“My name is Pearl Benjamin. I’m 17 and a junior at Watershed High School. I live in downtown Camden, Maine, in a pastel-colored colonial house packed between other pastel-colored colonial houses. I live walking distance from my school, the local marketplace, our opera house and all the tourist shops in our little harbor town. Despite my slightly urban setting, I love farming.”

So began a short biography we asked Benjamin to send us, after she won the seventh annual Telling Room statewide writing contest for kids. Student writers were in middle and high school. They wrote on the theme of “voices,” both writing with voice and telling stories of those whose voices aren’t usually heard. The judges – five local writers and editors – considered fiction, nonfiction and poems. Benjamin’s story was among nearly 200 submissions.

We were charmed by the bio, and by her essay itself, which conveys her love of farming in general and of sheep in particular. We can certainly understand why the Portland-based Telling Room, a nonprofit that seeks to “empower youth” through writing, selected it.

As winner, Benjamin gets $200 and lots of readers – something all writers, whatever their age, desire. We are publishing her essay here. It’ll also appear in the Telling Room’s annual anthology of student writing, to be published in May. And Benjamin is scheduled to read her work at the Telling Room’s Big Night in Westbrook in May.

Benjamin went on to explain in her bio that she is “the sole owner of a flock of 18 sheep who I keep on a little farm at the top of a hill just a few miles away from my house. Every morning I go to take care of them before school, and then every evening I do the same before finishing my homework.”

— PEGGY GRODINSKY, Books editor

Voice of Mother Trust

By Pearl Benjamin

I stand over the gate to the lambing pen, watching Elvez and her little brood as they tussle about. I follow the shaky movements of the two lambs as they totter between her legs. I won’t move until I see them both nurse. I will not take my eyes off this pen until I know they will survive the night.

Camden resident and Watershed High School junior Pearl Benjamin with a new lamb. Benjamin won the seventh annual Telling Room statewide contest for student writers. Courtesy of Pearl Benjamin

Two days ago on the coldest night of the year, Elvez gave birth. A leggy cinnamon ewe and a creamy cotton ball of a ram dropped into the negative two-degree air. My mother and I rushed them inside to blow-dry every inch of their nearly hypothermic bodies as soon as they were born. We wrapped them in towels and little lamb coats and set them on a heating pad in their pen. I haven’t stopped worrying about them since.

Now, at least, no one is freezing to death. The polar vortex has passed over our coastal Maine town, and the animals can finally breathe air that hasn’t been stiffened by frost. Elvez’s lambs seem livelier than before, although they’re still stumbling about on soft limbs. I wish I could trust them. I wish I could leave them to be with their mother so that I could go home and sleep for the first time in days. I have homework to do tonight, but I don’t see myself leaving the barn any time soon.

Something is wrong here.

Elvez wants nothing to do with the white ram. She swivels around and lands her head on his ribs whenever he attempts to suckle. He is resilient, picking himself back up and resuming his relentless search for milk. I monitor them nervously, hoping that maybe she’ll change her mind and soften toward him, like she is toward his sister.

Last year’s lambing was a tough one for Elvez. She had twins then, too: a big cinnamon baby with thick bones and perky ears, and a white ewe with tragically twisted front legs. As much as the frail little ewe struggled and flopped about, she couldn’t stand on them. Elvez tried to stay with the lamb, nickered to her in her careful mothering voice, attempted to guide her to her feet, but she could not mend misshapen legs. Elvez slowly turned away from the doomed baby and focused on caring for the healthy one. After a tearful visit to the vet, my mother and I lost hope as well. Accepting that the crippled ewe wasn’t meant for the world, we put her down the next day.

Does Elvez see that little ghost of a lamb in this white ram? Maybe she fears he won’t survive and wishes to save her milk for her ewe. Maybe she simply isn’t up to par as a mother.

Camden resident and Watershed High School junior Pearl Benjamin with a new lamb. Courtesy of Pearl Benjamin/

Suddenly an idea bursts into my mind. I hurry inside the lambing pen and hoist the little ram into my arms. I look toward Elvez. She doesn’t seem to care. I tap Elvez’s back and try to get her attention.

“Elvez! Look! I have your baby!”

She turns away and nuzzles the ewe. The ram wriggles in my arms. I begin to walk backward, out of the pen, clutching the lamb delicately. Elvez isn’t paying attention. Then, finally, the lamb calls out to his mother.

His voice is small and shrill in the evening air. It’s the same distress call the twisted white lamb made when she was abandoned. Elvez’s head whips up and over the gate. She’s heard him, and she responds. Her call back is deep and panicked, a sound of motherly reassurance and concern. That was all I needed to hear.

I bring the ram back into his mother’s pen and set him down on the pine shavings. He hobbles over to Elvez and goes for her udder across from his sister. Elvez stares off into the distance longingly and finally allows him to drink.

As I leave the pen I glance back and catch Elvez’s sorrowful eye. I gaze at her in gratitude and silently tell her I’m sorry. She dips her head to tend to her lambs. I brush my hair out of my eyes and take what feels like the first breath in hours. I can trust them now. They’ll be okay tonight. o