Today, I rounded up sheep.
It was mighty.
The red mare and I had gone out for a quiet ride when suddenly, over the brow of a small rise, we came upon a crazy flock of sheep, skittering about in all directions. It was a bit of a Gabriel Oak moment, I must admit.
Without thinking, I went into cowgirl mode. I circled the wheeling flock and brought them into order. On the other side, I saw the old farmer and his two grandsons, one on a quad bike, one with a sheepdog. ‘Which way do you want them to go?’ I shouted, reining the mare this way and that.
The farmers here are three generations. There is the old farmer, who has officially retired, but who, in reality, comes every day to check the ewes. He loves those animals, and casts his wise eye over them to see that all is well, missing nothing. There is the young farmer, who runs the show and works harder than any man I ever met, rising before the dawn and finishing his day in the dark. I have seen him doing the silage at ten-thirty at night, with his tractor lights blazing. Then there are the young boys, the grandsons, learning the ropes, understanding the land, developing those life-long habits of industry and striving.
There are few things I love more than observing knowledge passing down the generations. As I watched this good farming family at work, I felt something real and true stir in me.
The red mare had no such misty thoughts. ‘Excusez-moi,’ she said. ‘I am a racehorse, descended from generations of Derby winners, and you want me to do what?’
‘Bugger this for a game of soldiers,’ she said. ‘I’m going back to the paddock, to my nice, explicable Paint friend, instead of hanging out with these inexplicable sheep.’
‘Come on,’ I said, ‘it will be fun.’
By this time, I had a picture of us in my head, all wild and free, galloping across the plains of Wyoming with the wind in our hair, cutting cows like we had been born to it. In reality, we were one extremely duchessy duchess, and one scruffy middle-aged woman, wearing a distressingly mundane crash helmet and smeared spectacles, making absurd whoop whoop git onnnn noises.
Still, dreams die hard.
And for a moment, we were in the green grass of Wyoming, as the mare regally consented, and we cantered alongside the quad bike, the sheep running before us in perfect formation, under the lime trees, across the main road, and up to the long sloping meadow to the west. We damn well were My Friend Flicka.
My friend Jim, who does not have a head filled with green grass fantasy, saw us lope by and laughed so much he practically fell over.
My other friend, the owner of the Paint filly, drew up in her truck. ‘You’ve been doing what?’ she said.
‘Herding sheep,’ I said, as if we did it every day. The red mare snorted, as if to express how far beneath her dignity the whole thing was.
More gales of laughter.
‘I do admit,’ I said, ‘we weren’t exactly asked. The farmer did look slightly surprised.’
The red mare nodded her head, as if to say: who could blame him?
We waved our goodbyes, and went for a little racehorsey gallop to celebrate. Then I got off and walked her home, thinking she deserved the weight off her dear back after all that hard work.
‘You rounded up sheep,’ I told her, out loud. ‘You are a sheep-horse. You contributed something to the community.’
I swear that she almost rolled her eyes at me. Sheep, schmeep, she was clearly thinking.
I’m not sure I ever felt so important in my life. The 2601 words of book I wrote afterwards, even the HorseBack work, could not touch it. Today, it was the sheep that counted. It was something so small and ordinary, it could hardly be seen by the naked eye. It was moving some livestock from one field to another. Yet, in that wonderful moment, I felt we were part of something, doing something useful, stitched into this good Scottish earth. My red duchess may have been the slowest racehorse in the history of the sport of kings, but damn, she can move an ovine. The glow of it fills me still and makes me grin like a loon.
When the news is crazy and the world seems mad and the sorrows fill the pages of the papers, I cling on to the small things as if they are the life-raft which will stop me drowning. As I get older and more bruised, I believe it is in the ordinary that salvation and solace come. When I was young, I wanted to be extraordinary. I wanted the marks of worldly success. I wanted to do remarkable things. Now, I think that the greatest fortune and luxury is being able to know and love ordinariness.
Today, the ordinary came in the form of sheep. Take it where you can find it, I think to myself. It may not be everyone’s idea of glory, but for one shining moment, it was mine.
You want me to do WHAT??????:
Instead of hanging out with my nice dozy friend???:
But you know, if this writing lark does not work out, I think we’ve got a future in herding.