The Good Life: Woolly bully
Updated: May 11, 2020
The devil inside Miss Xanthe has come out this autumn. By Greg Dixon.
Xanthe the wonder sheep is out of control. Since autumn began casting leaves and awful news about Lush Places, she has become the devil of the front paddock, though thankfully not with us.
Quite the opposite. Not since she was a lamb has she been so demonstrative with us, demanding Michele stroke her lovely, long face and massage her back. With me, she bellows for a visit every time she sees or hears me and then, like a tall, woolly hound, will follow at my side when I am about the paddocks.
An altogether different Xanthe appears if you do something as plainly inflaming to her sensibilities as patting another ewe. Then, like some peevish goat, she lowers her head and butts, and not gently. The same Xanthe appears if you give another ewe a mouthful of sheep nuts, a little chopped apple or a cashew nut.
She butted poor Pumpkin, the most good-natured of creatures, right up the bum last week, giving Pumpkin a terrible fright and leaving a large, poo stain on Xanthe’s forehead — the mark of the devil if ever there was one.
There can be only one explanation for this sort of carry on, but who’d have thought a sheep could be jealous?
One of the things you do learn when you keep their company, and we’ve been doing a lot more of that these past three weeks, is that sheep really do reward the time spent with them. They can be wonderfully amusing, but most of all, they are a calming presence, a peaceful distraction. And it seems it isn’t necessary to have real ones in a paddock next to your house to find bliss in their company.
New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, more an eater of sheep than an appreciator of them, wrote in his Critic’s Notebook last week that his many plans to spend the eternity of lockdown slow cooking things and improving his mind have been thrown completely by his discovery of a video on YouTube called “Relax with Sheep”.
In it — for more than six hours! — a mob of sheep grazes below the vines in a vineyard in California’s Napa Valley. “There are occasional shots of sheep resting their puffy round bodies between meals,” he writes, “and once in a while a flock will march slowly out of the frame on their way to what I imagine must be greener pastures. Mostly, though, the sheep stand and eat.”
Sometimes Wells watches the video, impressed by the flock’s single-minded focus, sometimes he just listens to it, so he can hear them all talking amongst themselves while he works at home in New York.
He concludes that he’d never given much thought to the mental capacity of sheep, but supposes, if he had, he’d have said “they were not among the leading intellectual lights of the animal kingdom”. After watching “Relax with Sheep,” though, he’s in awe of their attention spans. “In awe, and a little jealous.”
What Wells doesn’t know — how could you from a video? — is that sheep are possessors of distinct, if broad, personalities. Xanthe is a sheep who can be a cow. Pumpkin is sweet-natured, S’periment playful, Elizabeth Jane greedy, Stephanie loud, Poppet the most doting mother and Mental As Anything mental as anything.
They have their ways. But even still, a change comes upon all of them at this time of year. Xanthe, who can do snootiness like no other, is now Miss Smoochy because, Miles the sheep farmer reckons, when the ram’s in the paddock, the ewes are more affectionate.
They certainly are with the ram. When they’re “cycling”, they hang around him like dewy-eyed bobby-soxers mooning over The Fonz. Happy days, indeed, especially in such uncertain times.