Monday, July 14, 2008

So the rest of my life starts with a four dollar whistle…

Sunday morning I sat on a wet hill watching a dog named Cato expertly run through the course at the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials. Unlike the day before, the weather was cold, windy, and well, as anglocentric as the event itself. After two days of watching, eavesdropping, and asking complete strangers stupid questions – I knew that Cato had just completed a beautiful out run, executed a fine lift, ran down a straight-lined fetch and was in the middle of a decent cross. He had penned and was about to shed. His handler, a tawny ex-rock climber, yelled out commands into the wind. When the wind proved too much she blew into the whistle on the lanyard around her neck. Cato darted, flew, and balanced the sheep like a pro. Not too far from where I perched a man in his mid-sixties stood in an oversized blue sweatshirt (now he didn’t look like an ex rock climber) and on the end of a frayed lead his border collie sat beside him. They were next. I was so envious of him I sunk a quarter inch into the ground.

These people are living my dream. Regardless of who they are or what they do with their lives they all managed to figure out how to become shepherds in the modern world. They all spend their days with ewes and rams and these amazing dogs. I want to be one of them so much it hurts, but like the dogs waiting their turn to pump up the hill to their flocks. I need to be patient, even though every muscle in my body quivers to get a border collie and a couple of sheep as fast as I can.

But I need to be realistic and that’s killing me. I rent my land and owning that Vermont farm and transitioning to a full time farm career seems so impossible right now. The hundreds of thousands of dollars in a mortgage, the start up capital, the high credit score, hell even the electric fencing seems so out of reach it’s the emotional equivalent of Mafiosos breaking my legs with a baseball bat. And apparently, I’m a glutton for punishment because I went back both days.

Regardless, standing on that hill was a horrible/wonderful mix of joy and anxiety. Joy that I was now physically there. Standing smack dab in the middle of this world I need to be a part of, but equally scared shitless it won’t happen. Or worse, I’ll be my own worst enemy and keep putting it off and making excuses because friends or family don’t approve of another dog or a few ewes. I clutched the cheap plastic shepherd’s whistle on it’s lanyard like a rosary. I don’t have to tell you what I prayed for.

Also, I arrived at Merck dogless. For someone who owns two amazing working dogs, and was going to a working dog event, this felt wrong. But I didn’t have the heart to bring Jazz and Annie. Besides the fact that the day before was in the 90’s (scorching hot for two huskies with heavy under coats to handle) – I couldn’t bear sitting there with two dogs who had to be held back on leads while they watched countless other dogs scamper around leashless inches away from the animals they desperately wanted to devour.

I could just see Jazz shaking his head at those sheepdogs. Like an old Baptist preacher watching wayward youths rob a liquor store he would surely be despondent seeing his own kind having fallen so far from the faith. Siberian huskies keep the Gospel of Wolf alive in every fiber of their being. I could just imagine me on the trial field with my Sibes and yelling out “Away to me Jazz! Come by Annie!" and the crowd would see the fastest sprint clocked in sheepdog trial history as my sled dogs ran towards the flock. They would be in awe at the grace and beauty of my dogs as they loped with the bliss and agility of Russian ballerinas rolling on E. And then scream in horror as Jazz and Annie ran down and began eating the ovine contestants.


No, the dogs were at home. I felt like I was cheating on them and all I was doing was window shopping. I want to be a shepherd and I live with wolves. It’s a complicated situation, but a contradiction I find beautiful. Anyway I’ll figure it out.

I’m not naïve enough to think sled dogs aren’t a part of my life that I love and that won't go away. I know damn well that if I was that ex-rock climber in my mid-40s and saw a 26 year old kid with two beautiful sled dogs on the hill watching me in miserable weather with my sheepdog - I would want her life. I'd feel the deep pangs for the wildness of huskies, the blinding snow, and the feeling of runners over ice. I'd wish I was holding a brushbow and not a shepherd's crook while a ewe plowed into my shins and fell on my butt.

I am in love with two opposite ends of the working dog spectrum. Great.

There is a reason a wolf with antlers is all over Cold Antler Farm. He's painted on chicken coops and garden signs, and his image is all over the blog. It's because he's the symbol of how I feel about my passions. The mix of opposites, the chaos of contradiction, the need for balance when you love things so different that seem so unbelievable - is why you see him. And the possibily of seeing a wolf with antlers in the wild feels just as unbelievable as the possibility of me becoming a shepherdess with a trial dog...

So where do I go from here? Well, I joined NEBCA. I joined and as a member I’ll get the newsletter and trial announcements and meeting information and start getting involved. As a member I have full access to their book and video library and just like I’ve been with sheep, I'll start doing serious research. I’ll attend clinics and classes dogless, shadowing handlers with their border collies and listen in as an observer. Then, someday in the next few months, years, decades (who knows) I'll get a started dog or pup from herding lines and start taking those classes myself.

While all this was churning in my head, I bought a shepherd’s whistle at the merchandise stand. A small souvenir to some, but to this girl it’s the crucial turnkey to a life I know I want but have no idea how to attain. But right now, it’s all the start I need. Maybe someday a wolf with antlers will trot by the farm afterall. I guess we'll have to wait and see.


Blogger KKJD1 said...

Wow what a weekend! I know you will get your dream soon just keep doing what your doing and it will all come together. You have already started just by investigating and getting out there in the mist of the sheep dog world so hang on! Here's to the ride of your dream! Karen

July 14, 2008 at 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "jazz shaking his head" paragraph is top-notch're cool.


July 14, 2008 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

You've probably seen it... but just in case you haven't you much be sure to check out "Extreme Sheep LED Art"

March 28, 2011 at 10:45 PM  

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