John Kerry's July 6 decision to tap Sen. John Edwards as his running mate snapped everyone on campus to full attention.

Most everyone at the University has heard at some point that the availability of parking spaces on campus will worsen before improving.

It's hard to leave a place you love, Robert Blouin will tell you.

Copyright 2004
Edwards' law school ties still strong
Parking crunch hits home; alternatives are key to future
Staying true to his pledge
University Gazette

When Judy Tysmans goes to work, she looks forward to managing a recognizable cross section of cubicle types: She has two loyal, hard-working employees who can almost always be trusted to work independently. She has what she calls the sheep -- there are eight of them. They do a good job but just plod along with little sense of direction or motivation. Then there's the insolent butthead, always jockeying for the opportunity to push her down just for the fun of it.

Let's call the hard workers Becky and Siobhan, the butthead Cindy. The sheep will remain the sheep, because, after all, that's what they are.

When Tysmans leaves her Carolina office at Lineberger North, she heads southeast to her two-acre homestead, carved into rural southern Wake County where the plume from the Shearon Harris Plant's cooling tower is a recognizable landmark. It's there in the outskirts of Apex that her hard physical labor begins.  

A research nurse associate in the Prostate Cancer Consortium of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, she runs Shady Grove Farm with her husband Dirk, whose day job is programmer with IBM.

TENDING THE FLOCK Judy Tysmans, research nurse with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, keeps a close watch on her sheep. In spite of an electrified fence and a Great Pyrenees who lives in the pen with them in summer, they're still vulnerable to predators.

The couple raise a small herd of eight sheep: two Romneys and five half Romneys (Romneys are prized for their long-staple fleece) and one Jacob-Border Leicester mix. A valuable part of the group is the insolent Angora goat Cindy. Cindy may be cagey, but the mohair culled from her fleece is to die for. But that's the thing: Unlike most livestock, Cindy and the sheep are not raised for meat. They make their contributions every spring when each is sheared of six to seven pounds of fleece.

There's a long, multi-ply yarn of time and place that brings the Tysmanses to the life they live today. Suffice it to say that she learned to knit from her mother as a little girl growing up in Connecticut. She became hooked on spinning during a visit to Ireland 16 years ago when she "spent an afternoon watching them spin with natural dyes." And then they made a decision to leave "the city" -- Raleigh -- and move to Apex, to the house they live in now.

The people who owned the land before them had horses, and "it took six or seven years before it could recover," Tysmans said. "Two horses on one wetland acre had totally pulverized the land, and it took several years to grow much besides broomstraw grass, an indication of very poor soil."

Well, it did grow poison ivy. The land was covered in it. They turned to a Wake County agricultural extension agent for advice, and she's the one who made the fortuitous suggestion that they get sheep and goats to graze on the poison ivy.

But the existing barn had been built in wetlands, and sheep are very susceptible to foot rot.

They improved the barn and have eight paddocks that they move the sheep around in. The poison ivy is now at bay, thanks to the sheep, and Tysmans said it provides an excellent, high protein, high quality livestock feed. But now they have to be vigilant about weeds that, unlike poison ivy, are dangerous to the sheep: nightshades, wild carrot and milkweed.

The sheep also needed protection and occasional herding. An electrified fence helped, but it wasn't perfect. That's when Becky and Siobhan, the hard workers, were added to the farm.

Becky's a rescue -- a plump brown Australian Shepherd. "The Aussie," Judy said, "although having been a city girl, does a fantastic job rounding up the sheep when they get out. It has saved us many hours of work that she knows what to do, and the sheep know they'd better pay attention to her."

Judy related a recent story about an escape attempt staged, naturally enough, by Cindy. The goat leaped over the electric fence, "getting her hoof stuck in the top layer. She kicked and pulled enough to tear several layers of the old mesh electric fence, and there she and the sheep were, out of the enclosure and heading for my vegetable garden," Tysmans said. "I went and got Becky. They saw her coming, did an about face and returned to their area inside the enclosure. I asked Becky to sit and stay beside me as I repaired the fence, and she stared the sheep down and kept them from running by me to get back out. What a gem she is! From the streets of a city, cast out and neglected, to my back yard in Apex, doing what she had been bred to do."

