The Adventures of Roger Ram
Once upon a time (don't all good stories start this way?) there was a Big Sheep Farm. The Big Sheep Farm was owned by Farmer Brown, and had been in his family for generations. The sheep weren't sure how many generations, because people live longer than sheep do, but they guessed at least four and maybe more.
Sometimes the sheep would have discussions about the former Farmers Brown and which one was the best, and which one was the worst. Nobody, however, was really sure.
The sheep that lived at the Big Sheep Farm were special. At least, that's what they all told each other, from birth. In fact, in the spring, when the lambs were born, Farmer Brown and his handyman, Village Man, would round up all the lambs and put a little yellow tag in their left ear. Here's Roger Ram with his new tag. He's very proud of it and showed off for the camera.
But then, Roger asked his friend Susie Ewe Lamb, "Why do we get yellow tags?" Susie laughed at him because he was so dumb. She was two weeks older and thought she knew everything. "We're a special kind of sheep. We're Cheviot sheep. This tag makes sure everyone knows that. You wouldn't want to be mixed up with the merino sheep from the Notso Good Sheep Farm across the county, would you?"
"Oh, no," responded Roger, embarrassed for asking. But quietly, he said to himself, "What Notso Good Sheep Farm is she talking about? And what is a merino? What is a Cheviot? What difference does it make?"
And with that, the two lambs ran off to find the Really Strong Ewe, who was known as Millie. Millie was in charge of training the lambs to be good sheep when they grew up. They had to learn to graze, of course, and where to find water, but they also had to learn to have their fleece shorn every spring, to stand still for Village Man when he came to use the clippers, and to walk nicely through the hoof bath to get their feet treated. There was a lot to learn about being a good sheep.
There was another procedure done every year at the same time that the lambs got their yellow ear tags. All the yearling sheep came forward and got their extra-special green tag.
Once the sheep had their green tags, most of them went to live at the Little Bitty Farms that were scattered all around the area. The green tags identified them as sheep that had come from the Big Sheep Farm.
A few sheep lived permanently at the Big Sheep Farm. Because they were special, they got extra green tags. Millie had three of them. That meant she was really good at training the lambs. She had to go to a different Big Sheep Farm to get her third tag. She got in a trailer and Farmer Brown and Village Man took her there and back. She even got to eat lunch there. It was a big adventure and all the other sheep were jealous.
But everything at the Big Sheep Farm wasn't perfect, even though Farmer Brown thought it was. For one thing, the disinfectant solution that Farmer Brown insisted on using in the foot bath was really smelly. He would not use the New Improved Foot Disinfectant because his father and grandfather had always used the Old Smelly Foot Disinfectant.
The worst, though, was the shearing. Early every spring, before the ground got muddy and their fleeces dirty, the sheep came to the barn to let Village Man shear their fleece.
It wasn't that Village Man didn't know something about shearing sheep. Here he is, doing a reasonably good job of it with Roger Ram.
The problem was his shears. They were dull. And he wouldn't admit they were dull. The sheep would beg him to take them to the Jules Verne Clipper Center in town and have them sharpened, but he just refused to do it. He thought he could do a better job of sharpening them himself.
As you can see, this didn't work out too well.
And the ewe who had been damaged the most by the shearing was Rina, The Very Damaged Ewe.
Here she is. Rina was a close friend and constant companion of Millie. You can see her bell. She wore the bell so that if anyone hurt her, even a teensy bit, she could ring it loudly and Millie would come running and butt the offender. Everyone knew that they had to tiptoe around Rina.
Millie liked to take her lambs up to the stone wall next to the cemetery.
It was cool there and the grass grew tall so there was lots for them to lie down in.
But one day, Farmer Brown decided that he preferred for Millie to have her lessons for her lambs down by the wire fence. He fenced her out of the area by the wall.
Millie got really angry. She didn't like for Farmer Brown to tell her anything at all about being a sheep. She believed in freedom for sheep to do as they pleased. She and Farmer Brown had a huge argument about it.
Farmer Brown just said, "No, Millie. You must bring your lambs down to the wire fence. I don't want you up by the stone wall.
So Millie stomped her foot, and made a big decision. She removed her green tags and threw them on the ground. And she gathered up her lambs and left the Big Sheep Farm forever.
