Lambs Run Farm

Wild Fibers - - NEWS - Story and Pho­tos by Linda N. Cor­tright

Only a shor t sprint f rom the Bay of Fundy, Lambs Run Farm

continues a 400 year old farm­ing tra­di­tion with a bounce!

The win­ter of 2013-14 is per­haps best de­scribed in one word: wacky! While some folks in Ge­or­gia were aching for a snow blower and stud­ded tires, oth­ers in Alaska were wear­ing flip-flops and t-shirts. The Weather Chan­nel be­came more pop­u­lar than Game of Thrones as people kvetched about ev­ery­thing from the Snow­poca­lypse to the Pineap­ple Ex­press. In early April, spring was still barely a ru­mor, and a hushed one at that in Nova Sco­tia. A few days be­fore my ar­rival in the Annapolis Val­ley, a fer­tile area in the west of Nova Sco­tia, bor­der­ing the Bay of Fundy, a storm passed through the land snap­ping power lines, flip­ping trucks, and leav­ing thou­sands of homes in the dark. Even the MV High­landers, a 654-foot ves­sel that trav­els reg­u­larly be­tween Cape Breton and New­found­land, was tem­po­rar­ily stranded with its 800 pas­sen­gers, un­til the winds abated and the twelve-foot-thick ice blocks be­gan to shift.

I had come to the vil­lage of Can­ning, Nova Sco­tia, to in­ter­view farmer and fiber artist Mar­i­lyn Rand, ex­pect­ing to leave with pic­tures of budding trees and lambs bounc­ing like pop­corn over newly green pas­tures. In­stead, as Mar­i­lyn and I strug­gle to pull on our boots and win­ter coats be­fore head­ing to her barn, she turns and asks if I would like to bor­row a pair of ski poles to steady my­self across the ice.

“It’s been a long win­ter,” she says with a sigh. “One of the long­est I can ever re­mem­ber.”

I de­cline, be­cause I fool­ishly be­lieve I won’t need them and be­cause I am not sure I can ma­neu­ver both ski poles and a large cam­era with just two hands. Not sur­pris­ingly (in ret­ro­spect), less than fifty paces out­side the back door I mis­step and, as grav­ity de­stroys any hint of ath­leti­cism, much less grace, I hit the ground with a cold-cush­ioned thwump!

Mar­i­lyn turns around and looks at me with­out the slight­est in­di­ca­tion of an “I told you so” in her eyes. I shout, “Don’t worry, the cam­era’s fine!”

But my tiny tum­ble was not with­out an au­di­ence: the sheep, lla­mas, goats, and even the dog have all borne wit­ness to my grace­less fall, and be­fore I can fin­ish brush­ing off the snow, Mar­i­lyn steps back a few paces and hands me one of her ski poles.

“All you re­ally need is just one,” she says with a gen­tle smile. With­out ar­gu­ment I ac­cept. We walk the re­main­ing fifty yards with­out in­ci­dent.

The most re­cent storm, cou­pled with the months of snow­fall leading up to it, has con­fined the an­i­mals to a rel­a­tively small perime­ter around the barn. As soon as we are clear of the deep snow, a tan­gle of lambs charges us. They are all of mixed parent­age and Mar­i­lyn be­gins recit­ing their lin­eage: a Rom­ney this crossed with a Cotswold that. The one by the hay feeder has a lit­tle bit of

Bor­der Le­ices­ter, and an­other one whose fa­ther is stand­ing by the brown one is re­lated to the big ewe stand­ing in the door­way ... and be­fore she can fin­ish each one’s unique ge­neal­ogy she just shrugs and says, “It’s re­ally just a spinner’s flock. I like tak­ing dif­fer­ent breeds and cross­ing them to see what kind of fiber they pro­duce. That’s the fun of it. There’s a pur­pose for ev­ery fiber.”

