Is anyone else feeling that Autumn has been in a bit of a hurry this year? The end of the Summer seems to have occurred rather abruptly with cooler temperatures and unsettled weather pushing their way through August with much haste and determination. I have so enjoyed the long, hot days of Summer, a “proper Summer” of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner out on the patio for weeks, with glorious sunshine to help us feel well from the increased amounts of vitamin D being absorbed through our skin, where our water butts ran dry a couple of times (even in Wales!), super growth in the vegetable patch with no slug problem (we bought lots of beer for traps but we have not used it!), wearing summer dresses that only normally get out of the wardrobe on the odd occasion! Argh, I am missing those days… yet, I have to let them go because the wheel of the year is turning away from Summer and they have run their course.
At first, I did not feel ready for the new season to “impose” its arrival in that way… it felt harsh, with no time or space to transition into the change. At my core, I am a sensitive soul who much prefers change that is slow, gentle and gradual. I have a tendency to ardently resist change, especially when sudden, and it has taken me years to learn to see change in a more positive light. I have grown to (generally) welcome and accept change rather than dig my heels in or even fight it. Change often engenders in us an array of difficult feelings like sadness, fear, disbelief, anger and confusion and it can feel like our world has been turned upside down. Welcoming and accepting change does not necessarily protect us from feeling those, which are actually normal emotional responses in the face of loss and change, but it does make the process easier and reduces the impact on us if we can treat change with an open and flexible mind. My mindfulness practice, guided by Nature, enables me to accept change, observe my reaction towards it and stay with the feelings that emerge, however uncomfortable they are. When allowing myself to stay with my process, I create space within me to make meaning, which helps me see change from a more positive, calm and purposeful stance.
During the early Summer, we decided to make some changes to our smallholding and the decision was born out of a series of painful events that made us question and review what we were doing. This year, we had a tough lambing time. Out of four lambs born, two died. The first death was unexplained: I found three-week old Chalkie dead in the field. The second, a Shetland, died in my arms a few hours after being born. He was small and weak at birth and he deteriorated in front of me; I felt completely helpless from being unable to save him, despite a visit to the vet and several injections to help him pull through. The night he died, so did our beloved cat Lola, after being hit by the neighbour’s car, who had come to help us with this newborn lamb in trouble. It was hard for me emotionally and it knocked my budding confidence as a shepherdess. I really questioned if I belonged to the world of livestock keeping, with all the challenges it seems to bring, from small issues to big ones. Even though I had been enjoying learning about keeping sheep and I loved having them around, these unfortunate and upsetting events also gave me a feeling that something was not quite right. We mourned our losses and during the process, I realised that what did not feel quite right was that keeping sheep was actually taking us away from the reason why we chose to live on a smallholding: to be able to meet many of our own needs from our own resources, including growing our own food. Reflecting on the distressing experience of losing these two lambs, I realised that we were spending vast resources (time, money and emotional energy) on a food (lamb) that one of us won’t eat (Peter is a vegetarian) and one that I will only eat occasionally. We are simply not meat-and-two-veg eaters! Also, having sheep on our 3 acres limits what else we do with our land eg no space for a large polytunnel to grow the foods we both eat a lot of. It did not make sense spending so much of our resources and energy for such a small yield in return. Whilst it was getting clearer to me that having sheep was not supporting our self-reliance goals, that realisation was painful and it took a few weeks for me to adjust to the thought of running a smallholding without the sheep. I had invested a lot of myself in looking after the sheep and my time was often structured around them. The thought of having to let of my role and identity as a shepherdess left me bereaft. What else would I do? Would I not feel lost without the sheep?
We talked a lot and out of these discussions, a plan formed and a decision emerged: we would sell our sheep, put up a large polytunnel (to enable us to extend both the range of foods to grow and the season) and return some of the land to nature by creating something of a nature reserve to encourage a wider variety of fauna and flora onto our patch of land. This seems to fit much better with our desire for a more positive contribution towards conservation and nature and for a lifestyle that reduces our impact on the planet and increases our resilience. I am now at peace with our decision. Sitting with my difficult feelings and allowing myself all the time I needed to come through the distress and the struggle, I have a sense of renewed energy that comes from letting go of my attachment to my old role and integrating – rather than segregating - the difficult experiences into my life.
Our Welsh Mountain and Badger Face X ewes left our smallholding in June and have gone to a bigger flock in the next village. Only our three Shetlands remain. They are currently advertised for sale and we hope that we can find them a new owner soon. On hindsight, I can now see that I got carried away with the sheep which we originally got as lawnmowers to help us manage our land, then lambing them, then the addition of the Shetlands for their wool and their small size… When things don’t go according to plan, it is important to review the plan and change it if necessary. I don’t regret having the sheep. I enjoyed my time as a shepherdess and I learnt a lot and picked up skills from the experience. It was a useful way of managing the land when we first took on the smallholding. Now, three years on, we are more comfortable with our three acres and more confident in our role as land custodians.
Our future plans are not all firm yet, some just ideas at the moment, and we hope to start bringing them to fruition when the sheep eventually go. For now, we pause, reflect, research, consider, take advice and plan. I am comfortable with taking the smallholding in a different direction, one that ultimately brings us closer to our self-reliance goals and more in line with our values and what matters to us. Sometimes, it takes a tough experience to help us realise we are straying from our purpose or that we need to change paths. Out of a dark and difficult time can come renewed focus, light and joy.
As we head towards Autumn, there is no better time to embrace change by letting go of what limits us, what no longer serves us well and what is outgrown within us. The wheel of the year turns… nothing is permanent, growth is not unlimited. Nature is cyclical and teaches us about change especially at this point in the year when the natural landscape changes from lush, summery greens to a riot of autumnal yellows, browns, reds and pinks. Next time you’re near a tree, sit under it for a while, watch the leaves fall and let them to teach you to let go of whatever has run its course with you.
Goodbye, Summer... Hello, Autumn!