Some of the sheep followed her, including Roger Ram. He just figured Millie was very smart and knew what she was doing. The question was: Where would they go?
In the end, they went to different places, scattered about the small sheep farms in the area. Millie went to the Notso Good Sheep Farm, which surprised Roger, but he was okay with it because, well, it was Millie.
"How will we see each other? How will we talk to each other?" Roger asked Millie.
"It will be okay, Roger. I'll send up smoke signals, and all the sheep can come to the other side of stone wall for a meeting."
So, the very next evening, Millie sent up smoke signals, and everyone gathered at the stone wall.
"Why did you leave, Millie? Why did you throw away your green tags? What's wrong with Farmer Brown and the Big Sheep Farm? We had lots of nice grass there and plenty of grain. Now we're all scattered around." They all were talking at once.
"Hush, everyone," Millie began. "Farmer Brown is not as good as you think. I've been looking into the history of the Brown family and the Big Sheep Farm. Farmer Brown's grandsire didn't wear blue jeans and flannel shirts, like he does. I found an old picture of him, in town, selling goat cheese. See the green band on his hat? That's the symbol of the Big Sheep Farm. White clothes. Selling goat cheese."
"Old Farmer Brown had goats?" "What?" All the sheep began talking at once. "And wore white clothes?"
Millie nodded her head slowly. "Sadly, yes."
"And what about the green tags, Millie?" cried Roger Ram. "Why did you throw yours away?"
Everyone got quiet to listen. "Because they are no good, Roger," replied Millie calmly.
"No good?" Susie Ewe Lamb asked. "But we got those for being yearling lambs. They mean that we've completed all our lessons in being sheep."
"And you don't need them," Millie explained. "The other farms don't care whether you have them or not. In fact, at some farms, like the Notso Good Sheep Farm, they would rather you not have green tags. The green tags have not been approved by the National Sheep Board. They are just something that Farmer Brown made up."
Over the next few days, some of the sheep removed their green tags too. And others, who just weren't ready to go that far, sheepishly began knitting hats to cover theirs.
At the next meeting, Millie began making plans for doing the foot dip and arranging for fleeces to be shorn. These were all things that Farmer Brown would have seen to before, but now the sheep were having to make these arrangements themselves. And everyone was so glad, because they were quite sure that at last, they'd get to use the New Improved Foot Disinfectant and the sheep shearer would have clippers that had been properly sharpened at the Jules Verne Clipper Center. It was all going to be so much better.
And in other news, Millie reported that Farmer Brown was losing sheep so fast that the rumor was flying about that he was probably going to start raising goats like his grandfather had. That made all the sheep very happy indeed.
image courtesy of nafrea at freeimages.com
Just then, everyone stirred. There were little murmurs of fear throughout the group and some of the sheep started to run away. Rina had arrived. And with her was her new friend, known as Maytag.
The problem with Maytag was that she wasn't a sheep at all. She was a wolf. And sheep are very, very afraid of wolves, with good reason. The lambs ran to hide near the adult sheep. Everyone was scared, except Rina and Millie.
Rina announced, "There is no reason to be afraid of my friend Maytag. I know she's a wolf, but she's a very nice wolf. Just like me, she's been damaged. She's actually a Very Damaged Wolf. She doesn't have a bell, but that's only because wolves can howl and don't need a bell. And she is here to protect me from anyone who might try to hurt me. After all, I am the one who was damaged most by the awful dip burning my feet and Village Man's dull clippers.
But then, Susie Ewe Lamb shyly asked, "Rina, did the dip burn your feet? I just remember that it smelled really bad, and we went around for days afterward with that horrible smell everywhere. I don't think it burned, though."
Poor Susie! This is all she could see as Maytag jumped right in her face and chased her away.
Maytag came trotting back after Susie had retreated into the bushes, and yelled, "That's what happens if you try to re-damage my friend Rina. She says that the dip burned her feet, and that's what it did. It burned."
Roger Ram didn't like what he saw and ran to help his friend Susie. She was very scared.
As they walked back to the big pasture, she told Roger about some sheep she'd met the day before.
"You know what, Roger," she said. "They didn't have any ear tags at all!"
"No ear tags? No yellow tags? Or just a different color? I've heard that there are sheep who have blue tags. They are called "Universals" or something like that."
