Athough the monastery sits high on a hill surrounded by sheep pastures and woods, many people from the nearest town consider themselves very much part of the monastic community. Lay people who are formally associated with a monastery are called oblates, and this monastery has a strong group of oblates. The population of monks has dwindled – and the average age of the monks has to be about 75. So lay volunteers help with much of the hard work that needs to be done on the farm: they help shear the sheep, run the gift shop, pick apples in the fall, and garden with the monks.
On Sunday mornings, the little parking lot and the road near the barns fills with cars, as townspeople arrive for Sunday Mass. Afterwards, everyone hangs out in on the sidewalk outside the chapel or in the basement room of the bookstore, drinking coffee and eating homemade goodies, the black robes of the monks swishing as they move through the crowd.
Of course, for the little kids who come with their parents, the sheep barns – filled with exotic smells and interesting creatures – are the main attraction. On Sunday, I followed a father and his two daughters into the old part of the barn to the stall where Brother Tractor keeps the “orphans.” Mostly, these lambs aren’t actually orphans (it’s rare to lose an ewe during lambing season), but lambs who have been rejected by their mother or sometimes a triplet that Brother Tractor has taken from its mother. When a ewe gives birth to a stillborn sheep (and this does happen -- about eight dead lambs this year), Brother Tractor will give her one of the orphans to nurse. This arrangement sounds a little strange to us humans, but it seems to work out for the sheep.
Until the orphans are adopted by ewes, they are bottlefed. And that’s what’s happening in this photo. The old barn is dark and cool, even on a summer morning, but light was shining through the window. Brother Tractor was holding a bottle for one of the babies, and Little Girl from town, almost beside herself with excitement, was feeding another of the babies. The little sheep were moving, all four feet pumping up and down, and their tails wagging as they sucked, and Brother Tractor was laughing at their eagerness, and Little Girl From Town was squealing as the baby sheep butted up against her, their warm furry bodies wiggling in the morning light.