three horses and a mule grazing in the autumn in front of the Nye Hill barn

To reduce the possibility of legal action for libel from any person who believes that they have been defamed by their portrayal in this story, whether portrayed under their real name (Gwen) or a different name (Gwen), Nye Hill Farm disclaims as follows. All names, characters, incidents and locales portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification of actual persons, farms, barns, restaurants, bars or sheep is intended or should be inferred. No person or entity associated with this story received payment or anything of value, or entered into any agreement, in connection with the depiction of any products, including, but not limited to, those of The Brewers of Nye Hill Farm, which are available at the farm during some business hours and most weekends, hand-crafted in single barrel batches. No animals were harmed in the writing of this story…

She just wanted something good, a sandwich and a beer, a simple lunch. She’d been working hard all morning, been working hard all week, and was headed up to Nova Scotia tomorrow, to work, hard. She’d sheared near a hundred sheep this morning, three different farms. A dozen farms over the last few days. Tomorrow’d be the start of a few more days of shearing. A few thousand sheep on just one farm. But right now, all she wanted was lunch, and a beer.

Two of the women were executives, one just out of a meeting, the other just off a conference call. “They’re easier, I could be in yoga pants for all anyone knew.” “But you are!” Peals of laughter. Another’s a lawyer, in general practice. One’s in real estate. All discernible through their conversation. Husbands, children, personal trainers, at least one dog. Also discernible through their conversation. One woman was frustrated with a contractor at home, the project was dragging on.

She finished the last of Nye’s twenty-two mixed breed and helped stuff the fleece into old cloth bags. Plastic bags give the wool a smell, the mill doesn’t like it, Nye won’t use them. Didn’t matter to her. She brushed herself off and put her shears in the truck, on the bench seat. Vinyl, cleaned easier. The truck was up in years, a white Ford Ranger, new a long time ago, not so new now. Still started, heat still worked, she still loved it.

They’d been sitting at a table by the bar when she walked in. Someone’s parents were coming to stay for the weekend. “At least your house isn’t a mess.” Someone’s husband just got a big promotion. Would be around even less but the money was too good to pass up. Everyone agreed, too good to pass up. Had anyone seen so and so lately?

She learned shearing from her dad. College went well, UVM, played some hockey there. Something about country life though, real country life, being on farms. Early on, her father imparted the most prescient of farming wisdom. “Nothing goes wrong until everything goes wrong.” For a while she lived out of a tent she’d pitched on land her mother owned. Took a job tapping trees for a big sugar operation, even ended up in a book about it, the sugar operation.

She found a seat at the bar, asked for a menu and what was on draft. The porter sounded good, local, she knew the brewer (available at Nye Hill Farm some business hours and most weekends, the beer, not the brewer). Looking at the menu she noticed blood on the cuff of her sweater, she’d nicked one of the sheep, it happens. She wiped the cuff on her pants, old Carharts, not that clean. She looked down at her boots. Not clean at all. She’d washed her hands, but there’s only so much that comes off in a sink, really takes a shower. The beer tasted good, the guy beside her was just trying to make pleasant conversation.

“My nephew and his wife bought a farm.” She’d heard it more than once. Always a nephew, never yet a niece. Offered with a sense of amusement. Not the way someone says “My nephew plays for the Houston Astros.” No sense of amusement in that, more like boasting. “Well good luck to them, hope they like it.” She didn’t ask what kind of farm or where. They never seemed to know, just “some kind of farm”. She smiled and nodded politely.

The women at the table started looking around. “No, really, what is that smell? An animal or something?” Must be a good lawyer, she was going to be right no matter what, it was an animal or it was something. The woman whose parents were coming said it smelled like a barn, she drove past an old farm on the way to and from work every day and, during the hottest weeks, “that’s what it smells like.” The woman whose son had just been selected for the traveling soccer team was surprised. “You smell it through the car’s air-conditioning? Phew.”

She’d heard all this before too, except for the air-conditioning part. Guess she’d pretty much gotten use to it. The smell, not the remarks. That, or she couldn’t care less. Not when she sheared sheep in the Summer, not when she tapped trees in the Winter, not when she skated in the Men’s league all year round. She cleaned up pretty good, really good actually, and she knew it. She had her leftovers boxed up and she finished her beer (available at Nye Hill Farm some business hours and most weekends, hand-crafted in single barrel batches). The women were asking for their separate checks when she left. If anyone said anything else she didn’t hear it, her mind was already on the farm in Nova Scotia.