Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sheepherding at Christmastime

As a kid (and I suppose, as an adult), my favorite month was (and is) December. Many of my friends dread the shorter days and the early darkness; I've always appreciated the wintry days and long nights. Perhaps it's a bit of zen-like appreciation - I appreciate more the gradually longer days and growing light after the solstice because of the darkening days leading up to the first day of winter. Part of my enjoyment, I think, relates to the approach of Christmas - and as a kid, I always enjoyed the season of advent. And having grown up going to Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, the version of the Christmas story found in Luke was always the highlight and the culmination of the advent season for me. I especially liked (and still do) the King James version of the second chapter of Luke. As an adult - and as a shepherd (maybe it's professional curiosity) - I've read the verses describing the appearance of the angel to the shepherds even more closely. For me, this part of the story resonates more deeply because of my avocation.

In lots of ways, the nature of the work that I do with sheep has changed profoundly over the last two millennia. I drive my truck to the pastures where my sheep are grazing. I use electric fence to contain the sheep. I use ear tags to identify them. I use electricity to shear them. But in some ways, the work of a shepherd is the same. I use dogs to protect them from predators and move them from pasture to pasture. I worry about them in stormy weather. I spend a great deal of time outdoors, regardless of the weather. I get their wool off in the springtime. I make sure the lambs are mothered up with the ewes. I suspect I'd recognize the work that shepherds in the Middle East were doing two thousand years ago - and I suspect they'd recognize the work I do today. Shepherding isn't the oldest profession in the world, but it's probably among the top ten!

At this time of year, our work slows down. The ewes are bred - most are in the first trimester of their pregnancies. Their nutritional requirements are satisfied by the green grass that germinated in October (at least this year) and by the minerals we provide. Most of our effort involves putting up and taking down electric fence as we move the sheep. Since the ewes don't have lambs at their sides at the moment (and won't until late February), we don't worry too much about stormy weather. In the days leading up to Christmas, we'll move the sheep to a large, grassy paddock so that our chores on Christmas day are minimal.

Six months from now, I'll be leaving the house around sunrise and getting home around sunset - much like now. The difference is that this time of year, I'm leaving home around 7:30 in the morning - and generally getting home before 6 in the evening. I enjoy the long days and the work of summer - all the more because I get to enjoy the long nights and rest of winter. And so as the year winds down towards the winter solstice, I'm appreciating the chance to recharge and renew my energy. I hope you are, too.

Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! This is the most favorite of all your writings (in my estimation!) I love stories of tending sheep and the dedication of the shepherds. I especially love the comparison of shepherding to the days of old and the biblical version. You must feel a closeness to the shepherds that visited the Magi in the stable in Bethlehem. Merry Christmas!