Monday, May 28, 2012

Sheepish:Two Women, Fifty Sheep & Enough Wool to Save the Planet by Catherine Friend

In her first memoir, Hit by a Farm, Catherine Friend described how she and her wife, Melissa, started a sheep farm in Minnesota. Even though Melissa is the true farmer, 15 years of farming has had an effect on Friend. In Sheepish, Friend admits that she has absorbed a little of what Gene Logsdon describes as the true farmer's spirit: "that blend of creative artistry, independence, manual skill and love of nurturing that marks a true farmer."

"Most of us use the word 'sheepish' to mean embarrassed, ashamed, or chagrined." Friend writes that this definition makes no sense because sheep are never those things. She uses sheepish in a different way: "of or belonging to. Think Spanish -- of or belonging to Spain. Danish -- of or belonging to fruit-filled pastries. Sheepish -- of or belonging to sheep. Sixteen years ago I was not at all sheepish. I was bookish, library-ish, wine-and-appetizer-ish. Decidedly unsheepish." That has really changed.

Sheepish is full of amusing anecdotes about farm animals, woollen fiber arts, menopause and life in general. Here are a few things that I learned: Oxytocin, the hormone that establishes social attachments between mammals, is "the reason farmers keep farming even though animals beat them up and batter their bank accounts." There are fewer allergies to wool than to any other known fiber, and the reason why over 30% of Americans believe they're allergic to wool has to do with its structure. "If you joined the fiber of five Merino sheep end to end, you could wrap a thread of wool around the world." You can minimize exposure to dust mites with woolen bedding because wool wicks away moisture and dries out more quickly than synthetic or down, plus the lanolin in wool repels dust mites.

Friend is a funny woman. When Melissa was recovering from abdominal surgery, Friend had to convince her to stay put, by telling her "if she doesn't stop sneaking out of the house to work in the shed, all the internal organs still left inside her will come undone and head for the nearest exit." Sometimes it is the situation itself that is funny, like when a duck and a chicken each laid an egg in the same place and both refused to give up the nest, so they looked like either a chicken's body with a duck's head or vice versa. "Later I find five hens in a nest box meant for one, basically stacked on top one another, each determined to lay her egg in that nest." (This last anecdote is especially for people who love chickens, like my friend Claire at Egg Venturous.)

Readalikes: Trauma Farm (Brian Brett); At Least in the City, Someone Would Hear Me Scream (Wade Rouse). Also recommended for people who enjoy reading about knitting, spinning and weaving.


Claire G said...

Oh, I HAVE to read this book! Thank you for blogging about it. Off now (online) to see if the library has it.

Claire G said...

...It did, and I've just read it. Delightful. Lovely that she quotes EB White more than once, too. His essays were one of my library discoveries last year.