My Princess is gone. The coyotes are back.
When we were doing chores tonight, the sheep came up to the gate of their pasture and stared at us. Margaret and I walked over there, and I counted. There were 17. We have 19, I said. A couple days ago, I counted 18, but someone called me to the barn before I had a chance to go into the pasture to make sure I wasn't miscounting. I'm accustomed to making mistakes when I count the sheep, so I didn't panic. They're usually moving. It's hard to get an accurate count. Margaret counted 17. I counted 17 again. We started listing the family lines. Margaret realized one of her white sheep was missing, and I realized that Princess was missing. I went into the pasture and walked the fenceline. There was nothing wrong with it, but yesterday we had a flood, and it was shorted out for a while. I called Princess's name and tried not to get upset. Don't get dramatic, I told myself, she has to be here somewhere. Right?
The grass is tall, so after seeing nothing around the perimeter, I started walking through the middle of the pasture. I shrieked when I saw a white leg and shoulder blade. I closed my eyes and felt my head floating. I was glad it was white, glad it wasn't Princess, but immediately felt guilty for not consoling Margaret about the loss of her sheep. Katherine called from the barn, asking if something was wrong. Margaret and I simultaneously yelled, "Yes!" Katherine came running. I walked a little farther and found another white leg and gasped.
I started walking faster, wanting to get through the pasture and not find Princess. I wanted to find her running around in another pasture. The last thing I wanted to see was a pile of her black wool in the grass. I screamed. I think there were words, but I don't remember what they were. I spun around with my back to the pelt. I couldn't look at it. I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to imagine how it had come to be stripped off and left in the pasture. Margaret and Katherine came running to me. Margaret hugged me, and I sobbed.
I heard Mike yelling from a distance. Then he was there with us. The girls were telling him what we'd found. He was cussing, screaming so loudly it echoed. He was so angry that the dog had refused to stay in the pasture with the sheep. He blamed the dog. I blamed myself. When I only counted 18 sheep a couple nights earlier, I shouldn't have doubted myself. If I had figured out then that the coyotes were back -- and taking down adult sheep -- Princess would have been there tonight for me to scratch her head, just like every other night.
These animals depend upon us for everything, and I feel like we let them down terribly. We should have tried harder with the dog. I had suggested putting a horse halter around his body to tie him up, because he can slip out of a dog collar or a dog halter. Even though he can't chase a coyote when he's tied up, at least he can bark to alert us to a problem. So, tonight he's tied up with the sheep, who have been moved to an interior pasture. Katherine is once again sleeping with them. Some people might think that's overkill, but we lost six lambs to coyotes last August. They are relentless, and we now know it's a pack. A whole sheep would feed quite a few coyotes. Human presence was the only thing that stopped them last year. We've lost two adults in the last couple days. We have to get serious, or we won't have any sheep left in a month.
There are no easy answers. When things are going well, it might look like we're trying too hard, maybe even being paranoid or perfectionist. But in a natural world, there are no compromises, no do-overs, no lawsuits. You can make excuses about why something didn't get done right, but excuses aren't worth a handful of manure. When you don't give 100%, you can lose so much, so suddenly.