Sun Watchers

Sun Watchers

This post is contributed by Barnaby Porter from his archives. Read the previous post here.

The eleventh hour of the last night in January found Riv and me in his barn, checking on lambs. There wasn’t much going on. The night was mild and still, perhaps not cold enough. Hay-filled pens teemed with the heart beats and steamy breaths of fat ewes, all staring at us to see what we might do. Their great, pregnant sides heaved with the effort of breathing in the pale glow of the barn light. Dusty cobwebs hung in the dark corners. A black cat looked down from the loft above. The soft swishing of hay was the only sound.

Lambing time in Riv’s barn had started a couple of nights before with twins, one black and one white, now standing by their wooly mother, sensing her nervousness. Expectation hung in the air with the fragrance of trampled hay and manure, and Riv knew it was only a matter of time before one of his visits every few hours would find another ewe in labor and, he hoped, another set of twins. But, for the moment, all was quiet as the barn creatures watched and waited.

I was glad for this midnight look into my friend’s barn, not only for a firsthand glimpse of another man’s husbandry, but for the chance as well to witness the coming generation of lambs who have not yet felt the warmth of the Sun, whose only comfort comes from their ample dams, bedded in hay. But they will surely feel the Sun’s growing strength in the weeks ahead.

Theirs is a cloven-hoofed existence, tied closely to the sun’s energy as the pregnant ewes chew and lie in the very hay that flourished in the singing fields of last summer. And on the sunny side of their barn, to which lambs will shortly venture, they will nap in the flood of its warmth until that spring sunshine offers them their first green blades of grass.

Such are the mental ramblings of a sun watcher who, unlike the droves who flock to Floridian beaches to meet it halfway, must find contentment in the shortening length of shadows and the growing length of the days. That I see spiles for tapping maple trees set out on store counters tells me that three weeks’ time will see enough solar gain to awaken sugar orchards from their winter dormancy, and by that time, folks will find enough sunlight on their window sills to inspire a start on garden seedlings.

Watching the Sun can, and often does, involve more than casual observance, as in the case of one of my old neighbors who dutifully made note of the day the sun rose from directly behind the chimney of the house across the river, and then again, six months later to the day, when it happened once more. Though not quite so dramatic as the stones of Stonehenge, that reference chimney provided him with a very visual means to track the Sun through the seasons.

Somewhere along the line, we shepherds and chimney watchers and such seem to have passed beyond the simple response to daylight and light intensity as experienced by beasts of the field, and, as sun watchers, have acquired the peculiar habit of always longing for the next season. Thus, in my abstract way, I found myself in the last hour of January entertaining visions of spring lambs bouncing stiff-legged through the green, green grass of a new season.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. On October 7, 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.