What do you think is the meaning of life?
Gail from Wisconsin
The Flock have chosen MAGDA to answer this question. Magda is the oldest ewe, and also the wisest.
This is an interesting question, and it doesn’t surprise me that a human would ask it. I am not sure I can address the meaning OF life – that’s a very big topic, and I am only an old ewe – but sheep find a great deal of meaning IN life, and I think this might be the same thing. I know that humans can find meaning in big, spectacular things, like exploring space (we here at Alfie Purl are great fans of Commander Chris Hadfield, the astronaut who was in space at the same time as we were lambing last year. Our humans explained all about him and what he was doing) or inventing marvellous machines, or developing medical advances from which we all benefit. Other humans understand that there is meaning to be found in small things, and I have to say that we sheep come down much more on that end of the scale.
It’s not given to many sheep to do big, important things on the world stage (our beloved Alfie was a definite exception in this regard!) So we generally look closer to home to find meaning in our lives. We have a very close relationship with the countryside, and we know very well how much we influence it. So much so, that in the area of England where we are from, the Cotswolds, sheep were known as the ‘Golden Hoof’ because we improved the pasture so much, just by being on it and grazing it! There is meaning in every mouthful of grass, every little footprint which we cut into the turf. We find great meaning in lambs, too (don’t all species of creature find meaning in their offspring?) Lambs are the embodiment of spring, and their arrival heralds the end of winter and the start of easier days to come.
We also hold the memories of the countryside within our flock traditions. Many sheep from upland areas in Britain are ‘hefted’, which means that they know their areas of the mountainsides, they keep to them and don’t stray away from them, and they teach their lambs to do this too. In lowland areas, we know our farms well, where the best grass is, where to lamb, where it’s safe to sleep.
Some flocks, like us, are lucky enough to have good, close relationships with our shepherds, and we find that we can do more than you would think to look after them in return. We have been together, you and us, for a very long time, and you have shaped us into what we are now. We don’t forget that heritage.
Lambs, the companionship of sheep and other animals, grazing, chewing the cud, the hot summers, the soft rain and the iron winters, the growing of fleece and the improvement of the grass, the daily round of the flock – that’s the meaning of our lives. And they are rich lives indeed. We wish the same richness for you, Gail, far away over the ocean but close in friendship.