We’ve been in Barmouth this weekend for a last glimpse of sun and sea before winter settles in.
We were lucky enough to happen upon some sheep dog trials. A muddy field, landrovers, men in wellies and tweed caps and of course border collies.
The teams of men and dog had 7 minutes to herd 3 sheep around the course. The same people went on with different dogs and the children began to rank the dogs for success. Except it wasn’t the dogs that were successful, nor was it the shepherds, it was the relationship between dog and master that led to success.
The winning duos were connected through whistles, commands and looks. Some dogs moved intuitively without command and yet could still stand statue still, foot hanging int he air when the whistle came.
How much more pleasurable than watching sheep being herded by a guy on a quad bike. It also looked immensely satisfying for the dogs and their owners; the understated appreciation at the end of each round where dog approached owner for an ear rub before heading off side by side.
There was also a shearing competition. I’ve seen shearing competitions before, with electric razors, where the aim of the game is to shear as many sheep as possible in a certain time limit. Each sheep is brought up to the shearer, who grips the sheep and shaves them before passing them quickly off the platform again. I’ve seen the odd nick at these affairs, nor serious, but enough to draw blood.
This time there were 4 men, 4 sheep, 4 wooden benches which they sat on, 4 pairs of shears and 4 pieces of binding.
Each man gripped the sheep and cut the fleece along their back. They then turned them over and tied their legs together. Youngest son didn’t like this as it looked like it hurt the sheep, but when they were trussed up, they didn’t seem in any distress.
The shearers were slow and careful, holding the sheep so it couldn’t wiggle and when the judging came there was close inspection for signs of blood or scratches; there were none.
Instead, each sheep had enough fleece to keep them warm for the winter and seemed calm to the point where one of them actually looked like it was lounging around when it was having it’s stomach inspected.
The judge patted each sheep to see if the cut was even all over, he looked in every nook and cranny, every crease and every curve and finally decided on the winner who was handing a small mount of money. Each sheep was lifted carefully into the pen where it started to graze contentedly and each man shook hands.
As I was standing watching, and watching my kids watching I reflected on the contrast of quad bike to dog, electric shearing razor to clippers and a bench and found that I preferred the later.
What I saw today was hands on and relational. The owners and the dogs trusted each other and relied on each other. The shearers took care of their sheep and were calm and steady with them.
We are losing these arts and with them the direct experience of nature and each other.
Technology allows us always to be at one step removed from direct experience.
When we take the car to the car wash it is efficient and fast, but not nearly as much fun as sharing buckets of soapy water as we all scrub the mud and find the scratched beneath for ourselves. Soapy water, sponges, hoses…they may be slower and the car is almost always streaky, and the children are invariably soaked, but we have fun while we’re cleaning.
The men with their sheep and dogs today had the faces of those satisfied with simple skills.
I make my own pastry. I don’t do it often, but when I do, it is my fingers which feel the silky flour and the sticky butter. It is me that feels the satisfaction of making it into a smooth ball and flouring the board to roll it out. I like the textures and touches of the ingredients and it gives me satisfaction to make it.
We are in danger of losing direct experience; replacing it with a Youtube clips or an app. We text people rather than pop round and see them.We can buy most services and products ready made and we do it often to ‘save time’.
Let’s shear lots of sheep so we save time, so we can have more sheep to shear. Let’s buy ready made pastry to save time. Let’s take the car to the car wash to save time.
Save time for what?
Save time so we can be more productive so we can work more so we can earn more money so then we can buy things and experiences that make us happy.
What a long way round.
Why not go straight for direct experience and be happy that we are able to be part of it?
We think we need money to make us happy because if we had money we could go on holiday or have that product that would make us happy.
But happiness is much simpler than that.
I’m not denying that not having enough money to cover basics isn’t stressful and draining; I’ve been there and know it is.
But the extra money..does it really make us happy? We’ve been on some lovely holidays this year but we were as happy today in the Welsh hills and on it’s beaches just up the road from home as we were overseas.
I saw happy people today, shearing sheep, whistling to dogs, walking along the beach, rolling down sand dunes and none of the happiness came from money, it came from connection.
Connection to an animal, connection to nature, connection to each other.
So simple, so free, so direct, so easily available, so nurturing and sustainable.
- How do you connect to nature?
- How do you get direct experience with people, animals and the world?
- Which technology do you use which actually removes you from an experience you used to enjoy?
- When you say you are ‘saving time’. what you are saving it for?
- What makes you most happy?
- Is there anything you would like to change?
- How will you make that change?
Have a lovely Sunday taking your time to connect.