People who know me know how competitive I can be. While I was away on vacation last week, I was in a triathlon down in Oregon. I was delighted to come in first place for my age group. Never mind that I was the only one competing in that group. There is something about the ring of “First Place” that I enjoy.
But while I was down in Oregon, back on my island it was the weekend of Whidbey Island Fair. For the first time, I had entered a fleece. It was a pretty one from my one year old black wether lamb. At least it looked pretty to me.
Every year at shearing time I love watching as the locks of wool fall away from sheep after sheep. Every fleece looks beautiful to me. We gather them in bags and take them to Lydia, the owner of the small, local mill. She will clean them, spin them and sell the yarn produced. This year I asked Lydia to pick out any fleeces she thought could be shown in our little island fair. She chose two.
But I have never entered a fleece in the fair. I have never really learned to evaluate a fleece. Truth be told, I’m not even sure what to look for. Still, for years, I have wanted to learn. I am a shepherd after all. And the breed of sheep I raise, Romneys, are known for their nice, spinable wool.
But it is that distance between wanting to learn something and not wanting to be a beginner that stumps me. I like being first. Even if it is only me and the race, I still like me first. But when one is a beginner, one is almost never first.
I chose one of the two fleeces Lydia had set aside to enter in the fair, on no other basis than to me it looked like the prettiest one. Because I was away, my friend Meighan took the fleece to the fair, and collected it when the judging was over. It came home with a white “Third Place” ribbon.
It turns out there were three fleeces entered.
Attached to the ribbon was a hand-written note. It clarified the fleece’s faults. “Too many second cuts” the judge had written. “The fleece is not clean,” the judge added. “Too much ‘vegetative matter.’” And the final comment:”Some nice locks of wool, but the fleece is not uniform and consistent. Are you sure the sheep is full Romney and not a mix?“
It is easy in the face of such feedback to begin my list of “shoulds.” I “should” know what “second cuts” look like. The truth is, I don’t. I have heard shearers and spinners say they are not good, but I really don’t know how to spot a second cut myself.
I “should” know what a “uniform fleece” looks like. I have heard judges say, when looking at a sheep, she has nice, uniform wool. But I really don’t know what I’m looking for in a uniform fleece.
And as for “vegetative matter?” Well, given how the hay falls down their necks while my sheep stuff their heads into the feeder, or tromp on top of it, somehow I am going to have to figure out how to make my flock into neater eaters.
Even though it stung a bit though, I was grateful for the feedback the anonymous judge gave me. It reminds me of how all growth happens, spiritual growth included. There’s the risk of trying. There’s the falling short. There’s the trying again.
I am grateful that “grace” is a central tenet of my faith. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be first. There is beauty and triumph in just showing up.
While I was on vacation, I purchased two new lambs for my flock. They come from my friend Ruthann down in Oregon. She is the one from whom I purchased my first sheep, over 20 years ago. This time I got a lovely little ram lamb, and a nice ewe lamb as well.
Ruthann had them shared just before she sold them to me, I went over to her place to help. When Andy, the shearer, arrived, Ruthann warned him. “No second cuts please.“
“Absolutely,” he agreed.
Then he caught my little ram lamb and began his work. “This is a beautiful fleece.” he commented as the wool fell away.
“Nice and uniform.” Ruthann agreed
“Clean, too,” he added.
All I noticed was how pretty all the fleeces looked.
Ruthann gave me the fleece after the shearing. I brought it home and will compare it to my fair fleece. Maybe I will learn something. Maybe not.
I am open, and willing to try