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Out of the Badlands: part 14:

March 15, 2013

“You want to do what?” was Faustus’s first reaction, which I did not take as an encouragement.
“I want you to build a tiny wagon that runs on bicycle wheels or similar, and we’ll train a couple of sheep to pull it. We could go to town and bring back a lot of dry goods, especially beans and grain. We could find other houses in the area and take things we need. We might even be able to plow.”

“They’re sheep, not horses or oxen.”

“They’re stronger than we are.”

“They’re dumber than rocks.”

“Okay. Could you make a push-cart on tall, all-terrain wheels? Think of the kinds of carts people used to use in their gardens. Not wheelbarrows—they’re not stable enough; you’d need at least two wheels so it couldn’t fall over—and we can push it.”

“Maybe. What brings all this up? I wasn’t aware we were running low on food.”

“We’re not, but we’re not replenishing it, either. If we’re going to be self-sufficient, we’re going to have to grow grain somehow, or raise a whole lot more sheep and mostly live on meat. But then, what will we feed them in the bad weather?”

“We could go back to being nomadic for part of the year. That would reduce our impact on local wildlife.”

I had grown used to having a bed, though, with real sheets, and the ability to wash them occasionally, and not being filthy all the time. He must have read it in my face.

He said, “Okay, scratch that. If you want to try to train the sheep, it’s your time to use. I’ll think about how to harness them. I have a vague idea of what husky dog harnesses are made, and that might work for sheep. If not, we might have to go with yokes like oxen used to wear, and frankly I have no idea how to make one. The thing is, oxen have a hump of muscle on their necks, and sheep—“

“Sheep are ewe-necked, to put it bluntly.”

“In a phrase, yeah. I think it’s nuts, but I suppose as long as it doesn’t get in the way of our usual chores, there’s no harm in it.”

“Thank you. I’ve been imagining a mini-Conestoga wagon. A mini-stoga. In my wilder moments, I imagine a six-in-hand of sheep, harnessed in pairs.”

“Let’s start with two, okay? Remember, too, if we actually go anywhere, we’ll have to take the milking ewe with us for Bobby.” 

“Oh, yeah. Good point.” I went back to cutting grass and raking up the grass I’d cut the day before, now perfectly dry, gorgeous, still green, and smelling heavenly. I was finding that if I did it that way, it wasn’t an overwhelming amount to rake up, pile onto a tarp, and drag back to store in the stall.

We had dragged all the old musty hay out. I was unwilling to destroy it, since it was better than nothing in a pinch, so we covered it in a tarp. The new hay made the stall a wonderful place to be. I could, for short lengths of time, safely close Bobby up inside with Boomer. This seemed especially wise when I was using the sickle. I had cut myself with it more than once—if it could cut grass, it could cut me—and I didn’t want to think about what it could do to a baby.

Faustus began working on a cart. It irritated him greatly that he couldn’t just go to the hardware store and get parts when he needed them, but he was resourceful and inventive, or as he put it, “Desperation is the mother of invention.” It used tires from a small child’s training bike, which he claimed were puncture proof. I would have preferred they be taller, but as he said, it wasn’t like we were going to have to worry about gear ratios, and not having a tire go flat in the middle of nowhere was a definite plus.

Meanwhile, I picked out the two biggest wether lambs and began leading them around on rope halters, together with the milk-ewe. At first this amounted to me being dragged around the pen, but eventually they would follow me with only occasional outbursts of irrational flight. Sneaked handfuls of grain—a precious sacrifice that I doubt they appreciated fully—made them more willing to cooperate, and before too long I was confident that they could be led.

I tied them at the neck and chest so that they had to walk in tandem; they adjusted to it more quickly than I expected. If you’d tied me to somebody else’s side, I’d probably kill them, but sheep are, as previously noted, stupid. They didn’t like things dragging along behind them at first, but in time, they even learned not to mind that. All of this had to be done in bits, of course, because I still had to take care of Bobby, bring in the previous day’s harvest of grass-turned-hay, and cut more. I still had to cook meals, wash the bare minimum of things, and everything else that needed to be done. The idea of being able to go somewhere and not have to carry every little thing on my own back, however, was galvanizing.

Finally, it was done. The weather had turned dry again. Faustus invented a pair of harnesses for the wether lambs, and the cart could be pushed, pulled, and used as the basis for a sort of pop-up tent or cover. It rolled freely and had tall enough sides to keep Bobby safely enclosed in case we had to fight off dingoes. We experimented with different weights in it, and found if we put the heaviest items—which inevitably meant jugs of water—in the bottom like ballast, it could carry several hundred pounds before reaching the point where the sheep couldn’t move it by themselves, and we had to take turns pushing while the other led.

“Where do you want to go first?” he said, cocking a weather eye at the sky. “Not town. That’s too far for a maiden voyage.”

“You said you know of other farms in the area. Why not one of them?”

“All right. Do you want to use mostly roads, or mostly scrub?”

“Roads, if we can travel without being baked. I think it will be better for the cart and less jolting on the sheeps’ harnesses.”

“Right, then. I think we can get to the one in a half-day’s walking. You pack for a couple of days, and we’ll head out tomorrow.”

I beamed at him, and caught his reflexive, fleeting smile in return. I hadn’t had this much good anticipation in my life in ages.

Part 15


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