... when sheep come aknocking
My Mom and Dad passed down to me an affinity for all living creatures, except those with more than four legs, and mosquitoes. Our yard on Sixth Street in Melrose abounded with suburban wildlife, i.e. birds, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, etc. Together we would commune, feed and care for them when they were injured. It's only natural I would follow in their footsteps and make friends with my fellow creatures wherever I lived.
When we moved to the Underhill Deer Farm, I thought I was in heaven. Not only did the yard teem with more birds and small mammals than I could identify, but now deer, pigs, cattle and sheep were added into the mix. Seeing my enthusiasm, Nancy and Lawrence Underhill warned me not to get too attached to their livestock by saying, ďThese animals are being raised for meat, milk and wool. They are not pets. Donít go getting your feelings hurt when the meat wagon comes.Ē I donít think any of us envisioned the chaos that could ensue if the animals chose to make friends with me.
In the beginning I adhered to their words of advice, content to observe the animals from a distance, but my curiosity soon got the better of me. I had to get a closer look and I knew the easiest way to do this was with food. At first the deer were skittish and only a few would step forward to the fence to the offer of a handful of green grass. Once I gained entry into their enclosure with a feed bucket in hand they nearly knocked me over with their delight. Mamma pig and her piglets began to squeal when they saw me coming with a bowl of table scraps. Before long the cows started to moo hello and jostled into a position waiting to be fed the clover that grew just beyond the reach of their stall.
I watched the Highlander cattle from a respectful distance due to their massive size and impressive horns. I decided you donít make friends with Highlanders, they make friends with you. I think the old adage: the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence was written about sheep. They were forever getting their heads stuck in the fence holes and I rescued a lot of them in those first few weeks. All told it took less than a couple months before I had unwittingly set the stage for the animal escape acts that followed. As much as I apologized at the time, I still donít regret a moment of it. They are among the fondest memories I have of our life on that farm. If I had to choose one tale among the many to tell however, it would be this one about the day the sheep came to visit.
This summer day started just like any other with the cool morning air becoming hot and muggy by mid-afternoon. Russ had gone out and the girls were playing upstairs. I had just mopped the downstairs floors and decided to take a rest while they dried. A few minutes later I heard a soft knock at the door. I heaved myself up from the kitchen table, tip-toed over to open it and was shocked to see four sheep huddled together on my small, enclosed porch. Once they saw an opening they were off and running right into my living room bleating to beat the band. I stood there awestruck for a moment until I remembered I had just washed the floors. They were going to track dirt all over them and they werenít house trained. I leapt into action, but I forgot the layout of our new home. The rooms were connected to the central staircase. All I managed to do was to chase them around in circles for a few of minutes before I yelled for the girls to come and help. I didnít have call to them. They were standing on the stairs watching this circus act grinning like fools.
Ayla had that, ďMom, can we keep them?Ē look in her eyes, but it soon disappeared when I started barking out orders. Monique was to block the living room entrance once they passed through. Ayla was to stand at the den doorway to guard against retreating strays. My job was to get in the back of the flock and herd them all in the same direction. I think the sheep decided they had enough excitement for one day. They calmed down, lined up quietly and we marched out the front door without a problem. Nancy met us in her yard with a curious look, but she knew an explanation would have to wait until we had them safely penned.
All in all, we survived this first animal breakout quite well. Nancy laughed and thanked me for entertaining her sheep. My floors were still clean, aside from a few scratch marks and the girls had a great story to tell at dinnertime. I learned to look out onto the porch before I opened the front door. This lesson didnít help the night the Highlanders came peeking into our bedroom window, but this is a story best left for another telling.
May 2, 2008