Some people count sheep in order to fall asleep. Not so Catherine Friend, who finds life on a sheep ranch anything but relaxing.
After fifteen years of sharing the farm chores with her wife, former urbanite Friend has run smack into a woolly quagmire of midlife crises and she’s pretty sure the sheep are at the heart of it all. In a series of witty, warm, outlandish, and revealing essays, Sheepish lets the reader peek inside and explore the connection that Friend shares with the animals on her farm, the friends and family around her and even with Elvis as she tries to untangle the real mystery of her discontent.
Opening with an essay called “Shocked,” Friend recounts the day she was interrogated by a visitor to the farm who wanted to know whether it hurts to touch the electric fence. After Friend assures him that yes, it will hurt, the visitor wants to know “Will it hurt much?” It’s not a spoiler to tell you that he isn’t satisfied until he tries it for himself. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with a book when you simply report on this sort of everyday event, can you?
From that sparky opening, we come to know the author and her partner as they cope with complications of lambing, midlife weight gain, untrainable poultry, and the inevitable dulling of relationships and life choices. It’s all connected, but farmers are sturdy people full of common sense and stoicism who don’t give in to whining. It takes the sudden recognition that Elvis is dead to reduce Friend to tears and prompt her to question everything that her life has become.
There is a lightheartedness to all of these essays, even the ones that involve grief for lost lambs. There is also joy at the sight of a misty pasture or the warmth of a lamb too small to survive on its own. Catherine Friend has a natural instinct for telling anecdotes with just the right amount of detail to make a profound point without using a sledgehammer.
As I came to know her, her partner, and their various Pasture Goddesses, I wanted more and more of their lives. Friend’s reluctant conversion to fiber enthusiast delighted me, and her tale of the first completed knitting project made me beam with pride for this woman I’d never met. Amazingly, even after fifteen years, there are still things to be learned on a sheep ranch, and Friend writes of failures, trials, and successes on the farm and in her life with honesty and a brave sense of humor.
Sheepish is one of those gentle books that packs an emotional wallop as the author shares her highs and lows. Along the way she educates us about the environmental benefits of sheep, wool, sheep sex, and finding true bliss. She also kindly includes simple knitting patterns for those inclined to test the waters in that area. In one essay, Friend refers to oxytocin, a chemical released into the body when humans and animals connect. Oxytocin “can quiet the brain and allow us to see the world as a less threatening place.” Sheepish the book seems to exude the same chemical, causing the reader to want to hold onto it and keep reading forever.