Monday, December 28, 2009

Sheep Shearing and Sonatas

I recently came across this story on the sheep shearing course at New Mexico State University:

In addition to being a pretty cool video for fiber enthusiasts, it brought a childhood memory rushing vividly back.  Now, I'm pretty much a city mouse at this point in my life, but this was not always true.  My family moved around quite a bit when I was a child, and when I was seven we landed in the great, and exceedingly beautiful, state of Vermont for a period of about three years. 

My parents are from very urban areas in northern New Jersey, but they always found a way to plant their little family (Mom, Dad, and two kids) in places very different from their home cities of Newark and East Orange.  I actually never lived in a proper city until I moved to Philadelphia just before starting college.  Even in New York where I went to high school, my family had lived on a dirt road.

When we first arrived in Vermont our house was still being built, so we holed up for a time in a ski resort.  I can still feel my mother's anxiety as she tried to maneuver up and down the mountain (with a 7- and 9-year-old in tow) during our first New England winter.  But we had all come to appreciate each move as a new adventure.  We finally got set up in our new house in the tiny (even by Vermont standards) town of Underhill at the base of the mighty Mt. Mansfield.  It was there that my brother and I first strapped on cross-country skis - a gift from Santa, I believe - and skiied around our snowy, moonlit yard that first Christmas Eve.  In Vemont I learned to ride the neighbors horses, drive a snow mobile, tap a maple tree, alpine ski,  to make granola.  There were snow ball fights, cow patty fights (you don't want to know), snow forts, milk straight from the cow . . . yeah, a real Vermont life.

It was also in Vermont that I learned to play piano.  I can't say why, but when I was about six I started asking my mother for piano lessons.  Mind you, we didn't have a piano.  Needless to say, Mom was a little reluctant.  Even the cheapest of pianos is not cheap.  But I was persistent.  So, after a couple of years of begging, Mom, who loved her kids way too much, took a job to get her daughter a piano.  I was ecstatic.  And a little wary.  Afterall, Mom, who loved her kids way too much, told me that the day I decided to quit playing this hard-earned instrument was the day she would break all of my little fingers.

So, when I was about nine, the lessons started.  My brother (two years my senior) also started taking lessons, but later switched to the trumpet.  I can't remember the name of my first piano teacher.  But I do remember that she was very kind and patient.  She baked delicious treats from scratch.  She lived in a beautiful, rustic-modern Vermont house.  And she raised sheep on the acres of beautiful land surrounding that beautiful house.

To get to my piano teacher's house, I would take the yellow school bus directly from my tiny elementary school, and Mom would pick me up afterward.  One lesson day, I got off the bus at the piano teacher's house only to learn that there would be no piano lesson that day.  That lesson happened to fall on sheep shearing day.  And, on a sheep farm, shearing takes precedence over tinkling ivories.  That was the first time I had seen a sheep (actually a whole bunch of sheep) being shorn.  I remember petting the sheep who seemed fairly calm, but a little annoyed by the whole process.  I remember sticking my hands in the oily, fresh-shorn wool.  I remember thinking all of this was pretty cool.  But not so out of the ordinary.  Afterall, I was a country kid.  My closest friend was the daughter of a dairy farmer. 

But, as I look back, I am able to appreciate what a special time those years spent in Vermont were.  It was there that I gained a love of nature born from intimate, daily contact.  Snow.  More snow.  Spring rain.  Firy autumn leaves.  Crystal clear creeks.  Murky ponds.  Elegant white birch trees.  All manner of woodland creatures.  Fresh garden vegetables.  Pure maple syrup.  Fiddle-head ferns.  Beautiful things taken for granted.  Finally special to me after so many years of city living. 

Now, how to get back . . .


the Minister Formerly Known As said...

There is something about community when working with textiles.. there is something spiritual/organic about making something from scratch and giving it or selling it. I am so excited that you are spinning your wheels.. some of my fondest memories of learning how to crochet from my grandmother Helen and learning how to knit from a left-handed German lady in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. prayerdiva

Whitish said...

What a fascinating account of your sheepish roots! I'm more of a city-rat than a country-mouse but experienced my share of country living just as you did. It honestly wasn't my cup of moonshine but I can certainly see that you benefited from it. I hope you can still play some piano while wearing a sheepskin coat so your Mom can know how it was all worth while :) Great story.

Charisse said...

This has nothing to do with your blog post.
You are a spinning monster. I love it.
Happy New Year.


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