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I have learnt a lot about sheep since moving to Exmoor.  Contrary to common mythology, they are not stupid. They also form close bonds of trust to those who care for them.  Relationship is everything. The good shepherd (usually the farmer) really does know his sheep by name and the sheep come running when he calls them.

The relationship between farmer-shepherd and sheep begins before the sheep is born.  In a mysterious way, the shepherd knows and cares for the sheep while it is still in its mother’s womb.  Pregnant ewes are put in fields close to the farm-house so that the farmer can monitor their progress. If there are complications, the farmer can be on the scene quickly. Orphaned lambs are placed with lactating ewes and if the ewe rejects the newcomer, then the lambs are hand-reared, initially needing to be fed throughout the day and night.  When it comes to shearing, the sheep will struggle as it goes against its nature to be held still, but terror and panic are diminished when the shepherd is involved.

All of this creates a particularly close bond between shepherd and sheep bringing the farmer in direct contact with the awe and wonder of nature. Working close to nature, the joy of seeing new life and new birth, playing a part in the flourishing of creation,  the beauty of the landscape,  the changing seasons, are all part of the farmer’s experience. Awe and wonder. Yet there is another side. There is the pain of losing animals by accident or disease, the uncertainty of the crops and income because of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, the sustainability of farming patterns in the light of social and political challenges.  Awe and wonder?

The lens through which we view life and the language we use to describe it will affect the path that we walk and the decisions that we make.  Are we open to awe and wonder?  Do we speak about relationships and love?  Are we moved by beauty and joy? Are we angry when we see the vulnerable exploited? Can we laugh and cry from the bottom of our hearts?  Whom do we trust and who trusts us?  Yes, there will be stormy times, uncertainty, turmoil and darkness, but awe and wonder remain.  It is important that our darkness does not become our light.


Contemplating Exmoor – Gallery

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