Why (and How) Four Sheep Had Their Hooves on Backwards
Cherise came by my table, where Paul and I were sucking down water after a run, at the Farmer Bill's Petting Farm. "You know, Jason, the sheep aren't right," she said. I nodded.
Cherise was a sheep freak. One of those collectors: sheep everything. Sheep toys, keychain, magnets, all kinds of doodads. It was her identity, as feeble as that is. That she said anything about sheep, even something offbeat, meant nothing.
"The sheep are fine. What could be wrong about a sheep? Look at them. They're fine. They wake up, eat, walk around, take a dump, then they sleep."
"No. Look at them. Their hooves are on backwards," Cherise argued.
So they were. How do hooves go on backwards? That made no sense, but there it was. Four sheep, wandering around their corral, with their legs working fine, but with their hooves just the opposite way they should be.
There is no Farmer Bill. It was a name the Community Foundation people thought would be fun and easy to market. They hired Mike Marcherek, a retired English teacher, to guide the kids around, explaining the ways of farming. He conveniently looked like Mr. Green Jeans from the old "Capt. Kangaroo" TV series, but this resemblance was lost on eight year-olds who never heard of the good Cap'n. and certainly not Mr. Green Jeans.
He always began the tour by saying, "Howdy Little Pardners, I'm Farmer Bill, and we're gonna take a look-see at the wonders of a living, working farm. We've got goats, and cows, and a couple of horses, and over there, we've a few sheep. And, woo-wee, you know we've got old Lou, our prize-winning pig. No question about that, and she needs a bath!" The kids, almost all raised by soccer moms and overworked dads, loved his easy-going, tongue-in-cheek shtick.
When there were no tours, Mike managed the coffee kiosk where Paul and I would rest after running a few miles around the property. He liked the kids well enough, but didn't know much about farming. He played the role, said 'yup', 'howdy,' and had the perfect one-leg-on-the-fence lean. With a few days of an nurtured beard, he could sell anyone he grew up in the middle of Illinois, all the while with a blade of hay between his teeth.
"You see it?" I asked Jason.
Cherise panicked. The stench of a fresh farm may have been too much, or seeing her precious sheep (all sheep, by her account, were, in some way, hers) in an incorrect state of hoof.
"We need to tell someone," she suggested.
"Sure we do. Mike already knows," Jason said, "Hey, Farmer Bill, whatcha know 'bout these sheep?"
"What about them? They smell bad, don't bite, and… And that's about it. Aren't you too old for the farm tour?" Mike called back from the coffee kiosk.
"No, Mike. The hooves are wrong."
"Say what? What do you know about sheep? You grew up in the burbs." Mike said, though, he himself grew up in nearby Laderville, voted by American News and World Chronicle as one of most beautiful suburbs in the USA.
"See for yourself."
Water tastes great after a hard six miles. Jason's the better runner, with a 37-minute 10K under his belt. That's pretty good at 40. He's barely 40, but no longer 39. Me? I'm just a 45-minute plugger. We run just once a week together as a result. I run hard, he runs easy, and it evens out.
The farm's a good place to begin and end the run. A system of crushed rock trails reaches out from it. Tuesday mornings have worked out well for us mostly. Good jobs let us work from home half the time, and these are the perks. We hit the trail at 10 a.m., run until almost 11, then kick back until around noon. A quick, early lunch, and back to work. We've been at this a few years, and never really noticed the sheep before.
Cherise worked the kiosk with Mike. Kids would come through, and Mike would don his Farmer Bill hat, and go off to the farm tour. Cherise took over the kiosk, pouring coffee, Pepsi, and Slushies. This was a hobby job for her. Her husband, Marty, was an engineer for HighwaySoft. Good money. For her, this was fun, and fed her sheep need.
"Weird," Mike said, not sure what else to say.
Cherise began a diatribe about hooves, and why sheep are more advanced animals than commonly given credit.
"Smarter than dolphins, that's for sure," going on that they came from similar genetic pools, and the sheep evolved more than the dolphins by surviving on dry land, while the dolphins remained waterbound. I could have pointed out worms and rats live on dry land too, but she was not the sort to listen.
"Merinos. That's what these are. That's a type of sheep. The best kind," said Cherise. "Good looking coats. Great wool. They can remember other sheep too. I have a sweater of super fine merino wool…" She kept talking, forgetting that we had four sheep with their hooves on wrong.
Mike was on his cell, trying to explain to the CEO of the farm what was going on.
"Listen, I'm not sure what to tell you. The hooves are pointing the other way. No. No. This isn't possible. Hooves are stationary. They should not move," he explained with the patronizing tone of a seventh grade science teacher.
We went to the gate to meet the CEO and his assistant, and when came back, the hooves were fine, just like they were the day before.
"Rich, the hooves were…" Mike trailed off. It was pointless. What could he say?
Rich Lanier, the CEO, and former rural veterinarian, looked at the ground, and noticed the pattern in the dust, "These prints are out of sequence. They switch directions. See. Here. Good catch. Thanks."
After his assistant took a few pictures, Rich said, "It's my birthday. I'm taking the rest of the day off. There's nothing to do here."
Mike went back to the kiosk to help a customer, shaking his head.
Jason looked at his watch, noticed it was noon, "I should go. I've got a one o'clock call. Come on Paul."
Dumbfounded, Cherise just stared blankly at the corral. "I have got to put this on my blog. But what do I say? Why?"
"Why? Today is the big anniversary of the wool monger," said the sheep standing in the northeast corner, "we were naked before this, and he clothed us," he went on.
"We always do this. Where we're from, the switching of our hooves means we are remembering where we've been while going we're going. It is a sheep thing." He turned his head, stuffed his face into the trough, and that was that. Nothing more.
Really. The sheep said that. I heard it. Cherise heard it. Paul heard it. Mike, of course, missed it.
"See you next week, Cherise," we said, getting into Jason's car. There was nothing that could be said. After all, these were just sheep.
The following Tuesday, Jason and I pulled into the lot at Farmer Bill's, Mike was giving a tour, "And, right here, just last week…" Mike stopped. He couldn't continue. Showing 30 third graders where four sheep, briefly, changed their hooves, would only cause more trouble than he could manage. What happened could not have happened, so, as far as telling the story was concerned, it didn't happen.
"Tiger lilies are blooming," said Cherise, not mentioning anything about sheep.
"Hi Cherise. See you in an hour."
That's the end. You can go to the farm, but the sheep look like sheep.