Last week I found myself walking up the road, watching the woods with squinting eyes as the ghostly bodies of escaped sheep darted through the trees, little lambs loping behind them. They were a ways up the steep hillside, but still visible since most of the woods here are not yet green. Gibson was beside me, watching, head low and eyes locked. We had been trailing them for a half mile, tipped by a neighbor who had driven by to say they saw my ram and some ewes down the road. My road ends at a rural highway, so that got our attention. I put down the colored pencils and we suited up in boots and a walking stick. We'd get back those sheep. Now we found them. Step one, complete.
I have been spending so much time inside focused on the artwork that is trying to catch up with the bills here, that I didn't stop to look out the window at the flock after morning chores. So they had plenty of time to slip through a hole in the fence and follow the deer paths and stream into the woods. To get to them Gibson would have to jump over the cold creek, race uphill, and have the wherewithal to send them home, not farther away from the farm. I wasn't in hunting chaps, and the rose bushes and other thorny growth was thick. I was hoping Gibson could hand this without me going home bruised and bleeding. I sent him up and he was gone like a buckshot.
It wasn't easy to see from the road, but far as I could tell Gibson locked on them with that classic stare and it was enough for them to turn tail. They darted back towards the farm, and the dog slowly stalked behind, trotting when he needed to to keep up. Gibson has been trained with me and some professional sheepdog trainers, but we are far from trial ready. I was counting on his instincts, not my commands. We are not a well-oiled machine like that. I watched them as I walked back home, along the road and then they crested over a bank and they were out of my site. I watched. I waited. No sign of dog or ewe.
I walked faster, my heart racing a bit. This wasn't our property and I didn't know it. I don't usually have Gibson out of my site, much less leave him with a 200 pound ram, ewes, and their offspring to deal with. I heard nothing, no barks or yelps. I saw nothing, though I strained my eyes trying. Finally I saw a flash of white and it was gone, but it was heading towards the farm. They were on some secret path for cervines and ravens. Seeing them closer to home I called to my dog, who raced back from farther up the road than I expected.
He popped out of the woods and onto the empty country road. His chest was heaving and he looked to me and then back at the sheep. I called to him "That'll Do!" and when he ran to me I went to my knees and hugged him close. This dog, he's perfect to me.
The sheep were back in their pens, soon munching early grass and acting as if nothing was wrong or different. Gibson and I were back home, he at my side as I worked on drawings for clients and files for logos. I let out a happy sigh, a long one. For years all I wanted was some sheep on a hill. I thought it was because of my love of wool and fibre, livestock, and farming. But it's about the tiny exhales of adventures I share with these dogs. We don't win ribbons. I we don't enter contests. But we work as a team to keep a little farm sane and safe.
That's better than an action movie.