Mar­i­lyn has worked with nat­u­ral fibers her en­tire life. She spins. She knits. She weaves. She felts. She even makes the most ex­tra­or­di­nary paint­ings, which I don’t re­al­ize are made from strips of wool un­til I ex­am­ine them more closely. But what Mar­i­lyn makes the most of – thou­sands of them, in fact – is balls! And strange as it sounds, balls have changed her life.

A few years back Mar­i­lyn was at a lo­cal farmer’s mar­ket sell­ing her hand­spun yarn and other wooly cre­ations (she is a mas­ter nee­dle-fel­ter, as well), when a woman bought a pack­age of Mar­i­lyn’s brightly felted wool dryer balls.

For those who re­mem­ber the days when toss­ing a sneaker in the dryer along with your win­ter down jacket was rec­om­mended to pre­vent feather clump­ing, dryer balls work un­der a sim­i­lar the­ory ex­cept they do more than just de-clump down. Dryer balls ac­tu­ally help clothes dry faster as the balls (three is the rec­om­mended num­ber) ric­o­chet from side to side, ab­sorb­ing mois­ture. Dryer balls not only make

your clothes bounce: they also save en­ergy.

Ap­par­ently, the woman took home her pack­age of brand new balls and was so pleased with the re­sults she con­vinced her em­ployer to buy some – hun­dreds of them! The woman worked at Wheaton’s, a large kitchen and home fur­nish­ings chain in Canada, and af­ter sev­eral months of test mar­ket­ing, Wheaton’s placed a stand­ing or­der with Mar­i­lyn for three hun­dred balls a month. (A set of three balls re­tails for Can.$19.95.)

Un­like many people with a spinner’s flock who fo­cus on length, or color, or fine­ness, or what­ever char­ac­ter­is­tics suit their hand­spin­ning de­sires, Mar­i­lyn doesn’t worry about coarse, kempy fleeces. “Wool al­ways felts, even bad wool. And if it’s re­ally bad, then I just put it in­side a dryer ball so no one sees it.”

The rush in dryer balls has meant that Mar­i­lyn is now mak­ing more balls than ever al­though, she ad­mits, she’s been mak­ing them for as long as she’s had sheep. But the commercial-size or­der has given her the fi­nan­cial free­dom to fo­cus on her farm and her fiber arts, two pas­sions that are in­ex­tri­ca­bly en­twined.

Mar­i­lyn’s mot­ley flock has stomped the snow and ice into a layer of muddy slush and we de­cide to re­lin­quish our poles, lean­ing them up­right against the side of the barn. Mar­i­lyn reaches into her pocket and pro­duces two bot­tles of milk for a pair of lambs that have done their ut­most to trip us since we en­tered the pas­ture. She hands me a bot­tle and both ba­bies in­stantly muckle down on the nip­ples, suck­ing and slurp­ing, and all but yank­ing the bot­tles right out of our hands.

It’s amaz­ing how much strength a ten-pound baby can have in a pair of de­ter­mined lips.

Mar­i­lyn has al­ways had an­i­mals, even dur­ing child­hood when her fa­ther ran a fill­ing sta­tion and the fam­ily lived in the back. “We al­ways had a cow, some chick­ens, and a few sheep. That’s how people in this area sur­vived. Ev­ery­one farmed.”

Ex­cept, ev­ery­one didn’t sur­vive – at least not in the be­gin­ning.

The first Euro­peans to set­tle in Nova Sco­tia, Prince Ed­ward Is­land, New Brunswick and parts of east­ern Maine were the French colonists known as Aca­di­ans. When they ar­rived in the 1600s, they be­gan work­ing with the Mi’kmaq, a First Na­tions

... the Aca­di­ans were known as dé­ficheurs d’eau (wa­ter pi­o­neers), to dis­tin­guish them from other colonists in North Amer­ica

who cre­ated farm­land by clear­ing the for­est.

semi-no­madic people who had lived in the Cana­dian Mar­itimes for 11,000 years. The Aca­di­ans also skir­mished with the Mi’kmaq and of­ten­times mar­ried them. But when Great Bri­tain ul­ti­mately gained con­trol of Aca­dia in 1713 un­der the Treaty of Utrecht, the neigh­bor­hood changed.

