The day starts like most days –
Working alone not long after sunrise.
The work, though,
Is different. The ewes, separated
From their lambs and held off feed,
Voice their opinion at maximum volume.
Set up begins. The shearing board is leveled,
The shearing machine is positioned with precision.
The oily smell of jute fills my nostrils as I perch
On the ladder to hang the first wool sack of the day.
The crew arrives – the crew is what I love most about
Shearing day. Shearing is to our culture as branding is to cowboys
And wannabe cowboys. Shared labor and shared laughter,
Which makes the labor seem less intense.
The clatter of cutters over combs adds
To the general cacophony of bleating ewes
And bawling lambs. The “boss” – usually me,
Runs the first bunch of sheep into the shearing pen.
The 90-second waltz begins.
The shearer, dancing with each ewe, unpeels the fleece.
His footwork is precise – I imagine the black-and-white footprints
Of dance instruction. The first pen of ewes, relieved of their wool,
Bolts out the door to sunlight and green grass and hungry lambs.
Fleeces are gathered, thrown and rolled – and tossed into the sack.
The “sacker” emerges as he stomps each fleece into the burlap.
Full sacks are sewn and heaved onto the pile – and another is placed on the stand.
Sami arrives, and at last, it’s lunch –
Dirty hands hold sodas that will later hold beers.
Trying not to touch the sandwiches directly, the crew
Lounges in the green grass in the shade while the shearer naps.
We begin again.
The corrals, which all morning seem full of sheep,
Start to empty. “The one we’ve been looking for,”
My standard declaration with each year’s last ewe,
Is never truly accurate – we always bring the bucks
In to be shorn last. Then we’re done.
Shearing is a milepost that marks the end of lambing
And the beginning summer. It means we’ve survived another year.
It marks the beginning, too, of every wool garment –
Every sock, every sweater, every blanket begins
With the clatter of the handpiece,
With lanolin-soft and grimy hands holding onto sodas at lunch,
With shared labor and shared laughter.