At the very end of May, the Nash Island roundup and shearing. Downeast, Maine.
6 am-ish, dawn, by the dock on the mainland. No one but the sheep live on Nash, we ride out on lobster boats.
It gets festive quickly, with about 25 or so family members and friends of the Wakemans (who own the island) and Jani Estell (who manages the flock) bustling down to the harbor with coolers of food for the potluck lunch, shearing gear, and many layers of clothes and boots. The year's clip is what Jani spins in her Starcoft Fiber Mill to make yarn. The island has no docks, we clamber into smaller boats when we get close to shore, ferry over and hop out in shallow water. This year's crew includes knitwear designers wearing plenty of handknits. L to R on the boat: Gudrun Johnston, Carrie Bostick Hoge, Sarah "FiberTrek" Hunt* and Mary Jane Mucklestone**. (I don't know what great hat Gudrun has on, but Sarah is wearing a Rivington Cowl designed by Kirsten Kapur, who is also aboard).
You don't see many sheep at first--the island is hilly and the sheep are shy. Plenty of gulls swooping and calling, though.
And the views are stunning, though quickly eclipsed by the irresistible lambs.
Everyone gathers around the camp (the solitary building on the island) while Alfie Wakeman lays out the plan for roundup, assigning areas of the island to small squads. The next generation of Wakemans, on the left, work hard . Wren Wakeman, in overalls, joins her mom Eleni(on the right in blue), and two other women, as shearer.
My squad (mid island,cough
It takes some shoving and catching and chasing, but the end fence piece of the corral finishes pushing the sheep into the pen, where they stay, just till sheared. The other 364 days of the year they roam free, grazing on seaweed and grass.
The first order of the day is sorting all the lambs out from the adults, and getting them into their own pen. This is the first time they'll be counted this year. They all call for their moms, it's very noisy and a little sad.Thought that one in the middle right seems smiley...
To separate the lambs, 3 people are in the corral quickly handing out lambs to the rest of us. We run a parade down the hillside, over and over till all 80 lambs are moved to their own pen. It is the very best part of the day. The lamb poo that inevitably covers your shirt is your merit badge.Here's Grant Estell doing double lamb duty. (no pun intended).
Knitwear designers wearing lambs. Gudrun on the left, and Kirsten on the right.
Pretty sure Kirsten was trying to sneak this one home with her.
While the lambs are tended to and then released to wander baaaaing for their moms, the shearing starts up. Wren Wakeman, above, grabs a sheep to shear.Lily Wakeman and her cousin spend the day wrestling and carrying sheep over to the shearers, keeping order by the gate, and sitting them up for shearing (here, by Donna). You can see how much lanolin is in the fleece, by how shiny Donna's hand gets.
Sarah's job, upper left, is to catch the sheared fleeces, pull off the daggy parts, and then toss the fleece onto the skirting table, where a group of us stand ready to quickly pick out any seaweed or grass. Jani (upper right) oversees and grades the fleece, calling out "Yarn", "Fog (her fabulous airy fingering weight lamb yarn)","Handspin" , the categories. The skirted fleeces are rolled into towering burlap bags- or if handspin quality, lovingly protected in bedsheets. You cannot imagine how much light gets bounced down and then back up off these fleeces. Or how easily our hands get sunburned, but soooo soft, covered in the oils from the sheep. This year's skirting table crew looked stylish, though, right?
It's noisy, and fun, and hard work and so so beautiful.
The lambs, who have all been released from counting and ministrations, gather around our feet, looking sweet and baaaa-ing their little heads off, waiting to be reunited with their shorn moms.
There's a potluck lunch break that rivals any fine restaurant, and time to take a quick snooze on the warm beach stones. Or, as Kirsten did, break out your spindle and do the irresistible, as a handspinner surrounded by pure fresh fluff. (For the record, I lay down and close my eyes on the warm stones).
By late afternoon, the skirting table has a mountain of discarded wool bits, Jani triumphs as the last of 111 sheep are shorn, and Mary Jane and Grant tie closed giant bags of fleece.
Back down to the boats we go.
This time the bags and rolls of fleeces get ferried out to the lobster boats, followed by us.
Back on the mainland dock, waiting for the truck to take the fleeces to the Starcroft Mill. That's a Stopover sweater on Kirsten, and Sarah's wearing a gorgeous Cockatoo Brae knit in Starcroft Tide wool, from the island sheep.
Pretty much a perfect day. This is the 4th year I've helped at the roundup & shearing on Nash, the 4th year I've photographed it, and the 4th year that I am sure no imagery or recording can really capture it. But I'll keep trying.
Here's a Yankee magazine story that narrates the day well.
If you have a chance, try to knit with some of the Starcroft yarn, it is special and soft and strong -and even if you didn't meet the sheep and know the story, as a knitter you'd know it by the feel.
_________________________________________________________*Check out Sarah's Fiber Trek TV YouTube channel for her adventures with all things sheep. I'm so happy to have met her. And you should see her knitting, I did a poor job of documenting all the great sweaters on the island that day.
** Mary Jane is wearing her Nash Island sweater, based on a traditional style, you can't get a better match than that. Another sweater that I didn't manage to show much of. Grrrr. She often designs with Jani's yarn. (Among many other wonderful things, Mary Jane designed the Stopover, which was my island wear choice for the day.)