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My neighbor, Jolene, runs a small bunch of sheep and she's been lambing all month. When she called to ask if I'd come over and help her sort lambs and ewes, clean pens and boot the mothered-up pairs into the adjacent pasture, I said, "Sure."

Jolene's the hearty sort and also a great cook. I knew my efforts would be rewarded with a tasty meal.

We spent an hour or so shoveling, strawing down jugs, bottle-feeding a few bums and generally doing what you do when working sheep. About the time we figured we owed ourselves a break, a car pulled into Jolene's lane, drove on past the house and straight to the sheep barn.

Jolene watched the automobile approach with consternation written all over her face. "Oh, no," she muttered. "It's Mrs. Super Rancher."

"I wonder what she wants," I said.

"Probably a donation for one of her causes," said Jolene through gritted teeth. "Oh, no," she squeaked, "she's got Little Northrup with her!"

"Uh-oh," I said, knowing that Mrs. Super Rancher's grandson, Little Northrup, could do no wrong--at least in Mrs. S.R.'s mind. The rest of the world viewed him as The Imp from Hades.

Jolene and I were in the process of shoo-ing lamb and ewe pairs from the barn through a wooden gate into a holding pasture. To keep the ewes lined out in the right direction, Jolene had created a temporary chute affair from the barn to the gate. At the moment, we had half a dozen mamas and lambkins crowded into the chute.

Mrs. Super Rancher halted her vehicle just short of running us down and debarked. So did Little Northrup, his beady squirrel eyes shining as he surveyed the sheep.

"I wanna ride a sheep," he announced.

Mrs. Super Rancher ignored him and turned a laser smile on Jolene. "I'm sure you've heard of the Friends of the Library benefit auction," she chirped.

"Uh," said Jolene.

"I wanna ride a sheep!" Little Northrup whined.

Mrs. S.R. ignored her grandson. "I'm sure you have some items you would care to donate to the auction, Jolene. As you know, the library is raising funds to expand its facilities."

"I'll see what I can find later," said Jolene. "At the moment, Iím..."

"I wanna ride a sheep now!" shrieked Little Northrup reaching through the chute panels to grab at a ewe.

"Now, Northrup, dear," said Mrs. S.R., "the ladies are busy. You mustn't interrupt their work."

That's when I noticed the gleam in Joleneís eyes turn into a sinister glitter. "Why, of course you can ride a sheep, Little Northrup. Just come over here and I'll lift you onto Old Maggie up here in the front of the line." To me she hissed, "As soon as I park him on Maggie you open the gate to the pasture."

I nodded, ever willing to support a good cause. Old Maggie is a big Columbia ewe with attitude. Jolene hoisted Northrup onto the ewe's back. I yanked the gate open. Maggie came boiling out of the chute with Little Northrup hanging on, both hands dug deep in her sheared hide. Did I mention that it had been raining and a sizable puddle had formed a few yards inside the pasture? Maggie zoomed like a speeding bullet straight for the puddle, braked at its edge as though she had run into a door. Little Northrup sailed over her head and sprawled, face down in a liquid mixture of fertilizer, earth and rainwater. Maggie calmly began grazing on nearby grass.

Jolene smiled and said, "I love that ewe."


Gwen Petersen's weekly "Sow's Ear" column runs in several western newspapers. She's a rancher, writer and cowboy poet living in Big Timber, Mont.

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