|sheepish, by Katherine Friend , Da Capo Press, 2011|
sheepish is one of the best books I've read in a long time. And by best I mean, it was lighthearted, humorous and made me want to keep it in hand while I switched loads of laundry. As the cover states, it is a chronicle of the adventures of "two women, fifty sheep and enough wool to save the planet." It's filled with those ridiculous stories told by first-time farmers that make us 'experienced' farmers just shake our heads in the classic, "Ah yes, my young Jedi, you too will learn..."
“As new farmers, we amused our friends and family with creative disasters. We accidentally overdosed and nearly killed all our sheep one week. We forgot to check the oil in the tractor engine, with quite expensive results. Melissa nearly shish-kabobed herself when a sharp-toothed implement, called a drag, crawled up behind her on the tractor. I cleverly planted 200 grapevines upside down. We had to learn about sheep and duck penises. That I even know about pizzle rot disturbs me. “
It also leans towards the educational side of shepherding, exploring the 'green' side of the wool industry and how this interrelates with today's conservationist movements. The author reminds us how deeply sheep are felted into our culture ('felted' get it?), playing an integral part in our heritage.
Just stop to consider how many references to this quiet little animals we have in our vocabulary: “lost sheep, black sheep, good shepherd, fleeced, pull the wool over someone’s eyes, led like a sheep to the slaughter, spinning a yarn, flocking together, gentle as a lamb, wolf in sheep’s clothing, two shakes of a lamb’s tail, dyed in the wool."
And a book on sheep would not be complete without one or two references to spinning. That is afterall why we put up with all their sprionging (that's the technical term, says so in the book).
“Spinning’s supposed to work like this: Depress a pedal with your foot, the wheel starts spinning, the bobbin turns, the roving pulls from your hand and through a small opening, unfortunately called the orifice, and then around the bobbin. Start the wheel spinning with your hand, then take over with the pedal while your hand gently pinches the roving so it twists and gets sucked through the orifice.
I create my own technique. Start the wheel spinning with your hand, then push the pedal so hard the roving breaks. Stop the wheel, curse softly, then thread the roving back through the orifice, and begin again. I recommend repeating this step approximately twenty-seven times, or until you feel close to tears. On the twenty-eighth attempt you get the speed right and you pinch the roving just right and the yarn begins to twist and accumulate on the bobbin in a mannerly fashion.
Yarn is supposed to be slender, and relatively uniform. Theoretically, one pound of wool can be spun into ten miles of yarn, but not if I’m spinning. Within a space of ten seconds, my yarn goes from the size of my thumb all the way down to dental floss, then back up to thumb-sized. “
|Katherine Friend with her sheep|
This is a feel good book that reminds shepherds everywhere why we love our sheep so much, why we put up with the chores, the manure, the pizzle rot. Simply to hear a ewe's worfling on a bright, sunny morning (again, technical term) brings confirmation that we're doing something quietly wonderful.