Tag Archives: shearing

Wool Gathering

It’s finally here – the latest BYI video! My deepest thanks go to Cathe Capel, Harold Davis, Roxanne Sawhill and all the others for their time, Jack Brighton and Tim Meyers for their work on this video, Automatic Empire for the music, and our friends at Illinois Public MediaPBS, PBS Digital Studios, and PBS Food for their support. Now go watch it! I’d love to know what you think.

Not only that, there’s new audio available that happens to be completely unrelated to “Wool Gathering”. It’s an ode to urban wildlife that’s very influenced by Lyanda Lynn Haupt‘s Urban Bestiary and a field trip I took with Environmental Almanac‘s Rob Kanter. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t have been released at exactly the same time, but hey. Feast or famine. When it rains, it pours. That.

More soon.

 

Shorn Off, Pt. 2

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But first, a central Illinois sunset.

Much has happened since I was in Sidney, IL at 7 Sisters Farm, but recent footage review brought it all back. Most alarming: Spring has been so slow in arriving – we shot over a month ago and the landscape is only now starting to noticeably change. I wonder when the trees will fully leaf out; we’re a couple weeks away, still, from flowering trees.

Anyway. While my philosophy with BYI has always been to participate as much as possible in whatever’s going on, I was feeling a little weird about attempting to shear a sheep.

[When my son was little, I used to shave his head using electric clippers, and the shearing tool we were going to be using was basically a (much) larger version of those, but the clippers were heavy, and sheep’s wool, I discovered when I met “my” sheep, Dawn, is super-thick and springy. Shaving a head is pretty basic – it’s nice and round. Sheep’s bodies are not one shape – they’re many shapes. There are bony parts sticking out as well as super-smooth round parts. There are folds of skin and there are places where you have to be really careful. Also? Dawn was pregnant. I worried about her lamb in there.]

When Dick, one of the instructors, presented Dawn, waiting gamely on her stand, to me and my shearing partner Roxanne, I almost – ALMOST – asked Roxanne to do the job herself. Roxanne (you’ll meet her in the video) is young, interested in farming and livestock, and seemed quite fearless. She would have been great on her own. However, I a) did not want to disappoint Dick and the other instructor, Harold, by crapping out and b) did not want to disappoint myself by passing up a chance to learn something awesome from these amazing gentlemen. So when Dick told me it was my turn after Roxanne had hers, I grasped the (huge) clippers and gingerly had a go at Dawn’s wool along her flank. I won’t give anything else away, but the story ends with Dawn being safely shorn and Roxanne and I both feeling exhilarated, almost, that we had shorn (most of) a sheep and had not injured it or ourselves, plus… we had contributed, in some small way, to the gathering of the wool for the season.

Dawn

Work has begun on putting this episode (BYI2) together for a release date in early May. We just pre-interviewed the subject of BYI3 and will shoot this week for a release date TBD, and BYIr83 will air this week. Here’s a clue as to its subject matter:

Worms

More soon!

Shorn Off, Pt. 1

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The weather here in the Midwest, which I’m certain most people are sick of talking/hearing/reading about, has finally taken a turn for the better. (Midwest is best!) Those chickens up there were complretely stoked to be outside in 40-degree (or so) sunshine. The BYI crew was out at my friend Cathe Capel’s place –  Seven Sisters Farm, in Sidney, Illinois – to watch (and film) the annual shearing of her small flock of very woolly (and in some cases, very pregnant) sheep.

First we had a freaking awesome meal around the dining room table in Cathe’s gorgeous 19th century abode. She dished up chili, cornbread, pie, strong coffee, and a most convivial table. I wish I could adequately explain how I feel about settings like this. I wanted to hug everyone while we were eating.

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We also ate some tea eggs that Emma from Lucky Duck Farm brought to share. They were exquisitely dessert-like. I love eggs anyway, but these were… sublime.

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After we ate, we went into the barn, where Tigger lives. She has three legs, amazing green eyes, and is a total badass.

IMG_6980We got a look at some vintage shearing equipment – this clipper hand crank (not sure what the actual nomenclature is) dates to 1910.

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The sheep were like, we know something is going on but cannot quite remember what it is. Hmm.

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Harold Davis, a sheep-shearing legend in Illinois, showed the group how to get to it, New Zealand style. Harold has shorn 900,000 sheep in his day and knows what he’s doing. Needless to say, the rest of us were not interested in giving this particular method a go.

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Part Two: I meet a ewe named Dawn, I come to grips with the clippers, and I feel sad when leaving Sidney. I’ll post that this week.

In the meantime, enjoy this radio piece I did two years ago (you can tell it was two years ago because I talk about how winter never came) about the same class, led that time by another Illinois shearing rockstar, Dick Cobb. He’ll also feature in Part Two.

OK. Time to jet. Cosmos is on.