Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep, and Enough Wool to Save the Planet

This wonderful book by Catherine Friend (author of Hit by a Farm and The Compassionate Carnivore)  is one part funny/poignant memoir (seriously funny–I laughed aloud repeatedly in the course of reading it–and almost painfully insightful, in turns) and one part impassioned, eloquent defense of the importance of small farms, sheep, wool, and reconnecting with nature before it’s too late.  You don’t have to be a “fiber freak” (to borrow Friend’s term), knitter, spinner, environmentalist, or would-be shepherd to enjoy it, but if you do fall into any of the aforementioned categories go out right now and find a copy.  You’ll thank me later.  (And not even much later; I’m not a fast reader, and I devoured this book in about three days–three working days.  It’s like a bag of potato chips you can’t stop eating.)

Instead of doing an actual review (since you really should just go and read the book),  I decided to just share a selection of some of my favorite quotes from the book, at least partly for my own benefit so I’ll be able to find them easily again.

  • Perhaps the secret to getting through relationships, farms or careers is to start again every day, to find something new buried in the middle.  Beginnings can happen anywhere, even in the middle.
  • David Bayles and Ted Orlando make an important point about persistence in the their book, Art and Fear: “Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping.  Stopping happens all the time.  Quitting happens once.  Quitting means not starting again–and art is all about starting again.”
  • Winifred Gallagher writes in Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, “You cannot always be happy, but you can almost always be focused, which is the next best thing.”  Our lives are fashioned by what we pay attention to.   Our future will be created by what we choose to focus on.  Gallagher advises that if you were to direct your focus more consciously, “your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you and become something that you create–not a series of accidents, but a work of art.”
  • All sheep do is eat, drink plenty of water, and get enough rest.  This might sound boring, but when you spend time with them, they don’t seem bored at all.  They seem well fed, well hydrated, and well rested.  Sheep lie down when they’re tired.  They stand up when they’re not.
  • In his book A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature, James William Gibson writes that the future of this planet depends on how humans feel when they interact with it.  So many people in the United States are estranged from nature, having lost their connection to the natural world other than through brief vacations into it.  But if people can find some way to connect, some way to experience the enchantment of nature, the planet may have a chance.
  • As humans, some of us try to avoid being racist, or sexist, or ageist.  I think we should avoid judging animal species as well.  As every culture and gender and age has its merits, so does every animal.  Sheep are exactly what they should be: sheep.
  • It seems weird, in a world of poverty and environmental degradation and  political unrest, to focus so intently on sheep, yet as Anne-Sophie Swetchine wrote, “To love deeply in one direction makes you more loving in all others.”
  • Sheep show up everywhere in our language: lost sheep, black sheep, good shepherd, fleeced, pull the wool over someone’s eyes, led like 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, golden fleece, muttonchops, and the leg-o’-mutton sail are just a few examples.Woolgathering is another one.  It isn’t used much anymore, but means to daydream.  Yet the word initially meant exactly what it says: to gather wool.  In medieval Europe, the wealthy land barons owned both the land and the sheep, but the lower classes were allowed to pick up bits of wool that had snagged on bushes, and spin them up into clothing for their families.  Women walked the paths sheep traditionally took, gathering up their tufts.Wild Fibers magazine reported that woolgathering was very social, and the women would “frequently stop at farms along the way and perform odd jobs in exchange for food and shelter.”  Up to four pounds of wool could be gathered from the hedgerow in a single day, and that day began at 4 am.  It’s hard to understand how a word for lazy daydreaming came from such hard work, but that’s the English language for you.