Sunday, April 26, 2009

A metà strada

The internship ends one month from yesterday, and two months from today I will board a plane headed for home. Two months ago tomorrow, I was sitting in Detroit Metro airport wondering how the hell I had gotten myself into this all. Can I really be halfway done here, two-thirds of the way through at Spannocchia? Apparently.

The animales interns switched duties around as planned, so I have been taking care of the 28 pecore [sheep] and 10 agnelli [lambs] instead the maiali. It was a welcome change, but brought about new challenges of course. The learning curve with maiali was steep, but after working with them for five weeks I am confident enough to gauge most situations and deal with them appropriately. Our Cinta will, for the most part, follow anyone or anything with a grain bucket. The pecore, on the other hand, have an incredible herd instinct, which is great as long as they actually follow you.

The first morning after the switch, I had a plan:
I remembered all the trouble Max had with them his first week, and I remembered helping him once when he had a bucket of alfalfa. So as I got ready to lead them out of the fold, I grabbed a bucket and stuck fistful of alfalfa in it. “Pecore, andiamo! Vieni! Let’s go, come on!” Oh, I was so hopeful. My plan actually seemed to work for a few minutes, but then Roberto’s dogs were outside and barking, which made the pecore hesitate… I tried regrouping, rattling the fieno in the bucket and letting the leaders sniff at it. That’s the problem with sheep, though. Whoever is in the front of the herd is the leader— regardless of which direction they’re headed or who is in front. As soon as a car drove down the road, it was all over. They took off in the opposite direction down the road, with me tailing them at full speed in my muck boots and overalls, rattling that stupid bucket of hay and trying to call them to me in the calmest voice I could muster. It just so happened that Greg was headed in our direction to check a fence, so the two of us got them turned around… and then they all scaled the rock wall and jumped into a pasture. Not really where they were supposed to go, but I figured that wasn’t a bad attempt for my first day. A half hour later as I headed back up to the main fattoria, I realized that they had promptly climbed back over the wall again and were out on the road. Sheep are very different from pigs— the pigs will test and test and test any fence, and escape from it the moment it fails, whether it’s electric or just cyclone wire. Sheep, on the other hand, will respect any closed gate, even if it’s not latched, but they don’t think twice about scaling five-foot tall rock walls.

It’s gotten a lot better though. I picked up a bamboo stick near one of the vineyards and have been using it as a crook. The extra arm span it gives me seems to make a big difference, and I’ve realized that it’s really only important to get a few of them to follow you. Piano, piano [slowly, slowly]— the pace that dictates life here. The rest of them with follow those few. It’s a huge change of pace from feeding the pigs, and I’ve been enjoying the more relaxed mornings, leading them out to graze. Keep in mind, of course, that I’m walking with a herd of sheep, bells tinkling around their necks, by vineyards and through olive orchards, across pastures covered in yellow, purple and white wildflowers, and poppies, and all in the shadows of 700 year-old stone buildings. It’s so surreal, still.

Add to the mix what is, for me, probably the most exciting development of all— the mare I’ve been working with piano, piano, Nera, has gone from being my pet project to a faithful riding companion. Every night, the moment I finish with work, I run down to the horses and work with her until it’s time for dinner. I’ve even ridden her during chores, starting last weekend when I was on duty, and continuing this past week when I fed the sheep in the evenings. Yesterday she and I explored some of the far reaches of Spannocchia’s property, poking around Casetta al Leccio for a while and galloping, flying really, across a few verdant fields. You can imagine how happy I am. It'll be hard to leave this.

That being said, a certain few family members might like to know that I am very much looking forward to seeing them in a few short weeks! Mom, I had a dream the other night that you were here, having dinner with us in the Villa. [aww, I know.]

Anywho. Lots of new pictures here, here, here, and here... and videos galore!

Here are the pecore, or "peckers" as Giulio likes to call them:

Meet Nera!

And the hens...

This one is overdue, but here's a look into the Transformation Room with Riccio [when he curses about halfway through the video, it's because the casings kept breaking, which is why he cuts it]:

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