February 07, 2018

The Intricate Dance of Herding Sheep

"I gotta go," I announced to my brunch companions this past Saturday. "I just scored tickets to this weird sheepherding performance later this afternoon."

After a moment of puzzlement, my friend Phil broke the silence with, "That's not something you hear every day."

Unless, of course, you're friends with me.

I was lured to the historic polo field at Will Rogers State Park by something called Doggie Hamlet—some kind of interpretive dance performance starring some sheepdogs, sheep, and dancers.

Well, two out of three ain't bad.

I can't say I understood a thing about this "3-D pastoral poem"—and I'm not sure that I was supposed to.

But sitting behind that temporary fence, perched upon a bale of hay, I got to thinking about sheep, safety, and power.

In sheepherding, there are, of course, the fluffy beasts of the orvine variety—but there are also the herding dogs, sometimes just one for a flock of 1000 sheep.

And the dogs take their cues from the shepherd, who doesn't do much direct herding of sheep, but is still an essential part of the equation.

Snarky humans criticize sheep for being mindless followers, using that old insult, "sheeple."

But if sheep were so dumb, they wouldn't bother to pay attention to their canine master.

They wouldn't flow into the hypnotic patterns that keep them safe as one undulating mass.

They somehow know that if they disperse, they'll die.

And it's to their advantage to stay living—at least long enough to reproduce.

But they can't do it alone.

And there's nothing weak about taking help when you need it, maintaining safety in numbers, or even obeying—as long as your obedience benefits you in the long run (by, say, ensuring your survival).

God-fearing Bible readers will recall passage after passage in scripture that refers to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. Sheep are mentioned in the Bible more than any other animal is—mainly used as an analogy for God's followers.

And yet, the "Lamb of God" was also the Big Guy's supposed one and only son—who was much more a leader than a follower, if you believe the stories that have been told.

Maybe atheists and agnostics are the ones who scoff at sheep.

But even if they're not God's creatures (and even if there is no God), their synchronized choreography is something to be admired.

After all, every dancer needs a choreographer.

And every sheep needs a shepherd.

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