Aca­di­ans were al­lowed to keep their land, pro­vid­ing they signed an un­con­di­tional oath of al­le­giance to Great Bri­tain. For some, vow­ing loy­alty to Bri­tain wasn’t an op­tion, and forty-five years af­ter the treaty was signed, the Bri­tish got fed up with their un­ruly ways and em­barked on The Great Up­heaval, The Grand Ex­pul­sion, or Le Grand Dérange­ment, a pro­gram of eth­nic cleans­ing in which some 11,500 Aca­di­ans were de­ported to the Thir­teen Colonies and some all the way back to France.

Had it not been for the Aca­di­ans, “there would be wa­ter right up to my front doorstep,” says Mar­i­lyn. The Aca­di­ans had built a mas­sive sys­tem of dykes along the Bay of Fundy, damming the brack­ish marsh­lands us­ing a method that would even­tu­ally sift out the salt and cre­ate end­less acres of arable land over a three-year span. The sys­tem was a great suc­cess, no doubt be­cause it had al­ready been im­ple­mented in France and other parts of Europe. In fact, the Aca­di­ans were known as dé­ficheurs d’eau (wa­ter pi­o­neers), to dis­tin­guish them from other colonists in North Amer­ica who cre­ated farm­land by clear­ing the for­est.

In 1760, just a few years af­ter the Aca­di­ans had bid farewell to their home­land, the Charm­ing Molly set sail from Mar­ble­head, Mas­sachusetts, to Nova Sco­tia with thir­ty­one men, two women, and twelve chil­dren on board. They were the first of ap­proxi-

mately two thou­sand fam­i­lies that would leave New Eng­land and put down roots in the Cana­dian Mar­itimes. Be­cause of its pro­duc­tive land, the Annapolis Val­ley was a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion and, with the huge mi­gra­tion of planters, the area be­came known as the “new New Eng­land.” The new set­tlers were called the New Eng­land Planters, and Can­ning, en­joy­ing the fer­til­ity of its soil, was orig­i­nally called Ap­ple Tree Land­ing.

“My roots go back to the planters from Mas­sachusetts” says Mar­i­lyn. “Ask my hus­band, Mar­shall, he knows ev­ery­thing about how this area de­vel­oped. In fact, he’ll even tell you we’re re­lated, dis­tantly.”

Mar­i­lyn and Mar­shall’s, Lambs Run Farm, is ac­tu­ally part of the orig­i­nal land al­lot­ment granted to Mar­shall’s fam­ily, an ex­tra­or­di­nary legacy to main­tain for 250 years. But it wasn’t al­ways sheep and goats roam­ing their pas­tures, and cer­tainly not the fore­bears of Mar­i­lyn’s suri llama and its baby. For many years, Mar­shall’s fa­ther raised beef cat­tle, a rig­or­ous prov­ing ground for any prospec­tive farmer.

When Mar­shall comes home for lunch and joins Mar­i­lyn and me for a big pot of soup that’s been sim­mer­ing on the stove all morn­ing, he shares a few thoughts about Mar­i­lyn and her sheep.

“Lamb­ing is a piece of cake! You just grab hold and flip ’em over and give ’em a shot,” he says, with such con­vic­tion as to be­lie ev­ery har­row­ing tale ever recorded by James Her­riot.

“Mar­shall did 90 per­cent of all the dif­fi­cult births,” Mar­i­lyn adds. But I have lit­tle doubt that Mar­i­lyn is quite ca­pa­ble of man­ag­ing any num­ber of farm­ing chal­lenges on her own. Al­though she has a soft voice, a calm man­ner, and a nat­u­rally ma­ter­nal dis­po­si­tion to­wards seem­ingly ev­ery­thing, Mar­i­lyn also has that rare qual­ity that comes from grow­ing up in a home where things didn’t come easy and chil­dren were put to work long be­fore there was time to play.

