What to do with the Baby?

What to do with the Baby?

We almost missed her.

That day of rain and 44 fire salamanders already had us saturated with an overdose of adventure. It’s not every day you cycle through tunnels of the Italian Alps, dodging confused reptiles as rain turns your view into a misty veil.

At first we tried to save them. That’s the folly of humankind, not always knowing what to do with our fellow Earth dwellers. Cautious of their protective nature, Steven gently picked one salamander up with two sticks and attempted to place the creature in nearby foliage. He instead fell off a tall wall. Not Steven, but the salamander, who surely knew his own path without our intervention.

So we decided to leave them. We reasoned they were sunbathing on the pavement for a purpose. Never-mind the complete lack of sun; maybe they lingered in the warmth of asphalt, or felt thirsty and the rain cooled their fiery little hearts.

The day began as a mario-kart-esque adventure on Italy’s section of the Alpe Adria way, despite the rain. Or maybe because of it.

An old rail line through the mountains now converted to a cycle-way gave us a morning of complete freedom. After many long days of constant ascent we were finally on the other side of the Alps and could practically smell the Adriatic Sea.

We now descended down, down, down on a car-free twisty-turny way through tunnels that lit up when we entered them. Relentless rain only added to the joyful mystery and we shouted with elation. Our fear of squashing salamanders quickly turned to child-like glee as we turned this challenge into a game. How many could we spot?

“There on the right, 21!”

“Watch out! On the left, 22, 23, 24!”

Forty-four salamanders later and all averted, we came to a dead-end.

Then it all changed.

That’s when we took a turn that led us to her.

The cycle-way was closed to construction but no detour offered its saving grace. Only a big red “DO NOT ENTER” sign and a sheer drop-off.

Suddenly the rain seemed to pour even harder. A bit miffed, we cycled onto the nearby road and mapped our route forward.

By now the misty veil of rain was an outright barrage.

Waterproof gear only goes so far and although we were covered from helmet to toe, water knows how to find the crevices, cracks and microscopic openings vulnerable to anyone other than a fish. Not even rock is hardy enough to ward off this mighty force, so why would we humans fare any different?

Zooming cars and trucks doubled the rain falling from above by splashing it upon us from below.

Still, the charming essence of Italy magnified itself on this day.

Crumbling abodes wept in the grey deluge and sang of lost loves and lonely hearts. Ancient churches of worn stone faded further in the dim light and called forth their promise of sanctuary. I imagined a warm hearth somewhere as woodsmoke drifted across the road.

We realised then how cold we felt.

After sheltering in a tunnel for a bit and studying the map, we found a new route and continued on a quieter path through gardens and farm fields.

Massive puddles kept our pace slow, and if not for them, we likely would have missed her.

There in the bushes a bit of white caught my eye.

“Look at that!” I exclaimed.

A baby lamb stared out at us from the underbrush.

The only photo we took of the baby.

Even several meters away we could see her shaking. Still, her instincts had her munching mechanically on the tall grass around her.

A light drizzle fell as we took in this sight. Long ears shrouded her delicate limbs and we could see the tell-tale spray paint and earring tags of the sheep industry.

No one was around and clearly, this little lamb was not meant to be here.

Or was she?

We pondered what to do.

This is where the tale has a chance to split into three possible directions.

The first way is simple:

We cycle on, leaving her to her fate.

The second direction is a bit more complicated. We cycle around looking for the place from whence she came.

The third option is even more complicated. We take her with us.

We knew what we needed to do.

The next day we woke to a glorious sunrise. Why is it, that the sun seems to shine even brighter after a day of storms?

We rose late still feeling tired from all that commenced.

“Good thing we decided to keep the stove,” Steven said as I closed the carton of soy milk we found in a local shop. Oat and pea milk are hard to find in these parts, but nearly everyone stocks soy milk these days.

Not that we drink it.

This carton was meant for someone else.

I pulled out the second purchase of yesterday; a sleek baby bottle now open to welcome the pour of warm soy.

“Do you think she’ll like it?” I asked.

A feeble but urgent “Baaaa” answered me and we both turned to face our new friend.

Spark, we’d named her, lay nestled between our sleeping bags and warm bodies. After much drying with our bamboo towels she looked so cozy and peaceful.

We’d spent the night Googling how to care for a baby lamb, not knowing her age or anything about her.

How could we have left the lamb there, after all?

It was so easy to take her. Her fear and cold had kept her paralysed as we lifted her up from the bushes and Steven placed her in the prepared space of his rear bike bag. She fit perfectly and the rack was just strong enough to hold her.

