Sunday, October 10, 2010

If you give a sheep a stamp pad ...

7:38 a.m.

The air is crisp and chilly, the kind of weather that begs you to go outdoors at the crack of dawn.

How long has it been since you've watched the sun burn off fog that is rolling over a working farmyard? I'm telling you, no matter how much anyone grumbles or grouches about having to get out of warm beds at the crack of dawn on a weekend morning, it's worth the effort (even if you have to stop the car and retrieve the cell phone you dropped out the window as you were speeding by trying to capture the moment … but I digress).

You've stopped for doughnuts and some warm cider or coffee.

You might still be a little sleepy as you ramble onward toward, say, a somewhat famous sheep farm. You are careful to finish every morsel of the cinnamon-sugar-covered confection before you slog through the barns to take in the sites.

You could even be sleepwalking for all the quaint nostalgia presented by such a family outing.

The whirr-slosh, whirr-slosh sloshing of the milking machines is oddly comforting as you slurp from your paper cup, the coffee finally losing enough heat to drink. You ignore the smell wafting over the lid as you inhale.

The tour is self guided with no signage, but your children are still of the age in which they actually respect that you know everything. They pepper you with questions:

"Why are the sheep lower than the machines?"

"How do they get them in there?"

"Where does the milk go?"

"How do they get them out again?"

You try your best not to disappoint them, but you must admit you have no idea, only a rough guess. You curse that the Smart Phone is on the fritz or doesn't get reception.

The potential for you to be found out as knowing very little about the particulars of the sheep cheese trade, however, is offset by forward movement and fresh sights.

Not that it's rocket science. If you're observant enough, you think you can probably figure it out.

Such as … did you know they dock the tails of sheep? It's not a revelation to rival the decoding of DNA, but there is something uniquely satisfying about noticing a pattern and drawing a conclusion … based upon the obvious: The littlest lambs in the nursery, tails; the oldest, no tails; the middling lambs … rubber bands and tails in various states of atrophy.

"Why do they do that, mom?"

"My guess it is more hygienic for them if their tails aren't caked in … well … poo."

Hey, I'm not squeamish. I read the books by Taro Gomi and Shinta Cho. But again, I digress.

The widdle wambs are cute and all, but you're amazed you've been able to heed the signs forbidding you to touch them. The meter is running out on your ability to police tiny hands.

It's time for a longer walk along the pasture road.

You revel in all the things you and the children have noticed: The solar-powered electric fence, the electric coil at the bottom of the water trough to keep it from turning solid in winter, the gap in the fence where a ewe got separated from the herd. You watch as she finds her way back from being frantic.

And as you turn to leave your husband may notice something strange.

Such as a ram with a nylon harness, and something that looks like a green, felted jewel on his chest.

Maybe he'll joke about what he must have done to deserve such special treatment.

And then your kids will notice all the other sheep behind the fence … must be half of them … with green splashed across their rumps.

They will start to ask you questions.

“What is that for?”

“How did it get there?”

“No, really. How DID it get there?”

And you will find out, on this glorious fall morning at the sheep farm, that in you've also encountered the birds and the bees. And you may wish you hadn't dropped the Smart Phone.

This guy is an inker

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