Ballyhoo Fiber Emporium
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Ballyhoo Fiber Emporium podcast for fiber artists and producers featuring farm tips, sheep education, industry guests, farm updates, and more!

Bee Chi

I took Champagne to the vet last week in preparation for the arrival of our new sheep. We recently switched vets; Shively Animal Clinic has great vets but inefficient service. Dr. Chris Albert at Mt. Washington Animal Clinic is our new vet, closer to home and astoundingly good. As always, it took three of us to trim Champagne's nails (and she got the muzzle off twice). She crushes the scale at a whopping 65.2 lbs, 15 lbs too much! This despite her diet - it's impossible to keep a country dog from finding snacks. She has some arthritis due to age and scar tissue, and we have physical therapy exercises to do every day. (Like dog, like owner.) As Dr. Albert was teaching me how to stretch Champagne's hips she commented, "This is a dog whose boundaries need to be respected." That essentially sums up every issue I've ever had with her! People don't respect Champagne's boundaries when they insist on touching her before she's comfortable. She suffered from tremendous anxiety without her kennel, HER solidly defined space. She needs the demands of obedience and other jobs to define her. At the end of the visit I expressed relief: "I was worried I'd have to find another herding dog!" "You do. You should start looking," was the Dr.'s reply. When I expressed dismay at adding a dog to the 2 dog/4 cat household, she said, "I have 6 and 10. If I can do it, so can you!"

Let me live with the idea. I have school coming up. Champagne is only 10. I'll look after her next birthday.

I ran the idea past Nick (respecting his boundaries) and surprisingly, he agreed.

Maybe I'll just see what's out there. Get an idea. So I can focus on a direction come January.

We brought the sheep home on Saturday. They love the large space with apple trees and lots of grazing variety. I took Champagne out on a leash to see how much she remembered. Down. Wait. Walk up. Easy. Stay. Sit. Come bye. Away to me. Find my sheep. Front. Here to me. That'll do. Look back. We worked for two years on the intricate dance that is sheep herding. That was after 3 years of obedience.

A puppy doesn't know anything. In five years Champagne will be 15.....

Sunday I let Champagne in with the sheep without a leash. They take extremely light pressure at this point and I didn't ask her to move them, only to return when called. Sam marched out in front of the flock. He didn't stamp or shake his head, merely stared at the wolf in his pasture....
Champagne was afraid.
She tucked her tail and walked away. When Sam followed, she spun around and snarled. When the rest of the sheep followed, she snapped at them. A sheepdog should NEVER bite a sheep.

We all become fearful as we age. Walking is a series of controlled falls, and the ground is very far away and very hard. The more pain we experience, the more we fear it. The older we get, the more responsibility and privilege is at stake. I recognized that Champagne was afraid to be headbutted because she doesn't trust her own balance. If the sheep sense fear in a working dog they won't respect it. It's time for her to retire. It's time for a new dog.

This feels underhanded. Acknowledging Champagne's limitations, her age, is in some way acknowledging the approach of her end of life. We fight so hard to deny the death of those we love, and yet it rushes upon us all, consuming life after too short life and leaving only memories that slough off our aging brains. And yet.... Acknowledging Champagne's age and limitations affords her continued dignity through her end of life. This is a dog who demands that we respect her boundaries.

This morning I had to take the Red Hive apart, clean excess wax off the edges of every frame, and split the full frames between two brood supers in an effort to get them to use ALL of the hive boxes. The bees had built full sheets of drawn comb free-floating between the frames of foundation I provided. Turns out they were brood combs, not honey combs, and in trying to better the hive I killed both adult and larval bees. Sorry, bees. Many died trying to sting me, which saddens me, but they didn't succeed, which makes me relieved. Not gonna lie, I'm kind of in awe of my 3-0 record. Especially considering how angry the bees were.

They had every right to be angry! I came into their well-built house, ripped every bit of it apart, reassembled it in the wrong order, killed their young, squashed their comrades! I'm Bee Enemy #1! Through the process my dad-given mantra ran through my head: "Bees move slowly. You move slowly too." I worked in large, smooth motions. The suit and number of bees popping my veil made working the hive a lot like walking on the moon (but with gravity). I swung my right leg over, lowered it, checked under my foot before rocking my weight from heel to toe. As I placed my center of gravity over that leg I swung my arms to my left, turned my head, and brushed some bees softly off a chunk of comb. Slow, relaxed movements...hey! I'm doing Bee Chi!

I talk to my bees. I know they don't understand me and don't care to, but it makes me feel better to tell them what I'm doing. So there I was in the pasture, horses staring, moving in Bee Chi patterns while shouting, "Do I have your permission to touch you? Ok ladies, I'm going to place my finger here. This is going to be a little rough...could everyone please leave bee space around the edges? I'm sorry you felt you had to commit suicide to protect your hive! We will miss you!" *siiiiiiiiiiiiigh* I'm so weird. But it worked! No stings!

My point is, all of life is Bee Chi. The world is spinning and we are little tornadoes of activity from our first squawling breath til our last heartbeat. It's a different length for each of us and no one knows how long we have. The trick is to move through life as slowly and smoothly as possible, respecting our own boundaries as well as one another's. You're gonna squash others now and then - it's inevitable, no matter how mindful you are of being gentle. Do the best you can, and know that those who love you are trying to do the best for you.