The guys left yesterday, so on Tuesday night they drove up the mountain to try and find Javier and bring him here for dinner again. They did find him and he was so very happy. Once again, I realized during dinner that I had gotten other facts wrong, and we all sat in amazement as he told more and more stories.
He began by saying that while he was having lunch that day, most of the sheep went for water and the white dogs stayed with the dawdlers. A pack of coyotes seized the opportunity and quickly brought down and killed a big ewe. He did not have his rifle with him.
Luit asked how he cleans his clothes, and I sheepishly looked at everyone around the table, and all of us were filthy, except Javier. He said he has to wash his clothes in the river, and that it is painfully cold on his hands. Even in the summer, the rivers here are bitterly cold.
He told us stories of winter in years past. I had thought earlier, or perhaps hung my hopes on, the thought of a cozy winter at the big ranch, taking care of the sheep in comfort. I was wrong. He said that he and the other three who take care of as many sheep will remain with the sheep in the high mountains for at least another month an a half. It has already snowed, and the night temps are in the teens, and will drastically plummet in the next few weeks.
Then the 5 day walk to the big ranch, of course without his trailer, and carrying the necessities, including food and hopefully water, on his pack. He said that the sheep do not remain the winter at the big ranch, but are shipped to New Mexico, including Javier and the other sheep herders. Oh the stories of suffering. There is no hay to feed the sheep and they must forage as they may. He showed us his belt and described the hunger, cold and suffering of both he and the sheep, and we saw the winter notch on his belt as opposed to the summer notch. He must get pretty darn skinny during the winter.
He said that the heavy wool sheep huddle together on the icy ground or snow and at times they melt and then freeze together and freeze to the ground. He has to actually separate and break them free with an axe. It reminded me of the story in Laura Ingalls Wilder The Long Winter where the cows were actually frozen to the ground in a huddle because of their group breath during a bitter night.
He told of stories that his sugar is one solid frozen brick. I was unsure if that was then or now, so I gave him some of our hummingbird sugar and he was most excited. He recalled a story of how one time he had a chicken to cook, but had no water that was not frozen, and the chicken was frozen solid. I was trying not to panic, thinking of how in the world he can survive like that.
They live at the big ranch during the one month lambing, and I can’t imagine what a colossal nightmare that is, lambing out singles, twins and triplets of over 6000 ewes. AHHHHH!
The other sickening thing he said was that two of the other herders were so fed up with the conditions that they left, leaving most of the work to Javier and the cranky patron (el jeffe, the big boss.) He is so paranoid that Javier will also leave, that he has withheld the bounteous pay of $750 a month, for the last two months. grrrr.
So, yesterday was a nasty day, cold and rainy all day, and into the night the rain still came down, turning into snow. On my gorgeous drive to Lake City to take Noni to school, it was a icy, white wonderland. I worried about Javier.
On my way down I turned on the dirt road to see if I could find him. The sights were incredible with blazing yellow and orange Aspen leaves shocking their way amongst the white background and snow covered pine trees. Too bad I did not have my camera, but I did have my phone for pictures.
I remembered that Javier said that he was so bitter cold where his trailer is that the boss was going to move it in a few days. I saw some tire tracks off on a small road and figured that must be where they moved the trailer. Staying on the main road a bit more, I came across the sheep pens, two horses staked out, a sheep herders trailer, and about 1000 sheep in the pens. I slow down and see Javier with his two small herding dogs, roll down my window and wave. He sees me and begins running and jumping and waving wildly and we keep waving at each other until we meet. He was certainly cold, and very happy to see me.
These were not his sheep. His camp is miles away and he walked here at 6 this morning to help Edgar with his sheep, as El Patron was to come today with the trucks to take Edgar’s lambs to Denver. Edgar is also Peruvian and has worked in Nevada and Utah. His english is worse than Javier’s. El Patron called Javier on his cell (there is cell service at the pens) and told him that they would not be coming for the sheep today because of the snow.
I “helped” them get all the sheep out of the pens. Javier saw two sheep that were very sick. Edgar’s sheep certainly looked much different than Javier’s sheep. Javier spoke to the two little dogs who raced around the sheep as they were going up a hill and held them. Javier went in to pick up a very sick ewe, and carried it back to the pens.
Edgar also found the other sick sheep and drug it backwards by the hind leg. It was painful to watch. I felt selfish as I did not volunteer to grab and help carry the ewe, as these and other sick ewes in the pen made me fear carrying back some nasty disease to my own sheep. They were very skinny.
Edgar got his to the pen and left the poor thing laying on it’s side, as it was too weak to get up. When Javier saw this, he rushed to the sheep and rolled it over on its haunches, as a ruminant should never lay on it’s side.
It was most apparent that Javier’s dogs and Javier’s veterinarian skills… were superior, and you can certainly see the difference in the two herds.
Thankfully the next week will have sunny warm days, and bitter cold but clear nights. I will come back and pick up both of them tomorrow and bring them to the farm for dinner. They are so grateful, as I am, to be able to spend time with true inspiration, and maybe bring a bit of softness into a very hard life. Javier and Edgar were so happy to have their camps so close (haha! I would not consider it very close, even by car) and Javier said he was going to walk and carry food to cook at Edgar’s trailer tonight so they can be together.
Javier and his dogs piled into my car and I drove them to his new camp where the white dogs gave a fierce greeting, and his sheep were resting around his trailer.
An incredible 360 view to be sure.
I very much want to go see the lightning-speed, sheep separating, when El Patron comes and they run all the sheep through the pens and the gates go flying this way and that, those for market, those for special sale, and those to remain on the mountain until the long trip home. Javier said I was most welcome, but only as a tourist, driving by, stopping at the wild sheep scene in amazement and wanting to see the action. I could not recognize or speak to Javier, as he was afraid that El Patron would be angered and paranoid that one of his herders had made contact with the outside world.
I am tempted, and am a pretty good actor, just happening to drive down a dirt road, with my camera, and wanting to get in on some sheep action. I’m not sure old El Patron knows what’s comin’, but then again, I don’t want to jeopardize Javier in any way.