Mar­shall comes from sim­i­lar stock, and as one of nine chil­dren, he de­scribes how his mother main­tained near per­fect or­der, as­sign­ing spe­cific jobs to each child. “Ev­ery­one did some­thing. Whether it was clear the ta­ble, wash the dishes, or feed the an­i­mals, there was never any dis­cus­sion about whether you wanted to do it: you just did.”

As Mar­shall gets up from the ta­ble to get a sec­ond help­ing of soup from the stove, I ask how he and Mar­i­lyn met.

Be­fore he can re­spond, Mar­i­lyn un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally blurts out, “He liked the way I scooped ice cream!” And they both look at one an­other and bust

In Au­gust, 2013, the first suri llama was born on Mar­i­lyn’s farm and she’s been ap­pro­pri­ately smit­ten ever since.

up laugh­ing, no doubt hav­ing re­peated this line count­less times dur­ing their forty-two years of mar­riage.

Some­times a fol­low-up ques­tion isn’t ap­pro­pri­ate, and some­times that’s where the real story starts. I de­cide to take a chance. “You liked the way she scooped ice cream?” I ask, plac­ing Mar­shall squarely on the hot seat.

Now Mar­shall isn’t ex­actly shy, but he ex­udes a cer­tain old-school deco­rum, even stand­ing by a hot stove with la­dle in hand and cover­alls smelling faintly of oil. But still, I wasn’t sure if ask­ing about Mar­i­lyn’s ice cream scoops was a suit­able line of ques­tion­ing for a fiber edi­tor.

Sens­ing my dis­com­fort, Mar­shall pauses for an ex­tra mo­ment or two and then laughs even harder. Ap­par­ently, Mar­i­lyn’s fa­ther even­tu­ally sold the fill­ing sta­tion and bought The Look Off, a sea­sonal camp­ground with cab­ins, hot show­ers, stun­ning views of the Bay of Fundy and, of course, an ice cream shop (which op­er­ates to this day).

“Our fam­ily went from liv­ing in town with neigh­bors all around to one of the high­est points in the land. It was a great place to call home, and one of my jobs in­cluded work­ing in the ice cream shop,” says Mar­i­lyn, sound­ing a bit wist­ful. “The Look Off is a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion, but the lo­cals go there, too. Mar­shall re­ally likes ice cream – at least that’s what he told me.” And so af­ter a brief courtship – and no doubt a lot of dou­ble-scoop cones – the two got mar­ried.

Mar­i­lyn and Mar­shall have spent most of their mar­ried life liv­ing in the house Mar­shall built from old barn tim­ber. Even with­out a pot of soup sim­mer­ing on the stove or the freshly baked bread warm­ing in the oven, the house is ir­re­sistibly cozy. The wood floors are worn with mem­o­ries, and Mar­i­lyn’s art­work dec­o­rates much of the wall space that isn’t al­ready oc­cu­pied by pic­tures of chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. There is some­thing in the at­mos­phere that qui­etly ac­knowl­edges the many gen­er­a­tions that have come and gone on this land. Per­haps it is an un­de­ni­able sense of con­tent­ment both Mar­i­lyn and Mar­shall seem to ex­ude. “Could you ever imag­ine liv­ing any place else?” I ask. They both shake their heads and ad­mit that life in Can­ning suits them just fine.

For most of Mar­i­lyn’s adult life she has been in­volved with fiber arts in some form or fash­ion. When her chil­dren were grow­ing up, she bought a Brother knit­ting ma­chine and went into pro­duc­tion, even­tu­ally be­com­ing a dis­trib­u­tor for Brother. Part of her job in­cluded trav­el­ing around the Mar­itimes, train­ing people to use the ma­chine.

“You know, I had never left the coun­try un­til just a few years ago,” Mar­i­lyn says, sens­ing the news might catch me by sur­prise, which it does.