“We’ll have to get a trailer,” Steven said, as we gently placed straps to keep her safe.

Good thing we have cargo bike tires. Spark would grow quickly with our aid and we’d have to find a safe home for her. We quickly learned how much she loved her ears scratched and that she liked to nibble on Steven’s jacket as he cycled. I watched with great joy as we continued on.

The rest of that day is a busy blur, but we found a camp spot and Spark eyed us with her big soulful gaze, maybe wondering what would come next.

Certainly not her murder.

But then, a voice spoke.

“Yes, her murder is what comes next.”

“What?” I asked, suddenly disturbed by the red haze blurring my view.

“You’ve doomed her to die a cruel death,” the voice said again with sharp menace.

“What?” I asked again, this time my voice sounding more distant from myself.

That’s when the haze suddenly cleared and I opened my eyes.

I stared up at the white ceiling above. Where am I? The familiar question of waking up from each night spent in a different place.

Then it all fell back into view and memory.

We were in a bed-and-breakfast recovering from the cold wet. Steven lay next to me still asleep.

I’d had a dream.

Spark? I asked myself.

No, there was no Spark. Not with us, but still alive somewhere else for a little while.

I reflected back on yesterday, to the point before the dream began.

We stood gazing at a baby and wondered what to do next.

“We can’t just leave her here,” I said and Steven agreed. So we decided to cycle around and look for someone to ask what to do with this lost baby lamb. Maybe, just maybe she had a happy home.

No one was out on that dreary day, so we found a nearby gated house and rung the bell. Peering through the bars we saw a tidy home surrounded by lush, well-manicured plants. Still no sign of humans, but after a little while the gates slowly opened.

We cycled up the gravel drive and an older couple stepped out, clearly baffled by our appearance. Covered completely in black rain-gear and riding bikes loaded with packs, I know we looked unusual.

From far away we smiled, waved and shouted friendly greetings.

They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Italian, but one knew a bit of German, so I tried to make clear why we were there. He didn’t seem to know the German word for lamb. I turned to universal body language and sound for the solution.

“Baaaa! Baaaa!” I gestured with my hands and sounds to indicate a small lamb, then pointed in the direction of the scared being.

“Lost, little, scared,” German words tumbled from me and we painted the scene as best we could.

From there, things moved quickly.

A lightbulb seemed to go off over the man we spoke with.

“Ah! I know, I know,” and he indicated that he understood. He said he would go and get the lamb.

The woman of the pair offered us smiles and water. Already fully hydrated, we left, with bit more confidence that all would be well.

We cycled past the lamb again, pausing to say goodbye.

“Someone is on the way, you are okay now.” We said.

But it wouldn’t be okay. It will never be okay until all animals are free of spray paint, earring tags and human exploitation.

Within minutes of cycling on we heard a great commotion.

Echoes of “baaing” and shouting indicated a large group of animals and humans passing by in a nearby field. We decided to cycle down a short path to discover the scene.

A massive flow of sheep flanked by some dogs, men and even donkeys passed before our eyes. The men were shouting “Ha!” “Hey!” And other words in Italian. We saw ewes with babies. We knew then where our little lamb came from.

A car approached when we returned back to the main path and the man we’d met gestured to us. We showed him the lamb and watched as he hurried out, rushing beneath a new shower of rain. In one quick motion he scooped the baby and carried her to the car, her long legs dangling awkwardly.

I remember one last glimpse of her face. I remember wondering how long she had.

I remember feeling so helpless that I couldn’t do more.

What is a worse death; starving and freezing slowly alone in the fall rain, or throat slit among your family and friends?

What of the third option? The dream of saving her. This would not and could not have worked, I said to myself. Bikes not strong enough to carry her. No way of doing so. No where to take her. Not knowing how to take care of her. Illegal to take her. Theft. Lamb-napping.

All of these words poured through my mind.

Italy, land of ancient cathedersls, where is your sanctuary for this lamb of God?

All I felt was defeat.

Maybe this is the part where I offer myself and other animal activists reassurance. That we are doing the best we can in harrowing circumstances. That we too were once a part of this system but changed, so there is hope for all of humanity and the system to change too. That we have to keep the bigger picture in mind and stay focused on channeling our energy into our purpose.

Yes, this is all true.

It’s also true that at times I feel angry, sad and deep despair. But we have to stay strong for the animals.

To the little lamb we could not save, you are our spark. You are in our hearts and we remember you long after your blood has been cleaned from the blade. In our way, in the way we can, we are growing for you.

We ask you to find your little lamb, the spark urging you to grow.

She’s out there in the bushes, cold and scared.

You have the courage of the fire salamander to light the way.

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller