Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What Do Sheep Feel?

It was Thursday afternoon and Alfred was sitting in his study smoking a Special Reserve Churchill Cigar and reading an article by the English 19th Century journalist C. E. Montague, “Anything that a competent artist loves well enough he can make lovable to any good reader.”[i]

Alfred was thinking to himself, “It seems that some ‘artists’ just want to make a buck, like Pablo Picasso paying for his laundry by whipping off a sketch to pay his tab” when Mother came bustling into the room with a catalogue in her hand.

“Alfred,” said Mother, “look at these Karastan rugs.  Aren’t they just beautiful?”

“Well, truth be told,” said Alfred, “which it seldom is, they are pretty in their own way, but that Canterbury Rug that you seem smitten with can’t really be compared with a Kirman, or a Bakhtiari.”

“I know, Alfred, I know, but as you said they are quite pretty, and look at the price. The advertisement says that they are made of New Zealand Sheep Wool.”

“Think of the poor sheep” said Alfred. “I wonder what sheep on the thousand hills of New Zealand make of life?  Do they know that they are wet and cold when they are grazing in the rain?  Do they know their beginning and their end?  What do they make of things at shearing time?

Do you remember our New Zealand vacation a few years ago when we stopped along the road at Tapharanui?  We watched a little lamb gamboling across the field, leaping for joy, when suddenly he stopped to look for his mother. Finding her he butted her udder with his head as he worked lustily away at getting a little nourishment.”

“Oh, I remember, Alfred,” said Mother, “One ewe was walking along the road crying with loud cries, looking for her little lamb, but a passing farmer stopped to tell us that the lamb had died.  The ewe was obviously bereft.”

“Yes,” said Alfred. “Other ewes with a lamb or two, not three, roamed across the meadow, stopping to graze or nurse their young.  I wonder what is the link between instinct and consciousness?  What do sheep feel?  What do sheep make of life?  Among all the animals only we ask questions like that.”

“Alfred!” said Mother, “You think too much!  All I wanted to show you was the rugs in this catalogue.  This Canterbury rug is quite lovely, or perhaps even this Ashara Agra Black.  It would go quite nicely in your study.”

Alfred looked at the catalogue and considered the rug in question, then said, “You know, that would look rather fine.”

“Alfred,” said Mother, “not everything we purchase needs to be authentic!  The idea of you accidently dropping your cigar ashes on a Bakhtiari is just too much to contemplate.”

“Mother,” said Alfred, “I am glad to hear you say that; after all quality and cost are not always equated. Go ahead and order the Ashara, I will quite enjoy it.” 

[i] C. E. Monatague, “To True to be Good”, A Writer’s Notes on His Trade, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1930), p. 139.

“Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).

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