"No, Roger. No ear tags. I asked them what kind of sheep they were. They said that they are called Free Sheep," Susie explained.
"But, how can they be Free Sheep? Who would tell them when to get their feet dipped? And what about fleecing?" Roger asked. He just couldn't believe it could be true.
"I asked them. They said that they decide for themselves," Susie explained.
"But what if they don't agree? What somebody thinks the foot dipping should be today and somebody else thinks tomorrow would be good?"
"The sheep told me that if that happens, they each say what they want and then they see how many of them want today and how many want tomorrow. And the one that has the most sheep wanting it, wins. They call it voting," Susie said excitedly.
Over the next few days, Roger thought about what Susie had told him, and he also thought about Rina and Maytag the Wolf, and how Susie had been chased away because she asked a question. He didn't like it at all. Not one little bit.
And he noticed some sheep grazing in a pasture nearby, and realized suddenly that they didn't have any ear tags, just like Susie Ewe Lamb had said. They were Free Sheep.
He went over and talked to one of them, and asked her about some things that were bothering him.
"What does Millie say about Free Sheep?" Roger asked.
"Oh, Millie..." replied the sheep with a laugh. "She doesn't like us very much. It wasn't too bad at the start, but now she has that friend of Rina's. You know, the-"
"-wolf," finished Roger. "Yeah, I met her last night."
"The wolf runs us into the bushes. We have to go hide. One of us has to be on alert for the wolf all the time. But it's still better to be a Free Sheep than one of the Farmer's sheep."
"What about shearing?" Roger asked. "Who does your shearing?"
"Oh, that is one of the best things," said the sheep. "We go right to the Jules Verne Clipper Center and they do it for us. And their shears are really nice and sharp. No pulling. No bleeding. It's really nice. And we get to decide when we want to go. We don't have Millie or Village Man deciding for us."
Roger walked back, stopping to graze now and then, but mostly doing something he wasn't really accustomed to doing very much. He was thinking.
After some more time had passed, it became apparent that all the sheep needed their feet dipped and they certainly all were looking ragged. It was long past time to be shorn. They all asked Millie about it at the next meeting.
"It's all fine, everyone," Millie assured them. "Rina and Maytag are making all the arrangements for the foot dip. It will be here tomorrow."
"Oh, wonderful," someone cried. "Is it the New Improved Foot Disinfectant? I can't wait to try it."
"Well, no," Millie explained. "It's the Sortof Improved Foot Disinfectant. It was the one on sale. We have to be careful, now that Farmer Brown isn't paying for it anymore. But the salesman assured us that it won't burn."
"But it never did burn," said Roger, who immediately heard a low growl behind him. He turned to see Maytag standing there with a very serious look on her face, and his voice trailed away.
"Well, what about the shearing? Are we getting our shears sharpened at the Jules Verne Center so they won't cut us?" asked another sheep.
Millie cleared her throat and began, "I've been looking into the history of the Big Sheep Farm, as I told you before, and I've found out something very disturbing. It seems that the Jules Verne Clipper Center and the Big Sheep Farm have been in cahoots all along to keep the shears dull. They don't want us to have nice sharp shears."
"But why?" someone cried. "Why would they do that? Village Man wouldn't take the shears there because he was stubborn and lazy, but why would the Jules Verne Center want to do that?"
Millie just rolled her eyes and shrugged.
"Do you really know this, Millie?" asked a large sheep in the back. "How do you know this?"
"Of course I know," retorted Millie. "I have three green tags. Or, I used to have three green tags."
"But you said the green tags didn't mean anything. You said they were worthless," yelled another sheep.
"Well, they are. Except mine. Mine are important. If you were smart like me, you'd understand," she retorted.
And with that, Maytag slunk forward and bared her teeth and everyone decided to go graze a while.
And Roger did some more thinking.
The next morning, he made a very big decision. He pulled off his yellow tag and left Millie's group and went to join the Free Sheep. They were all happy to see him, including Susie Ewe Lamb who had joined them the day before.
"You look so handsome without that ugly yellow tag in your ear, Roger," she said, smiling.
