Tales from transhumance

Looking back to my time on the road between 30th March and 6th April 2012:

Sometimes a ewe will reject a lamb, or she may die while the lamb is still suckling, and then the youngsters need extra care.  At times like those it was touching to see how kind even tough professional shepherds could be.

Ghita split his flock into two halves for easier handling and I spent most of my time with one of the halves, which was led the two shepherds, Iosif and Andrei.  Several lambs had been born in the few days before 2nd April when we set out from the winter farm.  There was one in our half of the flock whose mother would have nothing to do with him.  It was pathetic to see the tiny animal stumbling in vain after his dam who fled as far from him as she could, her long Turcana fleece flouncing like a pantomime dame in her hurry to escape.

As we climbed steeply out of the valley away from the farm on the first day of the walk, Andrei was bringing up the rear, noticed the lamb’s struggles and picked him up in his arms. Iosif was far ahead of us in the van, and didn’t notice.  He looked more hard-bitten than Andrei and I thought he would object to any form of molly-coddling but as we tramped relentlessly up and down yet more hills, my muscles screaming with the effort, Iosif too took pity on the lamb.  It was a pretty matter of fact sort of compassion: Iosif either grabbed him by the scruff or hoisted him off the ground by his forelegs like a rag, but at times he too could be seen cradling the infant in his arms to make sure he wasn’t left behind.

Being an orphan himself – he had grown up in a children’s home – Andrei’s sympathy with the vulnerable lamb was especially understandable.  For the next three days, Andrei and I took it in turns to carry micutul (the little one).  I enjoyed playing nurse; it gave me something to do and helped to keep me warm: the weather fluctuated more and more but it was often close to freezing.

Every few hours, Andrei caught the negligent ewe and either wrestled her to the ground, upending her like a sack of potatoes, or tying her to a tree so the lamb had a chance to drink.  Sometimes Andrei, Iosif or Ghita got so cross with the mother that they slapped her around the head, a treatment I thought guaranteed to sour her for life.

When Andrei asked me what name we should give the lamb, there was no contest: it had to be Sean.  So for the next few days, Sean he became, identified by his particular markings – it was surprising how quickly I came to recognise the black patterns on his face, ears and legs – but also by the piece of red wool which Andrei tied around his neck and his growing propensity to sit down when either of us approached.  At times like those, he could be bleating or not, according to how exhausted he was, but he always managed to look more lost and helpless than the others, as he no doubt felt.  He was certainly the smallest of the lambs in that group

Sean became very attached to Andrei and vice versa.  The lamb began to follow the young shepherd like a dog, and Andrei would cuddle him and kiss him on the nose.  Knowing Sean’s likely fate, I had the mad idea of buying him for Andrei so that he could start a flock of his own.  But I didn’t how much he would cost nor how Ghita would react to such a request.  And when I mentioned it, I could see that Andrei wasn’t sure he wanted to be lumbered with an extra mouth to feed at this stage of his life.

On the fourth day of our trek, a minor miracle happened: Sean’s recalcitrant mother changed her mind.  She started looking for him, bleating when he wasn’t with her, and best of all, let him suckle without being tied.  But Sean still liked to be cosseted.  It came to the point with Iosif told Andrei he must stop carrying the lamb at all.  The animal needed exercise to develop his muscles if he was to have any chance of surviving the long march home.   ‘Don’t do it, Andrei, do you hear?  It’s not good for him.  Look at him sitting there like little Lord Fauntleroy.  He’ll be calling for a taxi next!’

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