But left inside the pen with the sheep, Becky would herd them relentlessly. So the Tysmans added Siobhan, a gentle Great Pyrenees rescue, to guard the sheep.

In hot weather the sheep are allowed to stay in the pasture and graze at night, and Siobhan lives in the pen with them then. It reduces the Tysmanses' work and "stresses the sheep less since they can be out whenever they want to, and they eat the grass when it is best, loaded with protein before it goes to seed."

Tysmans, who has her BSN and master's in public health from Carolina, has worked here for about a year and a half. In Chapel Hill, she shifts gears a bit and moves from being livestock nurturer to nurse of humans. She's part of a research team that will be beginning a vital prostate cancer study in mid-August. (See gazette.unc.edu/morestories.html#5.)

A pilot study completed in April looked at racial differences in prostate cancer in North Carolina as compared to Louisiana. It turns out African Americans in North Carolina have twice the rate of prostate cancer than African Americans in Louisiana.

Tysmans and her co-worker Andrew Franks will be traveling four days a week to 25 counties to the homes of 1,000 study participants. They'll be collecting toenails, urine, blood and fat samples and additional information for genetic and nutrition studies.

Back at home, Tysmans takes a few minutes away from the work at hand to sit and talk.

FROM 'ROVINGS' TO YARN Judy Tysmans takes a handful of fleece -- a roving -- and using her double treadle spinning wheel turns it into a single-ply yarn. From caring for the sheep, to the shearing, washing, dyeing, spinning and knitting, she manages the process all the way from the sheep wearing its own garment to her knitting one.

They've just moved back into their brick ranch after some major remodeling. There's still work to be completed, though, and the rooms are less organized than she would like.

Tysmans picks up a few fluffs of lavender and blue variegated fleece -- her own hand-dyed "rovings" -- and begins spinning. The veins are prominent in her strong hands as she feeds the wool with little wasted movement. The wheel has a double treadle, and the rhythmic back-and-forth of the pedals looks like an exercise in meditation, and for her it is.

"This is so relaxing," she said. "It's repetitive motion, and it's very relaxing."

While she worked, Tysmans talked about the Twisted Threads Fiber Arts Guild, which she founded. The group meets twice a month, and everyone -- from rankest beginners to fiber artists -- is welcome to work on spinning and "lap work." This spring the group collaborated to create a spectacular afghan as a show of loving support for one of their members with cancer.

In addition, she teaches knitting and spinning classes, "usually as weekend workshops," she said. "People come from as far away as Eastern North Carolina or New York and stay the weekend, learning to spin, getting to know the sheep, and just relaxing in the country for a couple of days." She uses the wool from her own herd to teach students. "I have a superior product," she said, "and it makes it easier to learn on this soft, long-staple fiber. This activity is mainly what feeds the sheep," she added.

It's hard work just to maintain their fleece in top-notch condition. Like little lambs of children's poems, the sheep wear bells that tinkle gently as they graze or begin curiously nibbling on a visitor's buttons. Once their fleece grows a little longer than it is on this afternoon, Tysmans will dress them in light canvas jackets to keep straw from matting in their growing fleece and degrading its quality.

Looking for shear pleasure?

To learn more about Twisted Threads Fiber Arts Guild, which meets twice a month, search for Twistedthreadsraleigh at Yahoo Groups: groups.yahoo.com.

For more information about Judy Tysmans' knitting and spinning classes, e-mail her at tysmans@med.unc.edu or call her at 966-9440.

As calming as the few minutes of spinning and conversation are, there are chores waiting and evening church services to attend.

Before she goes, she must engage in one small skirmish in the unending battle to claim a small piece of land for her own.

A hound mix from down the street has arrived and is slyly sizing up the sheep. The fencing is electrified and will give him a good jolt, she said, but the wire isn't high, and he looks like it wouldn't be much of a challenge to clear it.

Tysmans worries that Siobhan wouldn't be enough protection if he decided to make the leap, and she said he's big enough to kill a sheep. "In weather over 85 degrees," she said, "sheep can die from exertion, and a dog chasing the flock in such heat could kill them."

She paces along the fence line, tries in vain to shoo him away and wishes out loud for a BB gun.