It’s about 3 in the morning, and I turn over to snuggle against Joe, when suddenly I hear it. Oh, no! Not again. There’s a car horn blaring out on the road in front of our house. Not just a little friendly tap, but an annoyed, “Get outta my way!” blare. Not another in an endless string of escaped sheep stories.
I shake Joe and say, “The sheep are out in the road again.” He moans, rolls over and mutters, “Just leave ’em there, I’m tired of chasing them. Maybe they’ll go be someone else’s sheep for a while.” But he sits up and begins pulling on his pants as I stumble into the bathroom for my clothes. For two weeks we’ve been trying to figure out where the sheep are sneaking out, but every time we think we’ve solved the problem, those woolly Houdinis find another small hole. The fence is scheduled to be repaired, but not until the end of the summer.
We grab our flashlights and jump in the truck. The road is actually a quarter of a mile away, and the sheep could be anywhere along its twisted length. Or they could be in a neighbor’s flower garden stomping all over his prize petunias. It’s never easy keeping sheep.
The night is misty and cool. It’s wonderful to live in the mountains. We don’t own an air conditioner and rarely run a window fan. But, tonight, the mist makes our job just a little more difficult. Joe drives, and I hang out the window, sweeping my flashlight along the berm. Then we spot them. Twelve ewes and a bunch of lambs are prancing along, heads held high like runway models, in the center of the road. They are headed for a field of 4-H sweet corn about a hundred yards away.
Seeing them trot up the road reminds me of my sister, Meg. When she was 12, she had a slumber party, and an hour or two after Mom and Dad went to bed, she and her friends decided to go out for dessert. Suzie Brewer had chocolate-covered cherries in her fridge, just a block up the road. The girls climbed out the window and headed uptown for a midnight snack. I’m sure they had the same look of anticipation in their eyes that these sheep do now. In fact, I think my husband is probably saying some of the same things that my father did when he discovered the girls sauntering up the road in their fuzzy slippers and pj’s.
Joe eases around our woolly “girls gone wild” with the truck. You don’t want to make this herding maneuver too quickly, or the flock will bolt. We’re lucky this time. The sheep let him by, and I jump out while he pulls past them to look for a place to turn around. My flashlight beam is surreal in the mist, and the sheep are spooky. I’m careful because I have learned that sheep can have interesting reactions to light.
One evening just after dark, I was driving my Buick up our gravel driveway. As I rounded the first turn, my headlights illuminated a flock of sheep standing about 20 feet in front of me. One of the evangelical ones must have whispered to her buddies, “Run to the light!” because they all turned and headed straight for the car. Bonk! Bonk! Bonk! One after the other, they plunged headfirst into my front grill and then staggered off to the side to let the others have a turn. I honked the horn, but that just seemed to confuse them more. The sheep sped up, and my car rocked as every ewe threw herself at it. Finally, when they were all sprawled on the edges of the driveway, I edged past them and drove on to the house. They staggered to their feet and followed me in.
“Honey, you won’t believe what just happened!” I shouted to my husband, who was reclining in his La-Z-Boy watching the evening news. He listened as I told him the story, then he laughed and said, “Sheep are always looking for an excuse to die.”
Thankfully, the sheep we’re chasing don’t run toward my flashlight beam. They halt uncertainly, and, when Joe comes back down the road in the truck, they do an about-face and trot back toward our farm. They are having so much fun out in the cool evening air that they jog right on past the open gate and head up to our neighbor’s meadow. He has left his gate open so he can move tractors in and out as he bales his hay.
The sheep, who dedicate their lives to the motto, “the grass is always greener in the neighbor’s field,” take advantage of his generous gesture and shoot into the hole. As I said, it’s never easy keeping sheep.
I climb back into the truck, and Joe and I have the kind of heated discussion a farmer and his wife have at 3 in the morning when they’re riding around in a pickup truck chasing sheep instead of lying in bed counting them. I’m all for continuing the chase, but he wants to shut the gate and pen the sheep in the hay field until morning.
Ultimately he wins, and we drive back to the house and crawl back into bed where we sleep until 6. That’s when our neighbor calls to let us know that our sheep are in his field.
We roll out of bed again, even less cheerful than we were the night before. This time, however, we deploy our secret weapon. We have two teenage sons who lift weights and run to stay in shape for basketball and baseball. This morning we’re going to help them become even better athletes. I throw the covers off one, while Joe tickles the feet of the other. We enthusiastically describe the benefits of the early morning sheep workout they are about to enjoy, and then we send them out the door as we crawl back into bed.
We both agree. It’s never easy keeping sheep. But it’s definitely easier if you have teenage boys.
Ginny Neil is a transplanted city girl who has lived on a farm in the mountains of Virginia since she married her farmer-husband 24 years ago. When she’s not teaching middle schoolers, she’s helping her husband and children raise sheep (and bringing her sheep stories to us!), cattle, chickens, two horses, two cats and three dogs. You can follow her on her blog at www.TheMeadowView.blogspot.com.