The sheep keep the seasons for me. The year starts in the autumn at Hallowe’en. Then, all over Scotland, sheep start to move. Every country road sees large and small trailers and cattle floats with sheep. Some youngsters go off the gentler pastures by the coasts and in the south, to spend the winter of the cow pastures there. Ewes are moved into the kinder upland grazings, and the tups (rams) make the most exciting move of the year: into the flocks of ewes. And my ewes were no exception. In early November they went on a short ride in the wee trailer behind the farmer’s quad bike to find themselves a husband in his flock.
That of course is the time of the Celtic New Year. It is the beginning, although a hidden one, and not the end of the cycle. The sheep move in a time of plenty, with grass still long after the summer. That part of the year ends as the grass is eaten back and dies off. Then it is time for sheep to get a little extra care.
So in January each year, the ewes are released back into the fields below my house, and it is time to set out to find my own. The process is simple. The fields there are not sheep proof, and the animals flow around the pastures, with groups in each of the sets of fields. I know them as the Corner Field, the Low Fields, the Gallop Field and the Side Field.
Accordingly, I tried the Corner Field, and all the sheep fled. The Gallop Field, the Low Field. It was a wet day, and because I was climbing over barbed wire I had not worn my water proof trousers. My legs brushed against rushes all the time. I began to worry something BAD had happened to my girls. Or that I would not recognise them, among a sea of their sisters and cousins.
Then I went into the Side Field and repeated the process. It is, as I said, a simple one. I call the sheep. I walk. I call the sheep. And here the magic worked at last. Instantly there was a response. A voice answered mine. Then two voices. Then fifty five sheep ran in terror from me, and two sheep ran in joyful recognition towards me. Before the snow and the bad weather, my sheep came home with me.