The Sheep Heard

“We’re moving the sheep tomorrow morning. All hands on deck. Can you help?”, Sister Dee texted me. She works at the Merck Forest and Farmland Center.

The first time I went up to see her new place of employment, where she was filling up bottles of maple syrup, I felt like an imposter. My sneakers felt inappropriate on the 10 minute trail to the chickens, pigs, draft horses, sheep, and sap house. Should I be wearing hiking boots or muck boots or something? Is it weird to be walking alone on a road I’ve not been on? Am I walking funny? I became startlingly self-conscious.

I wouldn’t think twice about what was on my feet or what I was doing if I were at the Rec Center in town, but I was becoming confused amidst the trees. Am I just supposed to walk normally? Am I walking, strolling or hiking? What’s the difference anyway? Thank God I’m not wearing yoga pants or a tennis skirt. Maybe it was the newness of the area that was throwing me off.

Four months later I’m much more comfortable visiting, probably because I have some very cool shoes that can pass for hiking boots. Low tech so not Long Trail worthy but pretty hip looking. So me and my self-approved foot-wear arrived at 9 a.m. to help move sheep.

“Okay, who wants to be the Pied Piper?”, Dee’s boss asked. Now that’s something to jump at. Who wouldn’t want to be a Pied Piper? So I jumped. “Take this 10 gallon bucket of grain and start shaking it as soon as we open the gate. The sheep will follow you up the hill to the next gate.”

That didn’t sound too tough. I didn’t want to appear as a Pied Piper imposter. I wanted to appear confident so I didn’t ask anything like “Do I feed them the grain or is it fake grain?” or “How far into the pasture should I lead them.”

Two seconds later, “Ready? Shake. RUN!” The Pied Piper had it easy playing his flute while rats ambled behind him to the music. Picture me being chased by 30 ewes and lambs, carrying an enormous bucket above my head, about 50 yards up hill. Amazing how my boots felt like running shoes. Besides the bleating and the sound of my own heart beating, all I could hear was Dee laughing and yelling “FASTER!” I want to be clear, Mom is the only runner in our family. This wasn’t just running, this was sprinting in a stampede.

I managed to hold my position in front until we got to the new field. After that I was surrounded. Sheep took the lead, crowded from the sides, and pushed from the back. They bounced into each other and off of me. When do we stop running? Sure is lucky I’m not wearing sneakers. Those little hooves behind me would be no match. Am I going to get trampled? Could I die? When do I give them the grain?

I threw handfuls out as if feeding chickens, not easy when running for your life.

Think Alexandra! Remember mustering sheep in Australia? Yeah, but with dogs doing most of the work. So I did the next best thing. I channeled my inner Jillaroo and yelled to pretend dogs. “Get back, Jocko! Bring ‘em round, Mitzi! Aw, git off Rudy!” It totally worked. The sheep started moving away from me!

Then again it may have been because they realized that the luscious grass around them was more enticing and easier to reach than a few bits of grain tossed onto another sheep’s back. Mission accomplished.

A family had been viewing the scene from afar and as I passed them, heading back to my car, the grandfather said, “Don’t you have dogs to do that?” “That would be me,” I replied.

It’s good to volunteer and help out. It’s also a good idea to know what you are getting into first. I tend to forget that and I’m not sure if I enjoy finding delight in the unknown or I’m just plain stupid.

What I do know is, either way, the possibility of making my sister wet her pants laughing is the pay off.

Namaste- A 30 second sprint sure made my day.