Monday, August 4, 2014

Hands & Hearth: Shorn

Every two to three moons, the venerable Hawthorn must stand to have his fur shorn. I know it is not nearly so great a thing to shear a rabbit as it is to shear a sheep—and I've at least gotten as far as flipping a ram and holding him still with my knees, his horns to one side, which was so difficult it made my legs almost give out—but I am still getting used to the process, and so is Hawthorn. With an angora, it is very important not to delay when the wool starts coming out all over the hutch, because they are prone to "wool block" (essentially an enormous fur ball in the gut which they cannot cough up like a cat, and which will cause them to starve to death if not noticed soon enough—and rabbits like to hide any discomfort until the last moments, likely a survival tactic from those days, still close to the surface of their skin, when they were wild). So although he isn't very keen once I reach his chest or his belly, and I haven't yet managed to flip him on his back—apparently rabbits will go "tharn," to use a word from Watership Down (a state of paralyzed fear) when held down on their backs, which makes me feel awfully bad, and between that and Hawthorn's fierce claws, so far it can't be done—I can report that I am getting better at it. And so is he.

This past new moon, I sheared his wool for the third time, managing to cut it much closer, and preserve longer hanks of the lustrous stuff. I didn't actually mean to align the shearing with the phase of the moon, but I do hope the serendipity of it will encourage his wool to grow back thick and strong, as it does our own, and the seeds we sow. It took me until this round of shearing to really relax, and of course, once I am calm, so is Hawthorn. 

Hawthorn came into our lives because I was enamored of the idea of keeping a small creature whose wool I could shear to spin yarn. I did not anticipate quite how much I would fall in love with him, so that the act of shearing has become also an act of reverence—that this little being, fed nasturtiums and comfrey and raspberry leaves, and let loose to have adventures through the yard, creates upon his back every season a crop of the most silken thick fur imaginable. What a gift, what bounty! I'm sure those who keep animals feel the same—that there is something miraculous about the generosity of this exchange, no matter the histories of domestication. That the bees produce honey and the goats milk, the chickens eggs, and though some may argue coercion and domination in this pact, at our best I think these relationships humble us and remind us that we can't do this thing, this human thing, alone. Whether we are hunters or farmers, we take from the land and the animals in order to live; we need them, desperately. And we also need to be in right relation to them. But that's a story for another day, a deep and tangled one.

As for angoras, the harvest of their wool (which of course has some very negative sides in commercial settings) has more the ring of a strange, far northern, mountainous fairy tale about it. Hawthorn's is so soft and thick it lifts away from my fingers in the slightest wind. According to what seems to me a mildly legendary piece of history (for nobody is quite certain), angoras originated in the Carpathian mountains, probably in a slightly less furry state, and were tended there by mountain tribes who found their wool to be very warm and softer than that of the goats they also kept. Much later, in the 1700's, angoras found their way to France and England aboard Turkish ships bound from the port of Ankara, hence the name.

I don't know if this is true, but I do know that angora wool is so hot spun and knitted up into a sweater on its own that such a garment is unwearable, except in literally arctic or high mountain winters. Angora is better blended with wool, or made into smaller items, such as hats and scarves and gloves.

In any case, here it is, part of the Hawthorn harvest, his wool a tri-color, silken gift with the echoes of mountain bells and snowy peaks within it. What gratitude I feel, for the fur of animals.

And here he is, looking like a raggedy hare, except for his back end, which still needs one more trim. I think he's pleased, because now he can romp through the deep bushes and emerge with slightly fewer burrs and bits of leaves stuck all over the place. 


  1. What a creature! I didn't know how *hot* angora garments were. Wow. It is not that uncomfortable on him, I imagine?