Thursday, January 11, 2007
It's the season for bad sheep puns.
During the winter I help local wildlife managers by "baiting" bighorn sheep herds. Our wild sheep fight a constant battle against lung worm, so for several weeks in January and February a cadre of volunteers hauls hay and apple pulp to several sites in area. When we have a good number of sheep coming in to the site, we lace the food with medication. It's less stressful than darting or trapping... for everyone.
I often try to sketch while waiting for the sheep to finish their meal... but I don't usually get more than snippets on paper: an ear, a head, a leg. Too much activity among my subjects. But, as usual, the watching can be its own reward. The lambs can be tentative at first, but once they feel comfortable they command their own space at the table. (Bad sheep pun #1: "Let's call that little pushy one Lambo.") Frequently there are minor squabbles among the adults. Sometimes just a shove, sometimes a half-hearted chase. When disagreements get serious the ewes will butt heads, just as the rams will.
I have a few favorites, of course. There's a big ram at one site who isn't the least bit intimidated by my presence, although he has given ME pause a time or two. And there was Red 42.
Not many of the sheep in these herds are tagged. When I first saw her, Red 42 wore a collar she had received almost 12 years before. Her pale coat was nearly white. She moved slowly, but deliberately, and the rest of her group gave her space at meal time. Her stately pace and her subtle distance from the rest of the herd made her a more cooperative drawing subject, and I felt a certain fondness for her scrappy "survivorhood".
Last year she never turned up at the bait site, and so far this year she is absent as well. I can only assume that her remains are somewhere up the cliff, and although I'm sure she never took much notice of me, I am glad I made note of her.
This year the Grand Dame is Yellow 9. She received her collar the same year as Red 42, which means that this year she is at least 16 years old. I don't know much about her yet, but I'll be watching, and learning. And hoping she'll hold still for my pencil.