Sheep

RIXFORD KNIGHT, who is now living at Ayers Cliff, Quebec, has supplied many light essays for Accent on Living.

Homeowners who live in the country but gain their livelihoods elsewhere are fortunate people. Their attractive houses are surrounded by splendid big lawns, and in a choice spot on these lawns is the rustic chair where the owner back home from elsewhere can sit with a cooling drink in hand and enjoy his landscape. Yet in this idyllic existence there is a flaw. The owner has to spend so much of his time cutting his lawn to make it look splendid that he never seems to have any left to sit in his chair.

In the city a man faced with this impasse would sell a lot at an exorbitant price to some homeminded couple. The country dweller, however, has to think up something else. After considering getting a horse, which he is rather afraid of, or a cow, which would have to be milked, he is likely to make up his mind to get a nice sheep. This gentle creature, he tells his family, will not only keep the lawn mowed but will add that pastoral touch that their home has hitherto lacked. Since he will not need his lawn mower any longer, he stores it away in an old horse stall out in the barn.

Now, there is an odd thing about sheep: unlike dogs or small boys, which are obnoxious in groups but sufferable when alone, sheep are the other way around. The homeowner, who supposes that the worst thing sheep do is to follow small girls to school, does not realize this until, on opening the rear door of his car to let his new purchase out, the gentle creature knocks him head over heels as she hurtles past.

Having recaptured his sheep and staked her out on his lawn, the homeowner now may sit in his chair and regain his composure. But his peace is soon disturbed. His sheep is bleating. She has cropped a neat circle of grass around her stake and wants to be moved. The homeowner goes to his woodshed to get his ax to attend to this. But his sheep, remembering how he chased her for half an hour after her escape from the car, and seeing him now coming toward her armed with an ax, thinks that this time he surely is after her life and bolts madly away, nearly breaking her neck when brought up short by her chain. Her master, thinking to stop this by being kind to his sheep, thereafter always approaches her with encouraging words and a pan of oats held out at arm’s length. But his sheep, soon learning to trust her master, and now wanting her oats when she sees him approaching, dashes eagerly toward him, nearly breaking her neck when brought up short by her chain.

One would suppose that, having set the pan of oats down where the sheep can get it, he would find it an easy matter to pull up her stake and drive it in a new place. But it is not so simple as that.

Back in the days when predawn sheep in their mountain fastnesses were acquiring the instinctive reactions which they have clung to so faithfully since, they learned and learned well that the most succulent herbage was most deeply hidden under the snow. For this reason sheep learned to paw. Whenever they smelled something especially good the thing to do was to paw. So now the homeowner’s sheep, smelling something especially good, and not being one to flout primordial custom, gives the pan a good paw and scatters the oats all over the place, compelling the patient homeowner to hold the pan up off the ground for her while she nibbles and snuffles in the annoying fashion sheep have when eating oats from a pan.

When she has finished, you would certainly think the sheep would be ready and that the homeowner could move her to her new place. But no. First his sheep must show how grateful she is for her nice oats. She does this by rubbing the side of her stomach up and down against his shinbones, having first got in front of him so he cannot move. If her master tries to walk around her by way of her head, she just cuts athwart him again and forces him off at a tangent. If, instead, he tries to step around her by way of her rear, she just changes sides and he has to step around her again in the other direction, a procedure producing a knitone, purl-one pattern of progress that annoys the homeowner, who, often as not, has other things to be doing besides playing polka with a [ sheep.

The homeowner also finds out that sheep must be shraed. He sees his sheep panting piteously in the summer’s heat and knows this cannot go on. From the house he procures a pair of shears and approaches his sheep. His sheep is not frightened. On the contrary sje feels cooler already and displays great interest in what he is doing, continually getting her nose on the way of the shears, and forcing him to do her head first so she can see what goes on. After two or three house he has removed a great deal of wool from her head, neck, and shoulders and now begins on her underparts. But immediately his sheep shows of acute trepidation and gives little hiccupy leaps with hind legs. He unable to continue the shearing there and moves to do her rear end. But now his sheep becomes more mistrustful still of her master’s intentions and dances around in a perfect dither of expostulation, so that her master, unable to finish the job and unwilling that anyone should see his sheep in her unfinished state, has to tie her up in back of the barn till thing even up, thus losing her work on his lawn for a couple of months.

before getting is sheep the fore thoughtful owner will have obtained from the Division of Animal Husbandry of the Department of Agriculture all its literature on the subject of sheep. Here he will have learned that sheep must at all times have plenty of pure cool water before them, that there are twenty-nine internal par antes to which sheep are subject, and that periodically sheep must be dipped. So when, while up on the ladder fixing the screen in an upstairs window, he hears his sheep on the other side of the house bleating pitcously, he climbs down and gets the sheep’s pail and brings her a drink of water.

His cheep shows interest in the water. She sticks her nose in the pail, pulls if quickly back, shakes off any adhering drops, looks up at her master qurestioningly, and sticks her nose in again. But she does not drink, and her owner, remembering the Division’s insistence that the water be pure, and fearing some contamination may have found its way into the pail, goes back to the houuse, nnet out the pail, fills it again, and again offers it to his sheep. only to have his sheep butt the pail with her head, spilling some into the homeowner’s shoes and causing him to wire the pail firmly, sicp back two paces, and let his sheep have the cool and pure contents straight in the face, whereupon his sheep dadsrs wildly away.

The homeowner, hack on his lad* der, mutters, “Serves you damn right.”and “You wanted a drink and you had it “ But around the house be hears his sheep bloating pitcously. He is mmrd by remorse. It may be that his sheep did not wont the water at all and was only being polite in showing an interest in it It may be that be has negIrrted doing one of the things that have to be done for sheep and that the poof beast is bring eaten alive by larks if is sheep bleats piteously. He gets down from his ladder, gets pencil and paper, and divides 30 by 4 by 2H by five hundred sheep in order to find, if a trough of that size will accommod ate five hundred sheep, how large a trough he will need for one. But while doing this calculation, he remembers the twenty-nine internal parasites gnawing away on his sheep’s vitals and drops paper and pencil to rush to the bathroom, from which he emerges demanding a measuring cup and a spoon. The homeowner’s wife, at first amused but now concerned, as her husband hurries hither and yon and back to hither again on his errands of mercy, begins to wonder what she can do to quiet him down. She knows she must not make suggestions, for he will throw his arms in the air and shout, “You? What do you know about the twenty-nine internal parasites? Or how much powder to put in how much dip? Or what to do when sheep have been poisoned by impure water?” Anything she says will have to be said in a casual manner, as though it had just occurred to her in some other connection. So, ' when he comes dashing up with the family’s bottle of purgative in his hand and demands utensils, she wipes her hands on a towel and asks in an offhand manner, “By the way, dear, when are you going to breed Clara? It does not seem like much of a life for her, out there by herself alone all the time that way.”

Back on his ladder, sheepishly fixing his window screen, the homeowner appraises the situation. What shall he do with his sheep? He has two choices: he may sell his sheep, retrieve his lawn mower, and go back to country life with a flaw. Or he may keep his sheep, ordering from his mail-order people more stakes and chains for her daughters.

If he chooses this latter course, his lawn mower will stay where it is, in the old horse stall out in the barn — with the rustic chair.