all tools, sanding down and re-painting the garden benches, cleaning out the greenhouse, tidying the potting-shed, washing seed trays, clearing the borders of spent vegetation, liming the vegetable patch, and generally getting everything ready for spring.

Only the potting-shed tidy-up has been ticked off my list so far, and solely because I had two strong and enthusiastic wwoofers to help.

James and I moved into The Lea, Tresta on 31st January 1977 and started our career as crofters. We had been left with an orphaned flock of sheep – inbred and starving. The number of burials we carried out that first winter escapes me, but there were many. As James worked full-time it fell to me to care, to the best of my abilities, for the sheep, soon to be followed by a dog, two milking goats, and a flock of ducks.

Then, as the years passed and my garden expanded, James gradually took over the croft and became the shepherd – until the last week in January this year, when he abandoned me and his flock to their fate for a week.

some of the ladies in their salon/diningroom

I’d all but forgotten how enjoyable and rewarding caring for ovine creatures can be. Enjoyable enough to continue after his return, taking over his daily chores and living like a peasant. Fetching peat and wood, cleaning out, lighting and keeping the fires in the stoves going, foraging for leeks and carrots in a muddy field, bagging up hay and mixing ‘muesli’ in large buckets, filling the feeders for the sparrows, robins, starlings and one great tit, then dishing out the mutton-fat-and-oat-flake porridge for the blackbirds after the starlings have gone with the sun.

Best of all is feeding and watering the flock. Our friend Julie used to winter her horse here and left us with a nice little stable, divided into two sections. The smaller one houses three “poodles” – tiny hill lambs that wouldn’t have survived the winter outdoors. Bone and wool two months ago, they’re fattening up nicely and have started to eat out of my hand.

old spot

The larger section has been converted into a dining room/salon for the ladies and their offspring. That’s where they pull their daily hay ration from nets hung on the walls, and huddle, ruminating contentedly, during wet and windy weather.

Spot is the oldest sheep on the croft. He was our daughter’s caddy (orphan) lamb, hasn’t got a single tooth in his mouth and is pushing 18, perhaps 19 years now. He, his friend Jemima and some of the other older ladies, get a little dessert most days. Stale bread and boiled potatoes are favourites.




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