What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?
A Day Caught In The Midst Of All The Others
A world filled with love is a wonderful sight.
Being in love is one's heart's delight.
But that look of love isn't on my face.
That enchanted feeling has been replaced
(Deleted Verse) Jimmy Ruffin 'What Becomes of the Broken Hearted' 1966
I love my job because... hang on I don't think I have a job.
Do I qualify for the challenge 'A Day In The Life' by Vocal Media. "For this Challenge, we want to celebrate you and the impact you make in this world! Tell us about your job, what you do, and why it is important."
I think I need to check...
job noun - Pronounced ˈjäb
Definition of job
1a: a regular remunerative position
got a part-time job as a waiter
she quit her job
b: a specific duty, role, or function
The heart's job is to circulate blood.
c(1): something that has to be done : TASK
was given the job of delivering the bad news
(2): an undertaking requiring unusual exertion
it was a real job to talk over that noise
I think I qualify for the last description, an undertaking requiring unusual exertion. You see seven years ago I brought a derelict five storey mill on eight acres of land with two rivers running through it. My job although unpaid is as a caretaker and custodian of a huge folly in Normandy, France.
My days are different. I can be maintaining woodland, planting food to eat, working the river, improving the buildings, maintaining everything (there is a lot of that). The day can be dictated by the weather, some jobs are for the summer and others are for the winter. I am almost self-sufficient. I grow most of my own food and barter for what I don't have. I fell my own trees and stack my own firewood, providing the heat for my home in winter. I also operate an open door and invite people to stay for no charge. Room and board is paid by helping me out. Some stay for months, others for just a day or two. It is an older way to live.
Although for this essay there is only one day I want to share from this year. I am told regularly how lucky I am to live the life I live. It did take a lot of work to create this life and like any other life I have days in the sun and days in the rain. When you rely on so many external forces to carry you home there are times when you are at it's mercy.
You see a few years ago I acquired some livestock, well I rescued them really and you can find their story here.
Doing what I do is all about planning, seeing three weeks into the future and being prepared for everything. This March I had some surprises and some difficult lessons to learn.
It was the second Saturday of March, I could look up the date but I don't run a busy social calendar so work through things in a simpler fashion. My lambs are three weeks too early. They arrive early traditionally but the last week of March is the normal first due date. The first one had arrived that Wednesday and in quick succession three more arrived the day after on Thursday. It sometimes happens this way as the expectant mothers see the first baby arrive, get excited and want to hurry the whole thing along. Now breeders of sheep will be angry with me because I am supposed to plan better. There is a whole list of things I am supposed to do. They don't see the two weeks of fence repairs, the strange winter, an inability to get feed recently because we lost transportation and are navigating Covid travel restrictions and curfews; these have combined to make the last four months almost impossible. Everyone likes to tell you what you are doing wrong; especially in France. Some people spend two days near a farm or read a book and want to tell you everything you should be doing and everything else you are doing wrong. They also don't know how I am raising sheep by total accident, how this is my fifth lambing season and in all that time no one offering professional expertise has ever asked me are the sheep happy. They are extremely happy. My sheep are awesome.
I have no previous experience in raising sheep. Yet with my heritage breed, I have learnt to encourage them to give birth in the field and live a crazy six weeks of no sleep. Around this time you are more likely to see me in that same field with a headlamp on, in the dead of night; than actually find me asleep in a bed. I can now almost tell by sight who is next due and when the babies might come. Now three weeks early in March is a big deal, the weather is incredibly different in that short period of time and climatic extremes are a problem.
The sky that morning did not look good. So I got on the weather forecast AP and saw something I did not want to see - a weather front had changed course and we had plummeting temperatures, strong winds and freezing rain arriving very soon in our immediate future.
I had a farmer's choice to make. A decision that has equally bad outcomes, a choice between which lesser evil to pick. This is the dilemma, with the help of my friend I had to decide if I bring all four new-borns in and their mothers to a staging area we had set up on the other side of the river or we bring in 'Petite Vache', the next sheep about to give birth. If we were lucky we might be able to do both.
