Will you look at that?” said Andrew Jackson, leaning back against the side of the pickup truck he had just parked on the driveway halfway between the house and the road. Rose and Jennifer, who had clambered out of the passenger side doors and were coming around to join him followed his gaze out into the pasture where a flock of sheep grazed peacefully in the hot spring sunshine. Eighty strong, the flock spread out around a medium-size grey donkey that lifted its head to look at the three people on the driveway.
Behind the donkey, mostly hidden, could be seen the legs of a young foal. The donkey lowered its head and resumed grazing.
“Quite a picture,” said Rose, leaning up against the truck next to her husband and shading her eyes with her hand. “Who would have thought we’d be seeing that in our pasture this summer?”
“I think it looks awesome,” said Jennifer. “It’s like a postcard from Scotland or somewhere like that. Only the ground is flatter.”
“Flatter than Scotland and greener than Montana,” said Andrew. “But it is a pretty picture, I agree. Especially with everything being so green this year.”
They stood in silence for a moment, watching the sheep move slowly across the pasture. Andrew pointed upwards suddenly and Rose and Jennifer looked up just in time to see a red-tailed hawk drop out of the sky and plunge to earth among the sheep. A lamb bleated and scampered for its mother and a second later the hawk lifted off the ground and flapped its way toward the trees at the edge of the pasture with a hapless gopher clutched tightly in its talons.
“Ah, the circle of life,” said Andrew. “I’d like to see Disney make a movie about that.”
“Lucky it wasn’t an eagle,” said Jennifer, “or that might have been a lamb instead of a gopher.”
Andrew chuckled. “Not likely. Eagles might have a reputation for being regal and majestic and all that but face it, an eagle is basically a vulture with a hairpiece. Eagles find enough carrion around here, they don’t need to take sheep.” There was another silence as the three of them watched the flock of sheep razing its slow and deliberate way around the pasture.
“Watching a flock of sheep is like watching a cloud,” said Jennifer, “the way it shifts and moves!”
Andrew chuckled again. “I see one that looks like a sheep,” he said, and Jennifer laughed.
“You know what they look like to me?” Rose was smiling but serious. “They look vulnerable.”
“They do kind of, don’t they?” said Andrew. “Well, I have a new daily chore for Jennifer.”
Jennifer frowned. “Really?” she said. “What?”
“Every night, about half an hour before sundown, you can saddle up Diamond, put
the old Winchester in the scabbard, ride out to the bushes south and west of the pasture and shoot anything that moves,” said Andrew. “Let them coyotes know that they ain’t welcome here.”
Rose looked at her husband askance. “Whoa,” she said. “You sound like a character in a Zane Grey novel. Since when have you had such a bloodthirsty outlook on life?”
“Since I got 80 sheep in my pasture I need to keep alive,” said Andrew. “There’s two kinds of sheep ranchers in this country you know. Those who follow the rules and then complain bitterly about how many head they lose, and those who never lose any but won’t tell you why. Guess which one I intend to be?”
Rose looked unhappy. “I don’t have to guess,” she said, “but guess who is NOT going to be your hired gun.”
“Aw Mom!” Jennifer had been listening closely to this conversation. “I’m a really good shot you know! Last time we had target practice I shot the nib off a spray can at 50 feet!”
“It’s true, she did,” Andrew said, softening his tone, “although with the next shot she completely missed a tin can from the same distance. I’m not serious shooting everything that moves,” he continued, “but we do need to have a human presence in those woods as often as we can. The more we’re there, the less likely the predators will be. I just think Jenn should get out there as often as she can. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a rifle, just in case.”
“All right then,” said Rose. “That sounds a little more sane.”
Andrew shrugged. “Who knows what we’ll have to do in the long run?” he said. “It’ll be an adventure.” He turned to look at Jennifer. “What do you think kid?” he said.
Jennifer grinned happily. “I’m always up for an adventure,” she said.
Don’t miss Rollin Penner and the Traveling Medicine Show performing at Lilyfest in Neepawa on Sunday, July 25.