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Lambs at Dusk

Posted 12/23/2009 5:26pm by Catskill Merino.

I always take Poem to the sheep at dusk to work her as I look over the flock over before nightfall.  This afternoon the temperature is 20°F and a 20 MPH northwesterly wind blows ice crystals across the plain.  The sheep seem more comfortable than I am.  I put my gloved hand up to break the wind cutting my face.

Since Poem has been staying at the farm, her demeanor around the sheep has improved.  Rather than charging into them as she would often do, she now works calmly and adopts slow, moving postures (she is a grave mime) in relation to the sheep, anticipating their movements, frightening them, offering them an escape only in directions of our chosing.  When moving sheep, there are rules we observe: sheep always go toward other sheep, they never go toward people,  they prefer going uphill rather than going down, and so on.  When she understands my intention, Poem positions herself to pressure the sheep away from her; their angle of flight has to do with where I stand, where the flock is and the direction it moves.

Poem has an innate geometry that she lets come forth when she moves in relation to sheep; she is a silent cue ball banking off the green cushion for the "click-click" of a perfect carom.  A dog at work is uncanny to watch; and to be in the midst of this play of vectors is special.  We call a herding dog's talent instinct, a word to describe a part of being that either we do not share or  that we can not rationally explain.  It is something that simply is.