“I went all the way to Ver­mont! Have you been to the Ver­mont Sheep and Wool Fes­ti­val?” And I nod my head, telling her that she needs to re­turn to the States, that we have tons of fiber fes­ti­vals.

“Of course, I also went to Den­mark a few years ago.” And I as­sume she does not mean Den­mark, Maine.

“For sheep?” I ask, won­der­ing if maybe this is where the story re­ally starts.

“Not ex­actly, I went with a lo­cal group of ar­ti­sans called SEVEN.”

SEVEN is com­prised of six vis­ual artists and one poet from the Annapolis Val­ley. In 2007, the all-women group de­cided to be­gin meet­ing once a month to sup­port each other in their cre­ative en­deav­ors and pos­si­bly open their own gallery. It was a great idea, ex­cept for the part about open­ing a gallery.

Ap­par­ently, not all gallery own­ers leap with de­light when an artist de­cides to open his or her own space. Rather than jeop­ar­dize their ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ships, SEVEN de­cided to put on a few shows in­stead.

But Pia Skaarer-Nielsen, a fel­low fiber artist and SEVEN mem­ber, said she would not be avail­able to help with a sum­mer show be­cause she was re­turn­ing to Den­mark, her home­land, for the sum­mer. And that’s how Mar­i­lyn Rand found her­self in Copen­hagen in 2010. SEVEN man­aged to have forty-nine pieces of art­work packed and shipped to Den­mark for three ex­hi­bi­tions.

“It took seven months just to fill out the pa­per­work,” Mar­i­lyn says. And heaven for­bid they shipped any­thing that was for sale, or they would have had to pay huge tar­iffs at cus­toms.

Mar­i­lyn shipped sev­eral hand­bags and a large paint­ing made with silk fu­sion (yet an­other fiber art she excels in) and, af­ter the ex­hi­bi­tions, ev­ery item was sent back to Can­ning.

“But then, I had to turn around and ship ev­ery­thing back to Den­mark! I sold ev­ery­thing I took, but this time the cus­tomer paid the tax, which is 29 per­cent on wool items.”

Al­though it has been a few years since SEVEN took the big leap across the pond, Mar­i­lyn still has some vivid mem­o­ries.

“Bi­cy­cles! Thou­sands of bi­cy­cles. Every­where! They have en­tire park­ing lots just for bi­cy­cles. You see whole fam­i­lies rid­ing bi­cy­cles,” said Mar­i­lyn. “Was that it? Bi­cy­cles?” I ask. “No, not just bi­cy­cles. One of the things that re­ally struck me was how much farm­land is still in­tact. There has been so much growth in Annapolis Val­ley; farms are be­ing chewed up bite by bite. Some­one sells a chunk of land by the road, and a house goes up. And then an­other chunk gets sold, and an­other house goes up. I could tell the farms in Den­mark still had the orig­i­nal build­ings and the land was still be­ing cul­ti­vated. It re­minded me of how things used to be.”

Mar­shall looks up from his soup and nods, then looks down at his watch.

“Time to go back to work,” he says, stretch­ing his mus­cled arms back into his win­ter coat. “You’re not go­ing to in­clude the part about the ice cream scoops are you?”

“Of course not, Mar­shall,” I quickly re­ply. “This is strictly about fiber.” And the three of us bust up laugh­ing again, no doubt wish­ing we all had time to have lin­gered a lit­tle longer.

Wf

Still no sign of spring in the pas­ture at Lambs Run Farm.

Mar­shall and Mar­i­lyn Rand.

A mixed as­sort­ment of Mar­i­lyn’s dryer balls and hand-dyed hand-spun yarn.

Mar­i­lyn’s flock of sheep, goats, and lla­mas crowd around the barn as we ar­rive bear­ing treats.

An An­gora ram wait­ing for Mar­i­lyn to come and spring him from his pen, if only it re­ally were

spring!

There is no such thing as suck­ing a bot­tle slowly when you’re a baby lamb.

No two spin­ners’ flocks are alike. They come in all shapes and sizes to meet the needs and ex­plore the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the spinner.

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