Monday, June 7, 2010

midnight mass

Regardless of our different religions, all shepherds celebrate the same holidays. There's Lambing, and Barn Building, Hogget's First Snow (I added that one), and of course...Shearing Day. These are the high holy days of the sheep calendar. Shared events understood by everyone in the Society of Lamb and Wool. It doesn't matter where you live, or what spices were stored in your family cupboardā€”all wool shepherds are brethren when it comes to spring rituals. Anyone who thinks ritual is dead is secular society doesn't have ruminants.

Today the flock at Cold Antler got a visit from the barber. It was perfect weather for haircuts. A mild, sunny, evening with the occasional crisp wind. For early summer it sure felt like early fall. The shearers were running late and I was thrilled. I expected to come home to three naked sheep and a thank you pinned to the door. The shearers, Jim and Liz, explained they'd be here around 3 in the afternoon and I sighed the sigh of all shepherds with day jobs and explained I'd have to leave the check on the door and extension chords by the gate. They understood, and have sheared when the flock's owners were away before. But when I pulled into the driveway and saw my check still there, my heart fluttered a little. It was only my second sheep shearing of my own flock and I wanted to be around for the big show. In the small-farm sheepworld, this was Midnight Mass.

When the white truck pulled in the drive I shook hands and helped carry gear up to the sheep pen. Within minutes the shearers were in their felt boots and set up with their extension chords and blades loaded in their giant shears. Joseph was first to be flipped and shorn. For a first time he did well. I couldn't believe how pitch black the wool was under his brown locks. When all the wool was off his body, Jim told me I could bag it while he trimmed the wether's hooves. My little hogget was a hogget no more. The term refers to any young sheep that's never been shorn, usually between 6-15 months. Shaved, he looked like a little black doe, a fluke, a sheep. I scratched his ears and told him he did good.

Gibson watched the whole event go down from a tie-out on an apple tree. I couldn't bring him into the fray, but from outside the pen he watched he flock being worked by people and all the goings on. I want him to be a part of every sheep holiday at the farm. Some day soon I'll be depending on him to work beside me, not just watch while chewing on a stick. But we'll cut the 12-week-old some slack. Right now we're just working on basic obedience and not pissing in the kitchen. A perfect pear-shaped outrun on the trial fields a ways off. Baby steps. Today he watches buzz cuts.

Jim saw the pup and told me of an event going on just an hour north of here the weekend of June 20th. A gathering of sheepdog people will be getting together with their new pups to work on herding basics and have a pot luck. It wasn't any sort of sanctioned club event, just shepherds and their dogs watching the new kids show off their talent. He said I could come along and watch with Gibson, meet some locals, see some young dogs work at their beginning training. My heart was beating like a first kiss. I no longer felt sick at all. I was filled with the excitement this place, this weird sheeplife, grants me. I told him we'd be there, and I was bringing pie.

Sal and Maude were troopers, and after they too were shorn all three looked like paper dolls with their outfits torn off, awkward and naked but still oddly innocent. Sal, being Sal, came up to me and leaned his big 200-pound frame into my thighs. My lion had turned into...well, a mountain lion. Same thick dope of a sheep, but with less mane. I scratched him and he craned his neck back into my waist as I helped him with his new itchy bald self. He nipped at my shirt a little. I adore that ruddy sheep.

Maude just stood on the hill and glared.

Within an hour of pulling into the drive Jim and Liz were packed up. I handed them the check (always tip your shearer) and thanked them. I also handed Jim a wrapped set of blades from my own shears (mailed as a gift from a shepherd reader in California) and he said he'd have them sharpened and ready for me by the 20th. Jim not only trains herding dogs and shear's sheeps: he sharpens blades! Fresh, sharp, shears and a date with the Border Collie set. Not a bad way to end a work day.


Blogger Justine said...

Congratulations on all that wool! What are your plans for it, spinning, selling, admiring?Its a good thing its summer those sheep look like they could get a little chilly!

