Bringing Home the Sheep

A week ago I got the sheep home. After morning chores I spent two hours mucking their stall, which the pigs had excavated into a giant crater, then spent five hours in the brake shop a half hour away getting my truck repaired. (“Your pad on the left rear was the thickness of a Kleenex, and the rest were gone!” exclaimed the technician.) $800 later I was back on the road, hurrying to collect gates and fence posts to set up the sheep trap.

A few days earlier I had run into an acquaintance who’d said, “How’s life?” and at a low moment I’d confided my worry about moving the sheep without help. “Oh, I’ll have some kids with me Tuesday, we’ll all come give you a hand,” she said easily. I was astonished. I’ve known this person from a distance for twenty-five years but not everyone is game for livestock handling. I barely restrained myself from falling on her neck with tears of gratitude.

In fact over the past few days I’d several times found myself whimpering in my throat. Hurry, hurry, hurry, constantly checking my watch — trying to coordinate all the balls I had in the air. Get the pigs loaded. Get to the slaughterhouse without careening off the road sans brakes. Pick up my 300 lbs of beef and deliver it to freezers. Get to the brake shop. Now I was racing to pick up the borrowed trailer to have everything set up before Noni and the children arrived.

I was pounding the last fence post when her car pulled up, the doors popped open, and the children spilled out. They were tiny. Fourth graders, and very small. My heart sank. Would they even be able to lift the gate to close it? Still, Luke and I had done this job with just two people. I would have to count on Noni.

I put on a cheery voice. “Are you all ready to be shepherds?”

“Yes!” the children screamed. One little girl in day-glo pink was jumping up and down.

I showed them where to stand and went up the hill to let the sheep out. Thirty seconds later I was running back down the pasture, in front of the flock, shaking a grain can. The sheep paused momentarily at the sight of the children (predators?), but I shouted, “Sheep! sheep!” and rattled the grain and they swept after me in a woolly mob, intent on the sweet treat. They galloped across the road, bounced into the trailer, and Noni slammed the door.

We’d done it. After so much tension and anxiety for days it had been easy. The sheep were safe.

I almost wanted to cry. The relief was so sudden and so complete I felt boneless, like a marionette whose strings have been cut.

The children wanted to see my farm so the group followed me down the highway in their car. I remained in something of a daze as I unloaded the sheep, brought in all the animals, and fed everyone. The kids climbed up in the hayloft, laughing and calling. They checked the nest boxes for eggs. A little boy washed out the borrowed trailer with the sprayer on the hose. I was still repeating to myself, “It’s done, it’s done.”

An hour later I was backing the trailer into its slot before going home to cook dinner. Though there was still plenty of work to do before winter, the worst was behind me.

Sometimes a little help makes all the difference.

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