Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stotting, Proking and Pronging

On the level ground around the farmhouse the juvenile chickens are learning how to become chickens. Just a hundred yards away, on the opposite side of my house, the lambs are learning to be sheep. Both species have a verve you just don’t see in their adult forms. Just as the birds are firecrackers, the sheep are little pistols in their own right. The little Scottish Blackface lambs look nothing like the white angels most people picture when they hear the word lamb. Instead they are born into this world like Muppet monsters, all shaggy hair, tiny round horns, big eyes and hooves most people assume they are goats. A few people demand they are goats, and when I call the splotched hairy babies sheep they patiently correct me. I can’t blame these people for their evaluation, Highland sheep are not common around here or most places. You won’t see them in the 4-H tents at the county fair and since most shepherds around here keep sheep for fiber hobby flocks, a rough-woolen breed like the Blackface wouldn’t be very desirable. Scotties are the breed of tartan and tweed, not baby hats and plush jumpers. So when someone compliments me on my darling goat kids I thank them. Some battles aren’t worth the bluster and frankly, I don’t want too many people raising this breed. They feel special to me, a part of this farm.

The twins are just a few weeks old but already they have formed a mob mentality. It doesn’t take lambs long to become brave. On the sloping pasture they stand, their tiny hooves leaving prints in the cropped grass and moss. Their mother is frustrated, munching on last year’s grass in the form of hay while watching the fresh green shoots grow out of reach beyond the fence. Rotating their time between the pastures is necessary though, less the whole place become a soccer field with many, many piles of sheep droppings. The lamb have little taste for the green stuff and are high on warm milk instead, so they don’t mind their scrappy paddock and the piles of dry hay. Instead of sulking over their diet they do as the young chickens do, and form little packs to run around.

Now when the chickens do this, even at a young age, they appear to have some sort of predatory focus. The birds stalk and race after butterflies and bumblebees. The lambs have none of this drive and run and play for the pure joy of it. In past years when there were half a dozen or so babies they'd all clump together at the top of a hillside and run down it as fast as possible, right into their mothers' dinner party without apology or concern about falls or head butts from annoyed parents. They just shake it off and run back up the hill, or across it, and when running grows boring they simply jump up and down, in place, like as if loaded springs have replaced their shins. This kind of pointless, in-place, blissful romping has several names. It’s called Stotting, proking or pronging to the old time shepherds. I don’t question the need for its own gerund at all. The action is so much more than a bounce or a jump. A good stot is nothing like a kid on a pogo stick or a jump rope. It’s higher, oddly and almost magically higher, and it lacks any sort of sense. The little lambs seemed momentarily hijacked of all sense and fear, trying to stay in that place just above their stubby feet in the sky where the world makes more sense. I confess I tried jumping in place myself a few times while watching them, earnest in my need to understand. But I don’t think forethought or reason is involved in the action. You stot because it’s the best thing to do with the moment and you can’t help yourself. Any attempt to suss out the meaning is a sad regression of intent.

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