Friday, March 22, 2013

Baby Lamb Alert

My dearest readers,

Let me begin by apologizing for the inordinately long delay between posts. I know that some of you may be annoyed, put-off by the seeming one-side commitment to this blog as of late. Some of you may even be wondering if you want to even keep reading this blog. But know this: today's story ends with baby lambs. That's right. The cutest creatures on God's green earth. So it's alright--you can be upset. You have every right to be. But don't walk away, or you'll miss out on the adorableness that awaits you below.

The completely boring truth is that I've been pining for this blog, yearning to write it in again--but I have been too busy with real, actual, honest-to-goodness work to have enough time to sit down and do this properly. It turns out that those of you who have pictured me in Sydney with sand perpetually between my toes, sun always in my hair, and wine close at hand--you are only right about 60% of the time. For the last few weeks I have been earning my keep around here: roaming the library stacks at Sydney University to do research for professors back at Georgetown, finalizing my reading lists for my Ph.D. comprehensive exams coming up next year, and otherwise proving to myself that I can still read and summarize like a champ ("Reading and Summarizing" being one of the few marketable skills I have honed during my nine years of post-High School education).

Now, it is true that I've had the luxury of being only intermittently tied to my books and research during our time here, and thank goodness. I've been a full-time student for 23 years straight, and I was in bad need of a sabbatical. But now that I've had a chance to rest, swim around in the ocean, and read a year's-worth of novels, it has been a little fun to get back into the groove again this week and work against a few deadlines. To help me get into the spirit, I ordered a pair of clear-lens hipster glasses from China on eBay. I'm obsessed; I haven't taken them off since last Tuesday. I tell you this just so that when I show up in every single picture of our Honeymoon wearing these glasses you can explain my poor fashion choices to my future children.

I like this photo because the "Wanted" frame makes my glasses look even more hardcore.

But work and glasses are not the most important news of this week. As you may or may not know, March 20th is Nowruz, the New Year celebration for Persians, Kurds, and a smattering of other peoples in the Middle East. What makes Nowruz the most awesome New Year celebration ever? 1) You celebrate by jumping over bonfires 2) You get a free goldfish--holla! 3) the holiday is originally Zorastrian. How many times a day do you think about Zorastrians? Probably zero times, most days. But not on Nowruz!

Nowruz is fun for everyone!

Here's another fact about Nowruz: March 20th marked the beginning of Year 3751 in the Zorastrian Calendar, and it also marks Nod's 28th birthday! 3751 Zorastrian Years, 28 Nodair Razi years. We couldn't build a proper Nowruz bonfire because of Australia's strict fire ordinances, but on an unrelated note, I did buy him a ukulele for his birthday. Now we can sing and strum on the Ukulele all the way through Southeast Asia--hooray! We're only just starting out on the Uke, but if I must say, we're not too shabby at it so far.

Now, at this point you're probably getting a little impatient about the lambs, and I don't blame you. So here it is: Cute Animal Fest 2013.

So some of you may remember our friend Dani--the sweet, blonde, gun-totin' and horse-ridin' physio student who joined us down in Tasmania. She had long promised that we could visit her house, which is two hours west of Sydney and officially in "the bush" (since this was our first time going to anything approximating the outback, we were super honored to be invited). So last Saturday, Nod, Huub and I boarded a train and started our journey through the gorgeous green valleys surrounding Sydney, heading out West towards the Blue Mountains. Huub and Nod were busy playing scrabble to pass the time, while I had my eyes glued to the scenery, waiting to spot some equally exotic and cuddle-able animal. (Did you know, by the way, that Koalas just live in the trees surrounding the city of Adelaide in south Australia? I thought they were shy creatures living only in the mists of the mountains, like elusive Pandas or Gorillas. Nope, there they are, just munching on some gum tree leaves). For one second I was absolutely convinced that I saw two little kangaroos in a grassy field, but I have no witnesses back me up. In any case, the memory of any half-glimpsed kangaroos was soon eclipsed by the real barnyard animals that awaited us at Dani's house.

At Dani's house there are the following animals: 4 gorgeous competition horses, 1 angry pony, 10 turkeys, 2 exotic birds we couldn't really name, and 1 dog.
Dani and the Angry Pony. Yes, the pony is on a chain. It's for your own protection.

Dani and one of her non-angry, beautiful horses at her enormous home in the country.

Dani kept apologizing for how small her house is. "It's only five acres," she says. She says this to us--we who live in the concrete jungle of Newtown, we who regularly exclaim in delight to see all of three stars in the light-polluted night sky, and whose only real run-ins with wildlife are the huntsmen spiders in our house and the obnoxious birds that wake us up at dawn. Five acres was paradise, as far as we were concerned. True, as she points out, there is a ranch in Australia that is larger than Belize or El Salvador, so I suppose everything is relative.

It was immediate apparent that our roles for the day were to be the well-meaning city cousins trying to "be useful" while really creating 10 times as much work for our hosts. Our hosts, for their part, graciously accommodated all of our blunders while asking themselves, "Are they really doing all our chores around the farm just for fun?" Win-win all around.

