After all this time, he still cannot get over the scenery. Underfoot and afar, rolling hills on a rocky base. The flock is scattered according to taste, clover, lavender, timothy, dandelion. They cluster about, bleating, and rotate with the sun.
It is a bit chilly, high up. Not high enough that the air is too thin and the sun burns. The sun is a warm presence, the sheep a woolly one, the predators a worry. He wears a sheepskin vest which he embroiders himself, self-consciously but with aplomb and dexterity. His patterns are a unique blend of pastoral and baroque.
A ball the size of a large, loosely fisted hand sits among the sheep. He has kicked it in their midst. Once they got over the fear of the intruder, they joined in the kicking. They are a playful bunch. Between the ball and the dog, he moves them pretty much at will. When they get bored, they start a game, pushing the soft heavy thing with their hoofs, bleating. Some have gotten quite good, others participate as onlookers. He himself does a bit of both. It beats watching, thinking or reading all the time. Just now, a lamb is balanced atop, very proudly.
He does get the occasional visitor. The laconic old man, slow and strong, who chuckles when his flock plays football. He sits with him and they share goat’s milk and hard bread before he continues on his way. They enjoy each other’s company, their voices rough from unuse. He brings news. “They’ll be digging a well. The old one’s going dry.” That’s a lot to take in. He lets the news sit with him. They stay quiet for the next hour as he ponders all that this means.
They will need to fill the old one, always attractive to young boys and wayward youth. They have been threatening a new well for years, but the water is getting muddy and stinky so this summer it will happen. For now, the women get it from the mountain stream as they did before the well. Its water is nice and soft, clear and cold. The walk back is tricky, loaded with the water and coming up the steep road. They’ve called for reinforcements, someone to find a good vein, not too deep, that they can tap for years. He sighs. Such turmoil. His visitor sighs as well, reading his thoughts.
The flock sense the disquiet, bleat in discord. Some shake their heads and snort. The lamb jumps down from the ball. He gets up, stretches, the dog does the same. The old man follows suit. He can tell the old man is preoccupied. All that movement. They look to the flock as it settles down again, the moment passed, the air just right again. The wind picks up, bringing moisture and scents with it. The rain will feed the stream below. He kicks the ball, gets them moving to the sheltered bit of the pasture. The smartest ones are already on the move, the slower ones protest, they haven’t eaten their fill. The dog convinces them to follow. The old man makes to go but he indicates the shelter and he nods.
It’s nice to hear the tinkle of the bells. He picks up the ball, discarded in their haste to move. He wants to embroider it as well. Why not? He’s got time on his hands and it will be a bright spot in the grayish cloud. A steady warm rain is falling. The sweet smell of wet wool fills the air, cools the flock. The lamb sneezes, snuggles close to his mother. Gusts of wind go past them. They are hidden behind a rocky outpost. The dog is prowling. He doesn’t like the setup, it feels too much like the time they lost a sheep to a coyote, lying in wait. It is patrolling, nose twitching, keen eyes drinking in any change. The sheep are tightly packed, warm and drowsy. For all that, they look like the dense clouds above. He smiles a thin smile. The old man picks it up, smiles as well, lights his pipe as they wait in the shelter. Heavy drops drum down. Some sheep protest and crowd the shelter. He doesn’t mind when they nibble his hair.
The rain stops and the flock disbands like the clouds. The old man cleans his pipe, taps it against the shelter post and nods his goodbye. He nods back, walks his sheep higher up, to a smaller meadow they don’t go to much. It has grown lush again, and the rain has made the ground soft and fragrant. There is thistle here, and different flavours of grasses. He likes to vary their feed. This little meadow is a special treat to make them forget their heavy coats as it dries uncomfortably for the next few hours. He sets about embroidering the ball.