Saturday, August 7, 2010

Shepherd In Autumn

The moment our guests departed yesterday, the weather changed from stupefying heat to autumnal splendor: bright blue skies, cool breezes, low humidity. The kind of weather that makes a dog prick his ears, point his nose into the wind and put on sudden bursts of speed.

Wolfie is participating in a herding demonstration today, somewhere in the Adirondacks, about two hours from here. I am not feeling well, so my saintly spouse volunteered to drive him to the event. I stayed behind with the girl dogs. Bisou, who thought she should have gone along, is lying morosely by the back door, watching the frogs; Lexi is stretched out on her spot between living room and kitchen and thinking about the next meal.

At the demonstration, Wolfie will work the sheep under the direction of his herding teacher. She will introduce him to the crowd as a dog of East German descent, which accounts for the herding instincts running in his blood (Shepherds from American lines are practically never used in herding). She will mention that despite his fierce looks he is gentle as a dove; that he has never even tried to hurt a sheep; that in fact his owner (moi) uses him to help her catch errant hens. She will emphasize that Wolfie's disconcerting habit of "air snapping"--opening his jaws wide and clicking his big white teeth--is an expression of joy and excitement, not a sign of impending carnage.

Then she will put Wolfie on a sit-stay several yards from the sheep and walk away from him, with the sheep following her. At one point she will say "walk up!" and Wolfie will trot (not too fast, I hope) towards the rear of the herd, close enough to the sheep to keep them moving, but not so close that they scatter. This is the part that Wolfie does well, having figured out that he must control his pace to keep the herd together.

After dog and sheep have walked around the ring a few times, the instructor will say "go by!" meaning that Wolfie must circle the sheep in a clockwise direction. Wolfie does that really well, too. He's a "go by" kind of dog.

But eventually she will command "away to me!" and he will have to circle in a counterclockwise direction--or, as the witches call it, "widdershins." And unless a miracle happens, Wolfie will try to do a "go by" instead. Or he will look away and pretend he hasn't heard. Or, heaven forfend, he will pick up a mouthful of sheep poop and eat it. It will probably take several commands--perhaps even a shake of the stone-filled soda bottle--to get him to do a proper "away to me."

I have a little theory about Wolfie's preference for the clockwise direction, known as "go by" in herding terms, "deosil" in witchspeak. In the Wiccan tradition, "deosil" is the positive direction, the direction of growth and abundance. "Widdershins"--"away to me" in sheepspeak--is the direction of negativity, hindrance, and opposition (don't ask how I know this). I believe that Wolfie senses this, and being of a sunny disposition, opts for deosil every time.

Regardless, I hope Wolfie acquits himself honorably, pleases his teacher, and doesn't horrify urban spectators by eating sheep poop. But those are human wishes. From Wolfie's point of view, short of being kicked in the eye by a sheep, practically nothing can go wrong. Cool weather, a car trip, and sheep to boss around--what more could any dog ask for?

8 comments :

  1. '"Widdershins"--"away to me" in sheepspeak--is the direction of negativity, hindrance, and opposition'

    How do you know this?

    I just read somewhere that left-turning is the direction of undoing as opposed to right-turning which is the direction of creating. Undoing is not necessarily a bad thing since it is the direction of letting go, of releasing negativity, bad experiences and parts of ones life that are no longer needed, in other words it's the book-sorting side.

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  2. Elizabeth, let's hear it for the book-sorting side! Maybe I should have said "denial" instead of "negativity." And denying a bad thing--such as a runaway sheep--is always good.

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  3. Interesting perspective regarding left and right. I'm too practical I guess, since I figure that turning left might just be the quickest route to the pen!

    I can't wait to hear if Wolfie does you and his handler proud.

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  4. i like wolfie's point of view. wise dog.

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  5. Diane, I hear he did fine, though he wasn't at his best--the cool temps and the excitement made him a bit less serene than he usually is.

    Laurie, there's a lot we could all learn from our dogs, isn't there?

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  6. Oh, thank you, thank you, for describing a habit of mine that means no harm, and I am always surprised when it seems to threaten rather than to charm. Like Wolfe, I am an air-snapper.
    Love to the world this cooler NC morning, when the Vermont autumnal change drifted down to us.
    Emily

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  7. Emily, you may be an air-snapper, but you're also "gentle as a dove." (Actually, doves are kind of fierce, so I should say "gentle as lamb.")

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  8. The sheep poop reference had the desired (I assume) humorous effect on me, despite my usual dislike of scatological humor. Here, it works. Bravo!

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