It’s a tricky thing for any man to admit an affinity for sheep. But they’re here again, and I can’t help loving them.
The visits started early this summer. I often hear the dull clank of the sheep’s bells when they are grazing in our elderly widow neighbor's field, an idyllic stretch of grass, clover and wild thyme sloping down from the road about 100 yards from our house. But one morning they were louder than usual, and later I noticed our grass studded with little brown balls and looking like a giant green chocolate chip cookie. A few days later I heard the sound again, and on investigation I found nine or ten sheep in our field.
This is no problem for us, but sheep aren’t the brightest of animals, and I worried that they might wander too far from home. Visions of white fluffy road kill convinced me that I needed to do something. Their owner didn’t answer her phone. If those sheep were going to get home, I was going to have to take them.
So I pulled on my boots, grabbed a walking stick (shepherds always have sticks), and set out to shoo them home. Of course, growing up in suburban LA didn’t expose me to a whole lot of livestock and law school, sadly, teaches much about fleecing but little about sheep. Yet they were almost as wary of me as I was of them, so by simply walking behind them I managed to coax them down the narrow country lane that leads from our house to the neighboring farm. The entire way back, the rest of the sheep followed us on the other side of the fence, eager to welcome their friends back into the fold. As feel-good moments go, this one was golden.
Until we got to the farmhouse. No one was home, but figured all I’d have to do is get the sheep through the narrow gate that led into the field. The other sheep were waiting there, so I would simply open the gate and my little band would rush in. After a lot of tiptoeing and false starts I managed to get around behind my little flock and drive them toward the gate… and right past it. Again, I got behind them and closed in, and again they ignored the gate, this time making for a narrow open barn. I followed them among stacked hay rolls and old farm equipment to the end of the barn. They settled into a corner and wouldn’t budge. I tried luring them out with apples (they love apples) and was met with a stony silence. I tried getting behind them again, but just ended up chasing them in circles. I tried pushing one of them from behind, but that resulted only in a comic visual that makes me grateful to have been far from onlookers.
Eventually I gave up and returned home tired, defeated, and smelling of wet wool. Every morning we awoke to the sound of sheep bells. Our neighbor reassured me that the sheep wouldn’t stray too far and almost every weekend that summer her children arrived with new rolls of fencing and bundles of solid chestnut stakes, testament to her determination to keep her flock, both two- and four- legged, close to home. By August the sheep had stopped visiting.
The other day, when my son told me he’d seen a huge white dog in our field, I thought nothing of it. We often get hunters’ dogs roaming through. But this morning I heard the bells again and I knew. My friends are back. This time they can stay as long as they like.