June 7, 2010 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

You are going to have a blast on the 20th. You will have all kinds of people to call on to help with your's and Gibson's training. I hope to see you at the Blue Hill Fair in Maine trialing some time.

June 7, 2010 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Kris said...

I love your description of the sheep calendar; it is perfect. Shepherds move in their own sphere to their own pace, which is in tune with an age-old rhythm. Even those with other ruminants don't fully understand our dance.

June 7, 2010 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger finsandfeathers said...

I like to think of the first fire in the wood stove after a long hot summer one of those holidays too, right up there with the first snow.

June 7, 2010 at 10:12 PM  
Blogger RabbleRoost said...

Awww, nekkid sheeps! :)
It makes me kind of want goats AND sheep eventually!

Too bad you're so far downstate, or I'd love to get an angora kit from you... Oh well.

June 7, 2010 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

I don't know why I never noticed that Joseph is so dark! That'll make some swell yarn.

Hogget's First Snow sounds like a children's book.

I admire people who can shear sheep- it would absolutely KILL my back, and then on top of that, they deal with the whole turning the animal over and all that. I had enough trouble with a ten pound poodle on a table!

June 8, 2010 at 12:18 AM  
Blogger Robbie Knight said...

If only mass were so fun! That looks like a blast. Thanks for the addictive and edible flow of your narratives (kettle corn-flavored narratives) and the education along the way. SO cool. Maude gives me a belly laugh every time you post about her. Thank you!

June 8, 2010 at 12:20 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Shearing Day is SO much better than Christmas for me. My absolute favourite day of the year. Have fun with the wool. Are you spinning yet? Sitting on the porch spinning in an evening or in front of the fire... it doesn't get much more relaxing than that.

June 8, 2010 at 1:12 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The sheep look in great condition. I can hardly wait for photos from the sheep dog puppy event.

June 8, 2010 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger RabbleRoost said...

You know what I thought about Joseph's coloring? Black fur/wool/hair fades in sunlight! People with show cats can't let their black ones lay in the sun too long or they'll fade. Yeah... Don't ask me how I know that - I don't even know. Never been to a cat show, probably never will. I read some weird stuff, and my mind won't let me forget it.

June 8, 2010 at 7:51 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

That is so amazing. I am in complete wool envy.

Quick question if you -or maybe another reader?- catch this in the jumble of responses...

What do I use to shear the angoras? It's nearing up 100 here in florida and they could both use a shave but the silky threads just slide through my regular person shearers.

i'm paranoid using scissors, i clipped skin once.

any suggestions?

June 8, 2010 at 8:41 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

Another beautiful blog...loved the analogy.
Enjoy your day with Gibson at the puppy event....sounds like a lot of fun....

June 8, 2010 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Patsy from Illinois said...

Dear, wicked Maude. Ya' gotta' love her!

June 8, 2010 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger E said...

Are you going to learn to shear yourself? I did with by reading the instructions in a book & watching a youtube. First sheep took 1 1/2 hour with hoof shaped bruises on me and very minor sheep nicks. Having seen someone actually do it, you are way ahead. My method: lay the sheep sideways so you can sit/squat more comfortably without bending over.

It takes me longer (30 minutes/sheep including hoof trim & deworming) but it gets done on my schedule - a few days after each lambing, and in the fall.

June 8, 2010 at 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awww, I love them all naked! Poor Maude, she's embarrassed and doesn't agree. She's too cute.
I can't wait to see what you make with your very own wool. :)

June 8, 2010 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Damn The Broccoli said...

I spent yesterday shaving my first flock!
Well not my flock but the local CSA's where I help out.

I even did the Tup, who it has to be said put up far less fight than most of the ladies.

There is an absolute visual poetry in the dance between shearer and shorn. I wish I was 100th as capable as the person who taught me last weekend.

It made me reevaluate the role fleece will have in my future somewhat.

June 8, 2010 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Kigwit said...

I love that line about "anyone who thinks that ritual is dead doesnt have ruminants."
And what are you doing with your wool? You should learn to spin, you know, for your "spare time." LOL

June 12, 2010 at 9:53 AM  

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