Ian Lomas was a Psychobilly* Rocker in his young wild days. From the Mosh pit to the slurry pit at Griffe Walk is quite a journey I think as I watch him skilfully, carefully switch a triplet lamb onto a ewe that has given birth but has nothing to show for it. This has to be done the instant the newborn drops, aquatic wet, bloodied and steaming onto the straw. It's birth Mother is busy talking and licking her other two lambs. He picks the slippery, stretched streak of new life up and drops it in a hush and rush of afterbirth and steam, oozing, wriggling behind it's new foster ewe. She turns and looks, a moments hesitation, then she greets her new lamb with a nuzzle, then a lick and she starts to talk in short quick breaths and rhythms to this, her lamb. Where else could it have come from, so wet and new? Neither birth Mother or foster Mother seem to notice the switch as Ian watches quietly, to make sure all goes well and as it should.
A few mornings later I am back in the lambing shed, Ian is milking and I Keep an eye while he is busy, But when I arrive there is a still born lamb. I go over quickly, trying not to disrupt the sleeping, waiting ewes. The lamb is still warm so I check its airway, rub it down with straw and swing it, nothing, the lambs Mother watches. Frustrated that life is not coming back this time, I stop my efforts after a while. But the watching ewe does not. I fall away, backing off in my failure. She comes forward to her dead lamb and begins to paw it where it's lungs could wheeze and splutter it back to life. She's not giving up, I photograph her quietly as she nuzzles, licks and paws at her lamb. Her eyes hold something that's hard to watch, but I am very lucky to witness. Still she will not give up, this is her first lamb, her only lamb, until that Psychobilly Shepherd finishes his milking shift and can again trick nature. Skinning her dead lamb and putting it's lifeless coat on a new body that is warm, pulsing and hungry, blaating for life and that ewes milk. 'The Clubfoot', Londons Rocking heartbeat in the 80's, never saw these things that happen on this Hill, these heartbeats that stop and sometimes start again.
*Psychobilly, Music that blends Punk Rock and Rockabilly.
I didn't know until later, discussed over a cup of tea in the farm kitchen, that Ian lambed this ewe before I arrived that morning, he left the lamb alive to start milking the herd. Half an hour later he checks on the ewes and the lamb is dead. He's cross with himself for that, for not staying an extra five minutes when the dairy herd demanded milking. As he eats his breakfast he checks on Twitter, the frustrations and thoughts of other shepherds on other Hills.
Well here it is, I'm being laughed at again, which I deserve. There's amusement because I never quite make dawn which is at 5.30 am at this time of the year. My old car usually finds its way to Griffe Walk around 6 am. There's a good reason for my timing, the light that hits this grey block shed at around 6.30 am, in the cold early morning, is a gift. Ian's been up every night for two weeks and John Bowler, who helps with the milking, has been here since the shrinking blackness of predawn. It's hard for them to get excited about what I'm seeing, but I almost hold my breath, just in case it drifts into black again like the dust that's tumbled in that light now.
They go to let the cows out and check the other lambing shed, I'm left to keep an eye in here. There's a ewe lambing and she's chosen her spot, pawing the ground, right in this biblical slant of light. She is doing her job so well, she doesn't need me to interfere. The first lamb slithers into existence, out of its mother and twists of steam climb from its warm, new body. She is up then talking to her lamb, licking the mucus from its nose, the first communication is something special. Again she gets down and on with the job of creation and her next lamb. The light stays with us all the time, pulling the steam upwards in coils as the second lamb is born easily in front of me. I help clear the mucus from this ones nose as its mother is busy licking and talking to her first. Then, with fingers sticky with afterbirth, I photograph, quietly stealing those images out of the light.
During the night lambings, in the drowsy, dark shed, Ian knows when a ewe has lambed because he can hear this 'talking' between the ewe and her newborn: