“There are few identities I am willing to claim, but one I feel quite sure about is shepherdess. I tend sheep primarily for wool, which I use to weave cloth. I have lived alongside sheep for over a decade, and the mythologies and lessons I could recount are as endless as the accumulation of days we’ve been a flock together.
The wool of an animal is a tangible record of real time, of seasons, of when the rain came and when it didn’t, of time apart, of the mineral content of soil, of birth and strength and loss. The makeup of their wool holds the contents and contexts of each year that it was grown. Once they are shorn, our collaboration continues in a different manner with the spinning and dyeing and weaving of the wool. My seasons and my experiences are then embedded as the wool becomes cloth.
I also slaughter, butcher, eat my sheep, and tan their pelts. As if the gift of their being isn’t enough, I also experience their immense gift in not-being: the gift of giving an animal a dignified death and sharing the bounty of all the time that they spent as breathing bones and frolicking fat, as bleeding flesh and soft, ever-growing, delicious wool, as creatures who magically metabolize sun-drenched pastures into meat.
As days ramble on, I appreciate the years or the moments when my time and the sheep’s time feel closer together: when what we notice, record, and desire feel part of the same story, when I feel close to the hills that claim us. I wonder why it feels more wholesome and even more beautiful when my human story feels more animal, but it does. The sheep help tether me to the earth and my true nature, and I try to tend to them with respect to their sheep-ness, to honor the beings that they are—even as I continually intervene for the convenience of my humanness.
I’ve experienced the sheep’s ability to hold what I cannot—they feed the land just by being.“