Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Sheep are Out!

How do you like getting a phone call at two in the morning? One's heart skips a beat or two when it happens.
by Charlie Leck

When our kids were teenagers we occasionally got those two in the morning phone calls. I thought those days were over. As tough as it was raising teenagers, I'd take them to sheep any day!

The sheep got out last night. The phone rang at about 2:30 a.m.. I had a hard time shaking myself awake. A local policeman sweetly told me that he had a group of about 60 sheep up on the highway and he figger’d they were ours.

“Okay,” I told him, “we’ll be right up there!”

For some reason, recollections of Fargo, the movie, were playing themselves over in my mind. I nudged the wife from her sleep.

“Sheep are out then, don’t you know – up der at the end of the road, at the County Road!”

She replied with something unglamorous that I can’t really put in print here, but I can tell you her feet hit the floor before the last of the obscenities were out of her mouth.

I rolled out as well and stumbled around trying to find some proper clothing. I could hear the rain pelting the windows. It’s rained pretty steadily for the better part of a week up here and there’s been an abundance of rain for pretty much all of the last two months. Everyone is sick of it and I expect the sheep might have been also.

The wife was rumbling toward her mud room where she keeps her sloshing boots and stuff.

“Probably went off, up der, lookin’ for higher ground then, you think?” I hollered after her as she went. “Ey?”

She neither saw nor heard any humor in the situation, ey?

“I’ve got to grab some buckets of feed,” she said.

“Okay, then,” I replied, “I’ll go up der to the highway then and speak to the pole-eese man!”

I can be stupid when I’m awakened from a hard sleep by a clanging telephone. I pulled on trousers and found one of my golf rain suits and headed for my car. The sheep had gone north and crossed the county highway and gotten on to the Pioneer Creek Golf Course. The police car was parked dead in the middle of Copeland Road, right at the entrance to the course’s clubhouse. The sheep were all huddled in fear at the side of the road and just on the edge of the course.

“Fine thing to be doing at three o’clock in the morning,” I said to him. “The little woman will be here in a minute or two with some buckets of feed. They’ll probably follow her home.”

I felt like singing Mary had a Little Lamb! I didn’t.

He was in a good mood and just chuckled. I supposed it beat some of his usual tedious chores – like cruising the local roads and highways, looking for erratic drivers. He thought the two of us might start herding them right down the road and back across the highway and then on down to our farm. He flashed a search light at them and tapped some kind of horn.

The sheep bolted further on to the golf course and settled in alongside the fourteenth green in a small swale. They weren’t interested in the lush grass. They were frightened and didn’t have the slightest idea where they were or what was going on.

I have a history with the sheep on this farm – one that goes back a number of sheep generations. They’ve never liked me. They see my kisser and just bolt in the other direction. I’ve written some long ditties about my relationship with them. I’ve chased them through corn fields, the stalks and ears of corn whacking me in the face and head, and I've tromped through swamps cussing and trying to get them to obey my commands – all to no avail. I knew I wouldn’t fare any better on this dark, wet night.

I explained that to the policeman and said it might be better to just wait for my wife. She arrived on our Traxter – an ATV with a dump bed in the back of it. She’d loaded four big buckets of ground feed. The sound of the ATV startled the sheep and they moved further out on the golf course. She got off and walked out into the darkness toward them.

“Sheepy, sheepy, sheepy,” she called out to them, dumping a bit of the feed in the tall rough behind the fourteenth green. They stood looking at her, but they also watched the police car and me out of the corner of their eyes. They moved further west, down the fourteenth fairway.

The policeman thought I should take the ATV and drive out on the golf course to herd them back east, toward the road.

“Then we’ll just herd them straight down the road toward your place.”

“You betcha!” I slipped back into Fargo mode as I thought about just how simple he was making the effort sound.

The golf course, I knew, was awfully soft and wet. I didn’t want to go near any of the greens, tees or fairways with that ATV. I knew the course well enough that I drove up the road to the parking lot and then found the macadam path that led down to the driving range that went out along the fifteenth fairway. I drove west in the driving range, figuring I couldn’t damage that too much. I saw lights come on in the house way out on the west end of the golf course. It was the owner of the place and I could imagine she was watching the light on the ATV and got on the phone right then to the police or to her course manager, telling one or both of them that there was an invasion going on out on the course.

I managed to get the sheep turned back east. I stayed pretty far behind them, but they kept moving back toward the road.

From there, the chief shepherd, my wife, again tried to urge them to follow her down the road toward home. Something spooked them (probably I) and they headed east instead, out into a big, dark farm field. This was a field I knew nothing about and I explained that to the copper. I’d had a recent hip replacement and I wasn’t going to subject it to a ride on an ATV across wet, soft land that I knew nothing about. He suggested he would give it a try.

The golf course superintendent showed up in his pickup truck while the policeman and my wife were wandering invisibly around out in the dark field. I pointed into the blackness. The rain continued and I was getting more and more unhappy about my strained relationship with these sheep. The two of us stood in the road, talking about what we might do to help, when the sheep came wandering back out of the field and crossed the gravel road and proceeded back out on to the golf course. The policeman and the ATV followed along behind them, but the poor guy had no idea what he might do to turn them south and down the road toward our farm.

We all looked hopelessly out into the dark, dark golf course. The rain kept falling steadily.

“I know the course well enough,” the superintendent said, “so I’ll go get one of our maintenance carts and see if I can herd them back.” He headed north, toward the big equipment shed.

My wife, on foot, now having walked several miles trying to get her sheep to follow her, headed off into the darkness again while the policeman drove out onto the course with the ATV. I could only hope he knew enough about golf to stay away from those expensive greens. I got into my car and drove out to the highway to see if I could get a better view of what was happening on the course. Nothing, but the small light on the ATV moving around in an aimless sort of way!

I drove along the roads that went around the edges of the course, all the way west and then all the way north, then east and then south again. Suddenly I saw the light of the ATV and it was on the other side of the highway, slowly heading down the road the led to our farm. Hooray! I pulled into the maintenance shed and told the superintendent that they were on their way home. I drove slowly south, staying a respectable distance behind the policeman who still drove our little ATV. It took awhile, but they made it safely back and the old farm woman got them into a fenced-off area.

I’d contributed absolutely nothing to the entire project. I could have just as well stayed in bed and escaped the rain and mud. However, I was extremely pleased at the effort and patience the police officer showed. He was a regular guy and it’s good to know our town has got people like he protecting and serving us.

As for me, I’m a bit grumpy today. I thought I’d crawl in and take a good nap this morning, but a roof repair crew showed up first-thing this morning and they’re banging around up there, making so much noise that a guy couldn’t possibly sleep – even if he counted sheep!

“Gosh, dang it then, anyway!”


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  1. Did they pay their greens fee? Great story!

  2. I don't envy you out in that weather at night - did it with horses once or twice, but our sheep never got out and I don't know how they would have acted if they had. We had a dog, which made a difference, and after the dog died the sheep were sold. She could herd them where ever she wanted them and that was usually close to the barn. Hope you don't catch cold from your escapade. Lynn