Part 1: Fall #1
When Sylvia Krupp looked in the mirror and saw the rivulets of blood reaching down her face like hideous, long fingers, she understood the expression on the face of the man who had helped her stand up.
But even her bloodied face didn’t change Krupp’s mind about how incredibly lucky she’d been.
The 74-year-old knew that the instant after she face-planted on the ice.
Krupp was out on the ice that second weekend in January because of an unexpected pregnancy over which she and her sister, Beverly Anderson, had had words.
At first, “She said I was crazy,” Krupp said.
But Anderson, who is visually impaired, couldn’t see what Krupp could see: The udderly obvious fact that Nepo, a female Alaska Dall sheep at Anderson’s Sunset Avenue three-acre farm, was getting ready to nurse.
And that meant she was pregnant.
Krupp claims her sister’s skepticism about anything Sylvia goes back to the days when the Springfield sisters raised sheep together as children. Seven years the senior, then, as now, Anderson has remained pretty sure her younger sister hasn’t been around long enough to be fully trusted.
Only after they went over the math together was Anderson convinced.
The ram lambs Anderson kept last year departed in September, before Anderson thought they would breed. But since the gestation period for the sheep is 162 days, give or take, if Nepo mated back then, birth might be expected in early February.
Checking for newborn lambs, who might die in the cold, “was the reason I was even out in the barnyard,” Krupp said.
That and the worry that her sister, who Krupp says is less stable on her feet than she is, would have been out there if she hadn’t been. “The high was like 16,” Krupp said. But because the sheep are found in Denali Park in Alaska, Nepo doesn’t instinctively go to the barn because of the cold.
Krupp did spot Nepo (open spelled backwards) for a few moments. But concern over whether newborn lambs were out there led Krupp to keep looking.
“I went around to this other barn where the donkey goes a lot” – the donkey that provides security for the sheep. Anderson had had trouble with dogs getting at her lambs, and “the donkey goes crazy when she sees dogs,” Krupp said.
Sylvia Krupp with "Nepo" one of her sister, Beverly's, Dall sheep, and her lambs Tuesday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Credit: Bill Lackey
Credit: Bill Lackey
But when it rains, the donkey’s hooves also sink down in the muck and, when drawn out both make a sucking sound and leave a hole pretty much the size of a donkey’s hoof.
When that freezes and the snow comes, Krupp said, “there are all these jagged things” sticking up at the edges of the holes, which was the case that January morning.
“I know it was stupid,” she said. But because the ground was frozen, “I thought I could walk (over the frozen hoof prints) to the barn,” Krupp said, so “I started forward.”
She was almost to the barn when her foot caught in a frozen hold and she experienced her own miracle on ice.
“When I fell, I hit my forehead on the wood edge of the barn and my chin on one of the ruts,” she said. “But my face went in the hole” – the hole the donkey’s prints had made.
“I hit nothing. Not my eyes, my nose, my teeth,” any and all of which could have broken had they not fit so neatly in the hole.
Not only that, that particular hole didn’t have a jagged edge.
Yes, her glasses fell off and broke.
Yes, she skinned her knees.
And, yes, she felt like she’d made a donkey out of herself.
But she had, in a more crucial way, saved face.
Part II: Falls 2, 3, 4, etc.
The bleeding “I didn’t notice until I looked down at my coat,” Krupp said.
Fortunately, she’d brought a bathroom towel in case she’d had to assist with the birth that didn’t happen and put it on her forehead.
“I’m down, and I thought, I’ll roll over, get on my knees and stand up,” she said. “I fell again.”
“Then I scooted over out of the jagged edges, and there was an old chair back there.” Trying to pull herself up, “I fell again.” About this time, she noticed the engine in the rail yard just beyond her sister’s fence, “thought there was probably somebody in there watching me (and) wondered why they didn’t come and help.”
But when she fell the third time, she called her older sister, who promptly told her, “I wondered what was taking so long.”
And when Anderson came out to be with that younger sister she always has to look over, sight problems kicked in again.
“She didn’t see how bad I was, and she kind of argued with me,” Krupp said.
Anderson naturally wanted to help her younger sister up, and when Krupp said “we don’t need two beached whales out here,” Krupp also wondered whether the folks in the train yard, at her sister’s approach, had thought “here comes another one” and expected Anderson to fall as well.
Soon help arrived, and all turned out fine … this time.
Part III: Levity & Gravity
As our interview continued, though, I soon learned that tumbling has become something of a sisterly hobby.
Two years ago, Krupp took one after discovering her neighbors’ Dachshund puppy in her back yard.
While returning Lucky (and that really is the dog’s name), Krupp fell, hit her head on cement and bloodied herself.
That, in turn, led her neighbor, a sheriff’s deputy, to wonder whether she’d been assaulted. It also led to the temporary disappearance of the neighbors’ other dog, a Rottweiler named Chewy.
"Nepo," a Dall sheep and her lambs. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Credit: Bill Lackey
Credit: Bill Lackey
(While Chewy struck me as an ominous name for a Rottweiler, Krupp told me that after getting his Chewy treat, Chewy always touches her hand with his wet nose.)
Chewy’s disappearance led to a panic because another neighbor had made it clear if Chewy’s nose came on is property again, it might be shot.
But there was neither a shooting nor trip to the emergency room; the panic ended when Chewy was found in Krupp’s garage.
I know it’s hard to believe, but there’s more.
Krupp told me that sister Beverly specializes in falling backwards and did so three years ago when they went to a dog convention in Phoenix. No, it wasn’t part of the entertainment at the show. It happened during a side trip to the Grand Canyon, a place where one is ill-advised to fall.
Anderson walked to the convenience store as Krupp filled the tank and soon began to wonder why people were gathered around someone who had fallen.
It was Anderson, who had hit her head, which led to a trip to a 90-minute delay when they took her to an emergency room for six staples before going on.
Once at the Grand Canyon (and, again, you can’t make this up) Anderson announced she wanted to climb up on a rock and have Krupp take her picture, then grew angry when the younger sister told her she absolutely could not climb on the rock because it would have been possible to fall off it into a mile-deep hole.
While telling this story to their dog convention friends, Krupp paused and said, “I bet you think this is crazy.”
Frankly, I nodded my head.
But her friends, who, so far as I know, have not hit their heads, thought the opposite.
“We don’t think you’re crazy. We want to be just like you when we’re older.”
By this point, it struck me that, despite their squabbling the tumbling sisters once could have performed under the name Levity & Gravity on the old Ed Sullivan Show.
While all of this has a weirdness to it that I find funny, falls, of course, are not funny. And they can be particularly unfunny – and grave – for older people.
From her friends’ experience, Krupp is aware of how damaging and even fatal they can be.
So please, both young and old, do me this favor.
As you get older, please have the courage and initiative to carry on with your lives. Continue to raise sheep, if you like. You can even throw in a donkey and a Fallow Deer like Anderson’s Cinnamon, who was raised with ducks, had her ears chewed off by dogs, barks like a dog and doesn’t care for any of the other animals.
But whatever you do, please don’t get out of control and carried away.
Promise me you’ll fall short of that.
P.S. As a matter of full disclosure: I worked for Sylvia Krupp some years back when she was editing and writing a column for this newspaper’s Living Section. We’ve been friends ever since.