In about two hours from now, we’ll be starting to shear sheep. In the hour before our crew starts to arrive, I’ll finish my set-up work: spreading canvas drop cloths where we’ll handle the wool, hanging the first wool sack of the day, checking on the pasture where the freshly-shorn ewes will rejoin their lambs. While this day (and the days leading up to it) is marked by intense work (both physical and mental), it is among my favorite times in the sheep year. And wool (even when it’s not worth much economically) makes this day possible. We raise wool sheep, in part, to allow us to have this day.
Perhaps because I’m getting older, I find myself especially cognizant of the connection that this day brings to generations of shepherds who preceded me. Getting the wool off has largely required the same type of work for centuries (in this country) and millennia (in other parts of the world): the sheep must be collected in one place, preparations for handling the freshly shorn fleeces must be made. While the technology has certainly changed, every wool garment starts with someone shearing a sheep. This connection to shepherds and shearers past, and to the wool clothing in my closet, is important to me.
Shearing day is also communal work. We’ll be joined by friends who will share in our efforts today. We’ll work hard; we’ll also laugh and enjoy each other’s company. Shepherding can be solitary work; shearing involves working together. The contrast makes both kinds of work all the more enjoyable.
To me, a freshly shorn ewe looks reborn. Relieved of a year’s worth of wool, she looks bright and clean. But despite her transformation, her lambs still know her (by sound and scent, I suspect). Watching the reunion of lambs and ewes is one of the highlights of my year.
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