Amazement. I cannot even begin to grasp or properly convey the amazement I am feeling right now. I’m astounded at the fact that Lance and I are pulling this harebrained idea of ours off and even more astounded at the sheer volume of information we are absorbing, not to mention everything we have seen so far. We have been at this for a little over a week (or five weeks if you count the inception and ensuing frenzy to get it all sorted in time to leave). But what is truly putting me beside myself at the moment is the incredible people we have met and things we have seen and learned at just the first of our WWOOF stopovers. And we’re not even done here!
We arrived at SageRidge Mill & Critters and were greeted by excited and affable dogs who immediately made us part of the pack and herded us into the house along with Linda, one of the sweetest, most easygoing, yet no-nonsense ladies I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Options for places to sleep and general business were attended to and we were offered a wide range of work to help out with over the course of our three full days we planned to work.
Business and introductions done, we proceeded to have a weenie roast in the yard and learned that Linda’s son, Joe, not only plays guitar, but has built some of his own. It seemed like we’d been here only a minute when we were all back in the living room with Lance and Joe playing a couple of songs while Tom, Linda’s husband, worked on an air conditioning unit for one of their trailers and Linda pedaled away on her soothingly squeaky spinning wheel making yarn from her own milled fiber. This being our first ever WWOOFing experience, it was wonderful to be made so immediately comfortable and at home without being hovered or fussed over.
Charley has become our home, so we elected to maintain our own sleeping place, but have been very glad of being able to avail ourselves of things like showers, WiFi, and fresh eggs from the chickens who roam about the place. Today we cooked our dinner out in the yard to enjoy the fresh air and got to feed said chickens the eggshells. Recycling manifest!
Back to day 1, having agreed upon the decidedly un-cliche and humane rancher start time of 9a, we settled down and experienced our first wind storm in Charley van. He rocked a bit, but we slept well and as the wind would continue through our first day, Linda decided that we should work in the mill rather than wrangle alpacas for shots as we had originally planned. We were grateful for this deviation from the plan as it was a decidedly blustery day. We spent some of our time making dreadlocks for an art piece Linda is making for a show in October and also took a tour of the mill to get acquainted with the process and then worked on skirting, washing, drying and picking fiber. Linda also showed us her creations made from what she mills and I lamented the fact that I cannot shop for reasons of lack of space and income. Felted hats, rope, shawls, and really great costuming type pieces along with raw materials for others to make such items themselves. All of this she does and takes to shows or sells online while running a ranch and maintaining a family. What an inspiring woman!
After all of this, she still wanted to show me how to do some weaving like she does when she makes shawls and how to spin yarn just for funsies. I’d be hard pressed to think of a more gracious host.
Another pleasant evening in the books, we awoke yesterday to have our first real encounter with the alpacas. They require annual shots for tetanus and other possible maladies and we were charged with wrangling them along with Joe to allow Linda to administer shots, mark them, and in some cases check for micro-chipping that may or may not have been accomplished during fleecing, and chip the ones who lacked them as well. I took a couple of good kicks, but didn’t get spit on and managed to adopt a mostly successful method of catching them casually. Like putting my arm around a friend at a bar and then applying a loving squeeze accompanied by grasping them by one ear. Some, however, would not be reasoned with so amicably and Lance tended to have a knack for finding those and the screamers. Although he never sustained a kick, so I guess we’re even. *wink*
We got through about 120 alpacas before the shots ran out and, after a quick break, we decided to go visit Linda’s friends Theresa and Chris at their nearby farm in Sheridan, WY. They are doing something a little closer to what Lance and I are thinking about in that they are in the process of building a yurt for their family of 6 (just to be clear, we like the idea of a yurt, but the family of 6 is completely out of the question :-P) and started raising their crops and animals for their own subsistence, but are now selling some of their produce in the local area. They were delightfully eager to share and took time out of their day to give us a tour of the yurt and their land and answer all kinds of questions about the dwelling and farm setup. They have primarily pigs, goats and chickens, but also bees, some alpacas, and horses. They also have a garden which a couple of the kids are tending and hoping to bring to market, although a recent hail storm caused some damage. I was most impressed by their ambitious plans for their farm (which look to be coming along quite nicely) and that the whole operation is really a family affair with every member taking an interest and lending their talents. The yurt was also pretty impressive as it was my first time seeing inside one and I had been heretofore somewhat dubious about Lance’s suggestion that this might be a workable tiny house solution for us.
When we got back to SageRidge, it was time to go lead some of the horses in to ply them with grooming and fly spray and treats before saddling up to have a little ride. On our way back, Lance was asked to carry in a cria that was born to one of the ladies we had given a shot to earlier in the day sometime during the intervening few hours. I was leading a horse or else I’d have seized an opportunity to photograph him carrying that brand new baby alpaca like a proud papa himself. Linda names all the alpacas. I might suggest that she call this one Lance. 🙂
Back at the ranch with mama and baby safely penned for some downtime together, we proceeded to work with the horses and each had a good time in their own way. I wanted to ride again as I hadn’t done so in about 13 years and Lance enjoyed grooming and giving the horses snacks.
Riding done and horses set back loose on the pasture, we headed in to attend to our respective evening business. Lance and I sat in the yard with our dinner and enjoyed the evening with the chickens, a peacock, and some of the alpacas who need some special attention for one reason or another.
All 200+ of the alpacas have names and Linda and Joe seem to know them all on sight. I don’t know how long that takes, but I know that one of the little fellas in the yard is called Flower and he really wanted me to give him his milk.
Lance particularly likes the emus and they are particularly fond of stealing things, as is one of the dogs, Curly. Tom rescued one of Lance’s shoes from Curly and Lance rescued one of my work shirts from emu absconding.
Also a fan of the goats, Lance couldn’t resist the chance to hang out with Cinders, a sweet fellow with one horn.
By this point in the day, we sat amazed at all we had seen and done and watched as the ladies and the little ones wended their way down off the range to their sleeping place among the trees as they seem to do every evening around 5:30 instinctively. Some stop and check in with the members who are in the yard and the goats even seem to be a part of the herd.
The interdependence of the livestock, the land, and the farmers and ranchers all trying to make a living doing what they love, with the living part being secondary to the love part, that is the the lesson I am taking away here. Lance and I love being partners because we work well as a team and have a symbiosis as a result. Never has that been more true than now. And that symbiosis combined with everything I have seen in the last few days here fills my heart with hope that more people will embrace a life that requires some interdependence on a community and on other life forms as opposed to the insular and self-centered way some are living without realizing the impact their greed and obliviousness has on the world as a whole. I appreciate fully the conveniences that progress has given us as I type these words on one of them. But I think in some ways it might be time to go back to basics just to know the origins of our natural resources, and by extension ourselves, and maybe learn to live a little more conscientiously as a result.