Sunday, December 31, 2017

Good Riddance! And Thank Goodness for Sheep!

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, 2017 seemed at times to have an apocalyptic feel to it. We experienced extreme political dysfunction at home and abroad. We saw Nazis marching openly in American cities. We watched the world inch closer to nuclear war. The natural world, in which many of us (myself included) find solace, joined in the "fun" - from extreme storms to extreme wildfires, earthquakes to mudslides, volcanic eruptions to drought. In California, we had one of the wettest years on record - and one of the worst fire seasons. We also had one of the hottest summers in my memory, and one of the driest Decembers. I'll admit there were times during 2017 when I wondered when the locusts or raining frogs might appear. I'm glad it's nearly over!

I suspect that the political upheaval we experienced here in the United States - and elsewhere around the the globe - is at least indirectly related to the changes we're seeing in our climate and environment. The climate is changing. I believe that these changes are largely related to human activity, but regardless of the cause, change breeds uncertainty. And uncertainty, in human communities, seems to breed chaos.

For me, this external chaos stood in contrast to positive milestones in my own small world. I finished graduate school. I was hired for the job that caused me to go back to school (and for which I finally feel suited). My oldest daughter completed her first year of college and discovered that she's interested in many of the socio-scientific topics that drew me to work in rangeland management. My youngest daughter graduated from 8th grade, started high school (and worked hard in all her classes), and became an anchor on her junior varsity soccer team. I turned 50 (which is not nearly as depressing as some predicted).

The craziness of 2017 also reinforced the importance earning at least a very small portion of my living from raising sheep. Our small flock represents a minor part of our family's income, but it contributes tremendously to my own sanity. The fact that these animals depend upon me - and I on them - is comforting. The fact that my work with our sheep - despite our many modern "conveniences" - would be recognizable to shepherds who lived thousands of years ago, is reassuring. The fact that I contribute - in a very small way - to the well-being of my fellow humans (through the production of fiber and meat), is humbling. In the midst of my busy life this past year, I found myself enjoying the time I spent building electric fence; using my dogs to move the sheep; and working with friends at shearing, lambing and weaning. Caring for sheep, in many ways, kept me sane.

And so despite the ugliness of this past year, on this New Year's Eve, I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful, in part, because hanging a new calendar with blank spaces seems like an act of hope to me. I'm hopeful, too, I suppose, because as Will Rogers said, "A farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn't still be a farmer." My work with our sheep at this time of year is a case in point; I can't help but noting the progression of our ewes' pregnancies as we approach our 2018 lambing season in 7-8 weeks. And finally, I'm incredibly grateful that I can say "shepherd, among other things" when someone asks what I do for a living. Happy New Year!

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