I am a city girl, therefore lacking much firsthand knowledge of things having to do with farming, ranching, livestock, agriculture and so forth. But I have done a little bit of studying on the subject, particularly when it comes to sheep.
That is to say, I’ve been going to church long enough to have heard a couple or ten sermons reminding me that we humans have more in common with our counterparts of the ovine persuasion than we’d care to admit. And recently I got to see how true that really is.
One of the highlights of my mainland vacation earlier this summer was our two-day road trip from Oregon to Colorado. Not long after we crossed over the state line from Utah into Colorado, we came upon this scene: a rather large flock of sheep on the highway. Or rather, on the highway itself as well as on either side of the highway. They were more or less all going in the same direction, albeit not very quickly, and grazing as they went. As best as we could make out, there was only one hapless shepherd on horseback for all those noisy mamas and babies. There was also another horse without a rider, but way behind the rest of the group, so not of much help. And maybe half a dozen to eight sheepdogs in the midst of everything.
By the way, did you know there are two kinds of sheep dogs? There are the herding dogs, whose job it is to keep the sheep all together and going where they’re supposed to go. Then there are the guarding dogs, whose job it is to defend the flock from predators. The herders won’t really do the guardians’ job, and vice versa, so I imagine a flock of any size might need both kinds, don’t you think?
Anyway, despite the fact that nobody in the group was moving with much alacrity — and thus our car crept along behind at slower than walking pace, so I hopped out to shoot some pictures — it was a little chaotic. The poor shepherd had to keep going from one side of the road to the other, trying to get the grazers on one shoulder to move along, then he’d have to ride over to the shoulder to shoo that bunch out of the sage.
Meanwhile the dogs must have been in the sheepdog union or something; they saw me get out of the car and decided they were on their break. I’d always heard that sheepdogs are intensely single-minded and driven to work; these guys looked like they’d take any excuse to loaf a bit. So three or four of the doggies and I made friends while the shepherd shot me dirty looks from up on his horse, for distracting his employees.
Through it all, the sheep kept more or less on their sheep-y way. In any sermon on Psalm 23, the pastor is likely to point out that sheep are not the most intelligent members of the animal kingdom, which is his roundabout way of saying that’s how we look to God. And I’m not disagreeing with that; left to our own devices, we bipeds will stumble our way through life, at best, and at worst make a total mess of things. If it weren’t for the Good Shepherd making us lie down in green pastures and leading us beside still waters, let’s face it, we’d be wandering around forever in the sage brush, bleating for help. Also, imagine what would become of us if our guardian (or herding) angels, Goodness and Mercy, didn’t follow us all the days of our lives.
Eventually we got out in front of the flock and were on our way at normal highway speed. As we passed the last of the flock, my heart went out to that poor shepherd, working so hard by himself out there in the middle of nowhere, trying to get all those bleating slowpokes to their destination, wherever that was.