We gave up sheep-keeping in our seventies to preserve our mental and, increasingly, our physical equilibrium.
Now the sheep that roam the land around our house belong to Lisa who is young and fit and has 2 tail wagging dogs schooled in the mystic art of ovine manipulation. She comes and does what needs to be done, shouting words of encouragement to her enthusiastic assistants which would raise eyebrows in the lane if anyone was there… No one is there. I watch nostalgically, bending to give my new knee a reassuring pat.
Those ewes all went home to lamb and have been replaced by yearlings
Come bedtime we hear a furious baaing — one must have got its head stuck in the fence again. I do not ring Lisa, I don’t go to bed and think “It’s a grown up — it’ll be okay and it’ll be easier to extract in daylight!’ By force of habit I grab my lambing torch and slip on my waterproof trousers over my pyjamas – (slip? That’s a joke — I wipe the sweat from my brow and look for my wellies.)
There she is, by the light of the torch, not with her head lassoed by the fence but trapped between the newly laid hedge which is definitely stock-proof and the new fence. Proper examination reveals that she must have entered the woodland two fields farther up the 45 degree slope, admitted by a wobbly post — I think I will extract her by driving her back into the woodland by dint of my personality then down the hill and in through the gate at the bottom. Simple! Better open the gate first. What about the other 34 sheep. She is very keen to re-join them so I will pen them in the direction that I want her to go. I’ll do that first. Much re-setting of gates and rushing about ensues. By the time Bill comes out to see if I have fractured my femur yet, the other sheep are safely stowed in the field below the house, baaing occasionally and enjoying the excitement. The gate to the woodland is open.
From my side of the fence I drive her up hill to release her from the hedge — it works but she continues up hill. I climb over and drive her down, the other sheep baa and she heads towards them, re-tracing her tracks and forcing herself between the hedge and he fence again.
Now Bill involves himself in earnest. He rattles the fence and whacks the hedge with a stick. The young ewe turns and forces her way up hill again leaving much of her fleece hooked on the hedge. I am placed at the top end of the laid section of hedge ready to turn her as she escapes from its grasp and drive her down to the gate. I shine the torch, wave my stick and bellow — as she passes I drop my tools and lunge at her neck and we proceed, she with her four-wheel-drive, me horizontal, my arms clamped around her neck. The brambles grab at me but are no match for this determined yearling. We continue our down hill trajectory in the pitch black. I decide she should go alone and let go — she is after all going in the right direction.
I am lying in a hazel thicket quite comfortably below the low branches, I shout to Bill that I am alright and to tell him to position himself to make sure that the infuriated sheep that is hurtling towards him turns right into the field at the bottom and not left up into 6 hectares of dense woodland — not easy as I had the torch. I hear crashing undergrowth and expletives. It goes quiet. I retrieve the torch sustaining only minor head injuries.
Woodland, even woodland that one knows, looks very different at night — quite magical and strange. As I walk down though the woods the bracken and bramble give way to a mossy floor with darkness stretching out between the trees in all directions, there is the sound of bird’s wings as I pass and the occasional shriek and tawny owls are calling to each other around the margins of my perception. Bill is ominously silent now.
It is raining, he is sitting dishevelled on the bank, the gate is still open. There is no sign of my nemesis — she turned left! We turn right and retire to bed, leaving the gate open for her.
Next morning she is in the field behind the house asking to be reunited with her sisters — I close the gate to the woodland then re-unite them.