RURAL ROUTES/Margot F. McMillen
A Holiday Story
With Sheep and Shepherd
This being a banner year for lamb sales, my neighbor Eric decided to expand
his business. For us, this was good news. A sheep population explosion at
our place threatened to overcrowd us. I promised to bring the surplus to
his place by 8 a.m. Like most shepherds, Eric has a town job to support
his agricultural habit.
So, one morning at 6:30, I drove the trailer into our pasture, put down
the ramp and, with the fanfare that sheep appreciate, carried a couple of
red buckets of grain up the ramp and put them in view. Then I stood back.
In just a minute or two, the sheep had loaded themselves on the trailer
and, heads in buckets, were chowing down. With the last lamb just about
in, I lifted the ramp to shut off escape.
I mention this incident to illustrate the way humans, seemingly indifferent
to what our choices mean for the future, get on board the very moment something
cool is available. Beany babies. Three-door pickup trucks. Viagra. We like
new stuff so much that we spend all our savings and then borrow more.
Back to where I'm loading sheep: I'm lifting the ramp when, quicker than
greased lightning, the last lamb bolted. She scrambled off the ramp, faced
me and angrily stamped.
"No problem," I thought, "I have plenty of time."
But this little lamb was taking the long view. She knew that consumer choices
always have an impact. Maybe she measured the long-term possibility that
the trailer was going to the locker plant. Or, maybe she was thinking about
the thrift of our pasture compared to the resources that went into the grain--the
petroleum in the tractors, the erosion of the land, the transportation of
that bucket from factory to warehouse to store to my place. We would benefit
from such deep thoughts.
Example #1: To feed our coffee habit, we each drink the equivalent of one
coffee tree's production every month. That's 1.5 pounds, 6,000 beans or
100 cups. The byproducts include three pounds of coffee pulp dumped in rivers,
plus all the byproducts of coffee-producing machinery, highways, roasters,
advertising, warehouses, executive jet planes, pesticides and insecticides.
Example #2: Because we want cheap bacon on our cheap cheeseburgers and we
export our eating styles to the Third World, we support giant hog factories
making huge amounts of waste. According to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee,
we produced five tons of animal manure in 1997 for every American citizen.
Where's yours? In the Iowa-Minnesota-Missouri fish kills of half a million
fish? In the billion-critter coastal wipe-out in North Carolina, Virginia
and Maryland? or part of the New-Jersey size dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico?
Example #3: Because we love new stuff--all new stuff--we turn 40% of our
domestic lumber, including oak and maple, into pallets that provide platforms
for stuff--new stuff--that is handled by forklifts. Last year, the pallet
industry built six just for you. Pallets are hard to get rid of. They clog
landfills and tear up mulching machines. Pallets defy rehabilitation and
re-use by turning nail-bending-hard in a few months and shattering into
splinters in the hands of would-be re-habbers (been there).
The solutions for survival in the long run are obvious.
Consume--that means purchase--as little as humanly possible, even now, during
the holidays that brighten the long, grey winter with shiny advertisements.
You know that Americans live too richly. By finding your own way to celebrate,
you influence people who are afraid to be leaders.
Choose local products rather than things from afar, like herbal teas and
local fruit juices. Meats, fish, fruits and vegetables raised by someone
you can look in the eye to ask what resources were used.
Break the mall habit. Use the time you save to watch T.V. (Just kidding).
Back to the sheep: Planning to seduce the rebel into the barn, I took a
new grain bucket and put it where I thought it would work. For the next
fifteen minutes or so, I led and I chased. I would nearly get her, then
lose her, then nearly get her again.
Then I remembered. On the farm, I'm the Hidden Persuader. If I can't load
them, they can't be loaded, right?
I ran my best concepts up the flagpole, waiting for the lamb to salute:
"Exciting!" I yelled, "Ultimate Escape! Extreme! You Deserve
It! Have It All!" and finally, "Sex!"
The lamb was unimpressed. The clock was ticking.
And then, the mutineer lamb bleated her distress. The crew in the trailer
wailed back. At the noise, the horses started to run along the fence line
in a threatening way.
The hens squawked encouragement. They roused the Labrador retriever, who's
always looking for a chance to put poultry in its place. He chased. I turned
and hollered at him. When I turned back, the renegade lamb was charging
toward the cows.
Until now, the cows had watched with dumb amusement. But, stirred by the
plight of a fellow four-legged, they came to the lamb's aid. They crowded
in the barn, fashioning a maze. The lamb dodged under a cow's belly, escaping
where I could only follow slowly and at risk of being kicked.
Finally, I cornered her. Grabbing her by the shoulders and sitting her on
her butt, I slipped on a halter.
She went limp. Dead weight. A hundred pounds, more or less, of bullheaded
The truck and trailer were in the pasture, about a quarter mile away. It
was 7:45. What was I to do? Drag her? Lift her? Look for a winch?
I let her go, with grudging admiration. The Hidden Persuader was beaten
and she has a place here for life.
Here's the bottom line: This holiday season, if you want off the consumerist
trailer, stamp your foot, run, hide, tell everyone, go limp. Take the long
view, and have a happy new year.
Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton,
Mo. Email: email@example.com
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