Pictures can do our day more justice than words can, and happily, we had not been shy about capturing every little moment with a cute hoofed creature nearby. So! Here goes.

Task #1: Herd the Sheep

So if there was one moment in the day where I wondered if our gracious hosts were pulling one on the city kids, this would be it. Josh has twenty sheep that live a life of luxury, grazing in a lush twenty-acre field. The sheep needed to be given some medicine, so Josh asked us to round them up. To round up a small group of sheep that have twenty whole acres upon which to scatter. Naturally, it was a bit of a disaster.

This is us looking cluelessly at the sheep. "Move, little sheepies! Into your pen!" I thought, trying to use all my non-powers of clairvoyance. As it turns out, I am not a sheep whisperer.

These are the sheep running away from us as fast as they can.  Fail.

Finally Josh took pity on us and brought out Diesel, his sheep dog, who herded the sheep into their little pen in about, oh, 15 seconds. Being ridiculously outsmarted by a dog is an excellent exercise in humility, should you ever need one.

Diesel the Dog, reminding us that he's boss. 

Task #2: Give the Sheep Medicine

Giving sheep medicine is also known as "drenching" the sheep. When I heard that phrase, I thought we were going to give them all a little bubble bath. But no--instead we had to a) sit on the sheep or b) flip them onto their hind legs and then c) stick a metal tube in their mouth and squirt some medicine inside, then finally d) spray paint a pink mark on their bum to let us know that we had finished. The process looked something like this:

Our early attempts to wrangle the sheep involved us sitting on them, which didn't always work out so well. 

Later, Nod and Huub finally mastered the technique to sit them down

which was a much more successful way to go
Except that it still took at least four of us to get a handle on the sheep most of the time

Mostly, I was just really elated to be surrounded by so many sheep.
 Task #3: Learn to Ride a Horse, and then Play Polocrosse

Josh, Dani, and Dani's entire family are all amazing equestrians. They compete in formal horse events, they compete doing rodeo-style events, they play this crazy hybrid of Polo and Lacrosse on horseback--even Dani's two-year-old niece was riding better than I ever will. Now, I have ridden a few horses in my time. My family has always been a big fan of "Dude Ranch" family vacation destinations, and my older sister used to compete in English-style horse shows, complete with jumps and riding crops and ribbons. If I don't exactly know horses, I feel that I should have some horse credibility at least by association. Like if horses and I went to the same high school, we would probably wave hi to each other in the hallways.

But it turns out that the horses that take you on one-hour trail rides are very different from the kinds of horses that compete in polocrosse or barrel racing. These horses seemed to have a preternatural sense for trepidation and inexperience; they would buck or take off if you shifted your weight in the wrong way against their sides. These were, in other words, horses not to be messed with. I should also mention that if I felt like I was at least on lunchroom-acquaintance terms with horses, Nod and Huub were not even in the same building. They were not from the same school. Nod had, to his credit, ridden a horse in Ethiopia once before in what turned out to be a bit of a harrowing adventure, but that was the first and last time he had ever been on one. Huub had never ridden a horse, and for that matter, had a healthy fear of them after watching someone else get kicked once. But up onto these wild, beautiful creatures we went! (Helmets on for safety, of course. And, ok, Dani totally walked us on lead ropes for a while. But soon we were walking our horses in slow circles like champs).

Then, when we had just mastered the art of walking our horses, Dani and Josh suggested that we try our hand as playing polocrosse. You know, just control the horse and a flying ball at the same time, no big deal. Eye-Hand coordination was never really my thing, but Nod managed it really nicely.

Of course, Dani and Josh were really amazing at polocrosse. The entire day we had struggled so hard to herd the sheep, flip over the sheep, give them medicine, get on the horse, control the horse, walk it, try to pick up a polocrosse ball while on the horse, and totally failing. To watch these two these gorgeous horses so masterfully and play so elegantly was really awe-inspiring, and all the more for having tried ourselves to know how very difficult it all is.

And then at the end of the day, there was still Diesel, reminding us that he was still boss, and that he could probably ride a horse better than us, too.

Task #4: Shear a Sheep

Shearing the sheep was sort of our final test for the day--a last chance to prove that we had, in fact, learned a thing or two about the art of sheep farming. For me, this was the last chance in the day to try to pick up a baby lamb and hold it in my arms--a life dream I had never come so close to fulfilling. Earlier in the day when we were drenching the sheep, the lambs were playing hard to get, so no dice. 

The trick with shearing the sheep was that we had to drag them from their holding pen over to where we had the electric shearer set up. And sheep, being delightfully pear-shaped, are really, really heavy. 

Not as easy as it looks to man-handle a massive sheep.
Once you brought them over to the shearing station, you took a massive electric razor and just hoped for the best.

And with the final snip and buzz of the razor, our task was complete. The only thing left was to...

...hold a baby lamb! And now, my life is complete.

Special thanks to Josh, Dani, and Dani's family for making all of our dreams come true. 

1 comment:

  1. oh my gosh, you look SO happy holding the baby lamb!