Now before I continue, let me tell you about 'Petite Vache'. 'Petite Vache' is French for 'little cow'. She was a miracle, a true piebald Ouessant sheep. A sheep breeder will tell you this is down to bad genetics but to me it was a miracle. After she was born I looked for a record of a piebald (the unique patchwork markings you can see in the photo) everywhere and did not find one. She might truly be the first. This year would be her first baby.
We decided to bring in the four new-borns first. We made our choice. Now Ouessant sheep (my breed) are as fast as dogs. The babies can run quite nimbly also at two days old. So we started; it took three hours to catch the four mothers and the offspring. The last hour was spent covered in mud and in horizontal freezing rain. The storm was above us, we were in a hurricane. We went to catch 'Petite Vache' but had to retreat as if we did not catch her simply we could force a miscarriage. We left the rest of the flock to the storm and went inside ourselves. Interference in the whole process can be the fastest route to tragedy. The ideal outcome is just to watch from distance.
Three hours later during a lull in the craziest of storms, I checked on our wee ones, all safe inside with their mothers, all happy and healthy. I then went onto the back field to check on 'Petite Vache'. She was away from the rest of the flock out in the open and not sheltering. She had given birth to a baby ram. With the same polar opposite piebald marking as her mother. A perfect photo negative in sex and pattern. There was one problem. The baby ram was dead.
Some farmers will tell you if a sheep could die twice it would. Knowing that still never makes the experience easier. Twenty percent of baby lambs worldwide die at birth. I beat those odds but the thing no one tells you about is how the mothers react. Some will just reject the strange alien thing that has popped out of them. Some will cry for weeks. One year I had a mother chase around the back field. Just searching for the baby she lost. Endlessly crying out for ten whole days. We were at the point of having to make a decision to intervene and do something about her behaviour - as it was causing problems among the other new-borns. Then she finally settled down, going on to successfully give birth to wonderful baby lambs over the next two seasons.
'Petite Vache' was heartbroken. So was I, as her pain was obvious. She maintained a guard of honour over her dead baby boy and would not leave. From experience I chose to give her time with her loss. That evening I went back out and removed her baby boy.
So how does that measure up as just another 'day in the life of'?
Am I making an impact on the world, or is the world making an impact on me? The four saved new-borns, would have struggled in that storm, it was nasty. Would they have all died? I don't know, I would have been surprised if they all lived. What I do everyday, even in the more extreme days feels important, but is it truly? I don't know. We all live in microcosms and the decisions we make inside them and their impact can't really be judged by the ones outside looking in.
Each day we live leads into the next.
My little world just has a bit more life and death in it.
So what day did that one lead into?
The next morning, I checked on the sheltering nursery, everyone was good. We kept them indoors for three days in the end. Then I went out into the backfield and checked on my mourning mother. She was lying down with her face in the dirt, I tried to get her to stand but she refused. I lifted her to her feet but she held position for just a moment then just slumped down. Lifting her up I carried her in and called the vet. By the time the vet arrived 'Petite Vache' was dead. We found nothing obvious and I made the decision not to perform a full autopsy. The vet agreed with me and told me it could possibly be a broken heart.
After the vet left, I lifted 'Petite Vache' out to the backfield and placed her under the big tree. The entire flock came and one by one said a goodbye to their pal. The only way to describe it is a funeral procession. It was truly one of the saddest, most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. I left her with her family for three hours and then returned to carry her back over the river to be with her son.
Lying in bed that night I cried as hard as I did when my mother died. That particular day stayed with me for a long time. There were a lot of decisions made. Did I make the right ones? Did I make the wrong ones?
This is farming.
Farming is hard, always has been, always will be.
Farming is life and death.
You have all heard the French phrase, C'est la Vie.
It means 'This is Life'.
This is farming.
I'm searching though I don't succeed
For someone's love has a growing need
All is lost, there's no place for beginning
All that's left is an unhappy ending
Now what becomes of the broken hearted?
Who had love that's now departed
I know I've got to find some kind of peace of mind
I'll be searching everywhere.
Jimmy Ruffin 'What Becomes of the Broken Hearted' 1966
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About the author
Raised in the UK by an Irish mother and Scouse father.
Now confined in France raising sheep.
Those who tell the stories rule society.
If a story I write makes you smile, laugh or cry I would be honoured if you shared it and passed it on..