Now that I have accepted knitting as a worthy way of passing time, I find myself thinking of expanding my horizons. I am contemplating finding a second career somewhere in the knitting industry. There are so many possibilities. I’m sure I will find one where I can excel. I will give strong consideration to every aspect of the industry before I choose. In today’s little essay I will focus on a most essential element in the production of yarn: Sheep Farming.
About 25 years ago, I remember reading an article by some famous Literary Critic. In it he listed what, in his opinion, were the 10 greatest novels ever written. He went on to elaborate on why those 10 masterpieces were a mandatory read for all educated people of the world. I instantly noticed that I had only read three of the ten. And these had all been mandatory school assignments. I vowed to read the other seven before another year passed. Well, here it is, 25 years later and I’ve only added two more to the list. But one thing I did do was to find out what each of the books that I had not read was about. One of the books on the list was by Marcel Proust. Back then, the common translation of the French title, "A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu", was "Remembrance of Things Past". Nowadays I believe it’s called "In Search of Lost Time". No matter what it’s titled, it is one very, very, very long novel. I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my reading list soon. There is one famous scene in this book that literary types gush over. In this scene a character takes a bite out of a Madeleine (a cute little French sponge cake) and a monsoon of memories comes flooding forth from his brain. These pleasant recollections all had to do with a time during his childhood when he had similarly eaten a Madeleine. Well, just the other day, I had my own little episode of involuntary memory. I was knitting away on a project and I was glancing at the yarn label. 100% wool, it stated. I started wondering about the sheep that had produced the very yarn I was knitting. Did it have a name? Did it mind having its protective coat stripped from its body? Did it mind that its pleasing natural color had been dyed into a sultry blue? And then it hit me. Something I hadn’t thought about in decades. My grandparents were farmers. They had raised, among other things, sheep. When I was eight-years-old, I had spent a depressing summer on their farm desperately wanting nothing else but to return to my comfortable home in Chicago.
I think we can all agree that farming is a noble profession. Without farmers the world is doomed. But working on a farm? Oh my! Here are some things that knitting with sheep’s wool made me inadvertently remember about that summer. Watching a hog get slaughtered can traumatize a young boy to the point where he will not eat bacon or ham for a long time. Waking up very early in the morning to help milk the cows has a negative impact on the quality of one’s sleep. Milk directly from a cow, even after it’s boiled, tastes awful. A rooster will attack you if you look at his chickens in a funny way. Sheep are dirty (I will refrain from listing the many disgusting things that stick to their wool.). Sleeping in a bedroom that doubles as a storage facility for barley makes one detest that particular grain. Until one learns to appreciate beer, anyway. So many other nasty things I could list about that summer. Granted, the whole time wasn’t a total downer. I still cherish some memories from that particular summer, though they mostly had to do with learning how to shoot marbles. Thankfully, it wasn’t sheep shearing season when I visited. I might not have had a pleasant reaction to such a spectacle. To this day I've only seen a display of that peculiar craft on television. From the sheep’s perspective it is not a walk in the park. I, for one, would not relish the idea of having a barber forcibly give me an all-body crew cut. Check out sheep shearing on YouTube if you’ve never seen it being done. Nevertheless, we have to face facts. No sheep shearing, no pretty yarn to knit with. But as far as sheep farming being a new vocation? I’ll pass, thank you.