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Writing Ruminations

Writing is such an internal process. Why not make those private ruminations public? This is how stories take shape and grow.

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Location: Happy Valley, Oregon, United States

I've been supporting myself as a writer for many years and am watching the changes in the publishing world with fascination. For me, sharing the craft, teaching, is as creatively satisfying as the writing process itself.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sheep Shuffling

I don't usually brag about my dogs on my blog. We work, we enjoy working. But I'm just really pleased with Annie, my three year old Rottie. She started working sheep last March, when DJ, my 5 year old sheep hand, was diagnosed with bone cancer. She stepped right up...'Hey, I'm ready, I'll fill in.' A working sheep dog is a really something impressive. It's a running conversation based on hereditary preditor/prey knowlege on the part of both dog and sheep. Every minute includes maybe a hundred conversations between sheep, dog, and often you, the handler. 'I'll go there to get away from you, no you won't, oh, I'll go there now, no you won't, I don't want to go there, yes you will...' It's a flowing dance of eye contact and body language and when you step into this dance you get caught up, swept away, you become total awareness...of sheep, dog, obstacle, gate, pressure from that scary looking shed, draw to those ewes in the back pasture...You can't think clearly, you simply see and react and anticipate. Hopefully correctly! (Not always!)

I was loading three wethers born this spring. St. Croix hair sheep, they are more like wild deer than the tame woolies you might be used to. They can leap straight up about four feet (duck!) and if you push them, they either run into fences (broken necks are not fixable) or go over the fence (not helpful if the trailer is in the other direction).

I had my misgivings about Annie, aka 'Rocket Dog' and these super light, super upset (Mom is in the back forty) lambs. But she had been working the light lambs, so I took a deep breath and we set to work. That included gathering the sheep out of the big back pasture, and bringing them into the paddock. (They didn't want to go...this was not normal! Something was up!). Then she had to put them in the barn (see previous). There, I sorted out my three wethers and she got to put the rest back into the back pasture. When I let the wethers out of the barn, I was eye to eye with hooves as they leaped straight into the air. Let's see, why again did I decide I wanted St. Croix???? Now, all I had to do was herd the upset wethers away from their moms, up the fenced alley and into the trailer. Without sending them over the fences or into the fence to break their necks. It was way too warm to butcher sheep today, sigh.

Annie was a gem. She bellied down, doing a pretty impressive Border Collie imitation for a Rott. Flanked slow and easy, positioning herself to push them toward the gate leading to the alley. Never once did she charge in or dash around...which would have sent them bouncing like rocket propelled super balls. She kept her eyes on them, using her stare to push them through the gate. Then she eased along behind them, so gently that they even nibbled at the grass as she urged them toward the trailer gate.

No running, no panic, no crashed fences. And this is a Rott, not a Border Collie. Although I think Annie might have been a Border Collie in her last life... With a huge sigh of relief, I closed the trailer gate and it was done.

So the lambs have been safely moved, we're all set for winter, with the hay stacked, plenty of wood for the fire. The ewes can happily grow next year's lambs and Annie can make sure they all go where they're supposed to go.

She had a ball. And she is now crashed like road kill on the living room floor. Dreaming of new, flighty wethers, I'm sure.

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