Life with the Free Sheep was, well, more free than it had been either on the Big Sheep Farm or with Millie's group, but there were still problems. Most of them came from Millie and her buddies, Rina and Maytag. They hunted the Free Sheep relentlessly and ran them out of the pastures, away from the best watering holes and shade trees. Often the Free Sheep found themselves having to hide in the forest or under a fallen log, which isn't the best place for a sheep who really needs to graze on nice green grass.
And Maytag stalked them and would periodically bite one or two of them. She always insisted that she was doing so to "protect" Rina, but sometimes it appeared that Maytag just liked biting. That made sense. She was, after all, a wolf.
All the time, though, Roger was continuing to think. And think. He found that it was very hard work. He went back over everything he knew about being a sheep. All about being at the Big Sheep Farm, and about Village Man and how mean he was with those dull shears, and how smelly the foot dip was.
And then about how Millie would explain over and over again about how Village Man should take the shears to the Jules Verne Center, but then, how suddenly, the Jules Verne Center was bad and in cahoots with Farmer Brown and Village Man. And how this didn't make any sense.
And all about how Rina said the dip burned, only it didn't. It was just smelly. And how Maytag had come into the group. Why was there a wolf in a mob of sheep?
And what about Millie being at the Notso Good Sheep Farm? It was a bad place, wasn't it? Only it wasn't, because Millie went there and she said it wasn't. And how the green tags were worthless, except Millie's, which weren't useless but meant she was smarter than all the other sheep.
And he thought. And his head swam. And his head hurt. And he wanted to cry and give up and he thought, "I don't want to even be a sheep at all. Millie is not telling us the truth. Maybe I don't even need foot dip. Maybe we've been fooled all along..."
And as he walked, he began to feel odd. Just weird. It seemed like his weight was shifting somehow. He suddenly realized that he was walking on his back legs. His front legs weren't even touching the ground. What? Sheep don't walk like that, but he was.
And his front legs felt funny, like they were being pulled and stetched and when he looked down, he realized that the fleece was falling out, and in its place were feathers.
How could he have feathers?
He was so frightened that he began to run. And as he ran, he began to lose his balance, so he stretched out his front legs to right himself, and was astonished to see the ground start to recede.
"I am in the air," he thought suddenly, and it terrified him to look down, but he did it anyway.
He saw the pasture and he saw the sheep, and the stone wall, and the watering hole and the shade trees, and he saw Susie Ewe Lamb looking up at him in horror and astonishment.
"WHAT?" cried Susie. "What is happening to you, Roger?"
"THINK!" yelled Roger. "Just think. Think as hard as you can." He found himself circling around to fly back to her. He didn't know how to circle and it was a little bumpy, but he managed. "THINK, Susie!" he said again. She looked at him and then started pacing in a large circle, obviously thinking very hard.
"Think about the foot dip. You know it didn't burn. Yet Rina says it did. Only it didn't. Think about Millie and her ear tags. Are they worthless, or are they valuable? It doesn't make any sense, Susie."
And Susie circled, faster and faster, thinking and thinking. She began to run. At first, Roger was afraid he had frightened her away. "No, Susie!" he cried. "Don't run away! Don't be scared!"
And then, suddenly, she began to raise up on her hind legs, and the fleece fell from her body and feathers were there. And Roger began to laugh with joy.
When she ran, she also found herself in the air, flying beside him.
"What happened to us?" she said breathlessly. "What happened, Roger?"
"Look down, Susie," Roger said. "There. See the Big Sheep Farm?"
"Yes," she replied. "It looks so small. And look. There's the Jules Verne Center, and there's Farmer Brown and Village Man looking up at us. They are so...little. And Millie, over there. And Rina with Maytag. And all the other sheep. The Free Sheep, too. They are so tiny. Why, they are..."
"-unimportant?" Roger asked.
"Yes...unimportant," she replied, trying the word out. "They don't matter at all, do they? None of it matters. We don't need foot dip or shearing or anything at all."
And with that, Susie tried flying a large circle around Roger. It was a clumsy attempt, full of loops and ups and downs, and Roger laughed, but she knew she'd do better with practice.
"But what are we, Roger? We aren't sheep. I didn't know we didn't have to be sheep. What are we?"
"We are eagles, Susie. We are eagles."
And they flew away into the afternoon sky.
Isaiah 40:31b "...they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint."
"It's hard to soar like an eagle when you're surrounded by sheep." Tom Way, slightly altered
"The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking." - Albert Einstein