This morning I found this story in my blog drafts, sketched out August, 2021. I remember this day clearly and hope you will enjoy the story. It was in 2023 that we lost both Marigold and Romulus. So these memeories are bittersweet, heavy on the sweet. xoxo
Last weekend we had a scare with Romulus that evolved into a sweaty, chaotic, hilarious episode with Little Lady Marigold. It all ended well, thankfully; and after some reflection it also provided me a lesson about compounding progress. About how despite the way things sometimes feel, we are not often starting truly from scratch. We may take a few steps backwards sometimes, but good progress tends to stick. Square One, no matter how it looms behind us, may be nothing to fear.
This is what happened.
I had walked outside just three or four minutes before sunrise, to greet the day and walk around saying hello to all the Farmily. By the time I reached Retirement Village (where Romulus and LLM reside), the sun was glowy peach and all the gardens shone dewy. Roosters in the south coop crowed their greetings, and Marigold was baa-ing; but Romulus was nowhere to be found. He was gone.
Our big, regal, black and white llama had liberated himself in order to join the Middle Field Bachelors, his progeny Meh one of them. Llamas have a lot to prove to the world, and their violent competitiveness is the main reason we had them separated. Happily, the horses were too engrossed in their early breakfast to pay attention to Romulus’ unnerving stares, and Meh (this surprised me the most) was visibly terrified of his Dad. It would have been funny if it wasn’t a little bit sad.
What happened next was a long series of cautious attempts by me to lure Romulus back to Retirement Village while Handsome repaired the fence damage caused during the predawn Llama Liberation.
In the midst of all of this, we had to keep Little Lady Marigold more or less inside Retirement Village and Meh and the horses more or less far away, despite a necessarily open gate between them. The trick here, as you can imagine, is that all of these activities are precisely the opposite of what all the animals wanted to do. Probably, Murphy’s Law was made official on a hobby farm.
Also, my system was short one cup of strong coffee and Handsome greatly preferred to be watching cartoons at that hour. Also, at this point, Klaus was unsure of his role in this drama. He swarmed the scene, waiting for instruction.
After almost ninety minutes of frustratingly slow progress peppered by the frustration of sudden retreats, Romulus decided all on his own to slip nonchalantly back into his fenced yard and help himself to breakfast, as if nothing had happened at all. At the exact moment that he did so, his timid sheep companion bolted. I mean she moved like quicksilver, a grey and white blur, through the open gate, past the pond, and straight into the unlikely comfort of eight strong horse legs. She hid behind and among the horses as if they were her big brothers and I was the school yard bully come to steal her lunch money. Had she already forgotten all the little moments we had shared recently, all the love at our fingertips? Meh was as nonplussed as I have ever seen him. Klaus salivated audibly, his desire to give chase an obscene visitor in the room. My sweet, exasperated husband who just-wants-one-day-off-for-the-love-of-all-things-holy yelled, “Well she’s gone! Just let her go!” And threw his hands up in defeat.
It’s fine. It’s very, very fine and okay. We’re fine.
Let me tell you that the first chapter of llama drama that day was far outshined by the second chapter of herding victory.
In my flipflops and cotton pajamas, I chased and lured and lured and begged and chased and pleaded with Marigold to return to the safety of Retirement Village, but it was like a woven straw Chinese handcuff, one of those finger traps from childhood, remember? The more I struggled to “help” her, the less she wanted my help. The literal distance between us grew, and I started to worry about the figurative distance. Was she actually afraid of me?
So in desperation and maybe surrender, we employed Klaus. His natural herding instincts ignited like wildfire! As light and fast as his quarry was, this beast was smarter and more powerful. He gave chase like a missile, he pulled back to widen his circle, he tightened it again, he lassoed her uphill and across the middle field. And despite how much he fears the horses himself, having narrowly survived an angry hoof stomping when he was a puppy, he eventually needled her away from the safety of their tall legs. Smiling and focused and perfectly on task, our boy was magificent. Living out his purpose and thrilled about it.
She ran and ran and ran, like nothing I have ever seen before. A tiny poof of dirty wool with stick legs and bug eyes, she screamed and slipped through the three wire fence near my big vegetable garden (please god no!). She passed the giant hydrangeas, skeetered across the wood deck, and stood stubbornly in the shade, near the fruit trees and south coop. Cornered, without the horses to protect her. Klaus standing guard. Everyone panting.
I crept around the bonfire and slowly opened that big red cattle gate, saying little prayers the whole time that she would see the open invitation. She did. She walked in. I closed the gate. It was all over in a moment. She ate breakfast with Romulus, very casually, as if nothing had happenedand everything was normal.
It was touch and go for a bit, and it definitely drained our big sweet Shepherd of all his morning energy, but it was done.
This is the part about not fearing Square One:
The relief of having ROmulus and LLM in their safe place was somewhat eclipsed by the fear that LLM was now afraid of me. That all of the cuddly progress we had been making lately seemed now shattered by the adrenalous chasing drama. For the next few days I was extra gentle with her, demading nothing, offering her food and space and sweet talking and gentleness, honestly apologizing to her sweet spirit for the terror that morning.
Would we still be friends?
The answer is, yes.
After two or three tentative interactions that next week, things returned pretty quickly to where we left off. She remembered in just a few feedings that we were friends, that I was not there to hurt her. Gradually she allowed me to tap her narrow snoot, stroke her cheek with the outside of my finger, and talk to her while she ate contentedly. I thought maybe we were back to Square One or worse, but that wasn’t the case at all. We had retained most of the affectionate progress.
Love was still at our fingertips, err, hooves.
Continuing January 2024:
This story was good for me to revisit, two and a half years later. Life is full of good projects and efforts that sometimes take several steps backwards, and I don’t know about you, but when this happens I often worry that I am starting all the way over. I resist Square One almost with fear. This thought process is so exhausting! We don’t want to lose the progress we have made; and this is understandable.
The more I pay attention, though, and the more I see patterns develop over time, the more I believe that much of the work we do in life tends to stick. We learn and do really good, satisfying work. We make mistakes and slip up, we learn new and better tricks, we gather strength and practice the basics and try fancy stuff. Things happen to us that are very much outside our control. We respond to them and cope. We heal. We spiral upwards, sometimes slowly, sometimes at an indiscernible rate. Then sometimes we skyrocket! and get dizzy from the sudden progress.
But over time, we do grow. Even in winter, in seasons of waiting and resting, we are alive. Putting down roots, saving nutrients for the next burst of life. We can trust that.
I think that more often than not, even on days when llamas escape for no reason and sheep run away from us despite our hard won friendship, we can trust that good things generally return to normal, or even better than normal. Our efforts are not wasted. Square One is fine, too, if you ever do happen to land there again, nothing to fear. Because by then you will be changed. You will be a different person there than you were the first time around.
Trust your progress.
Love your sheep.
Keep an eye on wandering llamas.
It’s going to be okay.