It’s been months since I’ve published anything I’m proud of. Not that I haven’t tried- I have. But sometimes it’s easier and safer to write about places and weather instead of personal events and embarrassing outcomes. If I’m going to take the time to write, though, I want to be honest and to make my stories resonate. I want to find the real juice in a story, to explain how I was scared, why I was shocked, if I felt uncomfortable. And sometimes that requires vulnerability: the act of opening yourself up to a deeper flow of honesty.
Finding an interesting and revealing story…
Travel isn’t all wide-eyed wonder and happy days. It’s still real life where hiccups happen regularly. As a prime example, while in Scotland, I killed a sheep (accidentally) while overfeeding a starving herd. It was never something I wanted to admit and was sure it wouldn’t come out in my blog. But stories like this are where the real meat is. It’s therapy for the writer and ultimately more entertaining to read than, say, a description about a bike ride in Austin.
So how did I kill a sheep?
In the mornings, the ground (in Carrbridge, Scotland) was spongy and muddy, the air cold and damp. I had moved from a trailer with no heat or running water into a barn-turned-apartment where I was sleeping on the floor. Before the sun was fully up, I’d try to go for a quick run or walk through the fields for exercise. One morning, I decided to be proactive and combine a morning workout with feeding our herd of sheep (something I had been asked to do for the first time the day before, when I had help, in the afternoon). The herd was a few miles away from where I was staying, so I rode one of the mountain bikes we had on the property over a hilly, 1-lane mountain road.
When I arrived, I retrieved a bucket full of pellets from a shed near the pasture. What I didn’t remember was the previous day’s warning from a New Zealander named Dave who had 4 of his normal sized sheep mixed in with our herd of much smaller Highland sheep. It was suggested to Adela (the owner’s girlfriend) and I to feed just 1/4 of a bucket to the herd. With pellets (like with grain), sheep can overeat if given the opportunity, possibly get sick and even die. The problem was, we noticed the day before, there was hardly any food left in the pasture- it had been grazed down to dirt and 2 sheep had their heads stuck in the fence attempting to pull grass from a lush neighboring field. They looked like they were being publicly shamed in a pillory device- and it wasn’t easy getting their heads unstuck. These sheep were literally dying to get more food and the real question should have been why they hadn’t been moved to another pasture with grass.
For some reason, early in the morning that following day, Dave’s words vanished from memory and my only focus was providing as much food as possible to this hungry bunch. I dutifully dumped out (in small piles for each sheep) the entire bucket. The herd was grateful.
The next day, Adela and I were told we didn’t need to feed the sheep anymore (something I didn’t really question at the time). It wasn’t until a few days later that I got a text on my way to Ireland asking if I had, in fact, fed the sheep an entire bucket… which is when the original instructions came back to me in a hot flash. I learned next that one of Dave’s sheep had died from overeating. Of course, my immediate reaction was horror. A warm prickly energy flowed through my body as panic set in. F*ck. I apologized profusely, unable (at this point) to do anything other than buy the man a new sheep or give him a wad of money as consolation, but all my offers were dismissed. I sat by the window in silence as the train rocked gently along, views of thick low clouds, green hills, grazing cows, and mirrored lakes passed by. I wanted to burry my head in my hands, to never go back, to blame someone else. But there was no one else to blame.
In the past, I’ve done everything I could for animals that I’ve taken are of: I jumped into the raging brown waters of a flooding river to save a dog I was watching in Cairns, Australia. I drove through northern California wildfires to get to a house sit- and then prepared to evacuate all animals when the smoke was too much. I slogged through a French farm in a torrential downpour while herding animals into the barn. I rushed a dog to a vet outside of San Francisco. And I carefully measured out supplements and feed every morning for competitive New Zealand race horses. But mistakes happen. And when they do, hopefully they can become life lessons- and maybe, in a need to make sense of them (like what I’m doing now), we can help others avoid the same outcome.
A friend of mine the other day challenged me to be more honest in my writing, to dig deep and be more vulnerable. That doesn’t necessarily mean I need to open up a jar of secrets, but it does mean explaining scenarios in a different way that can be more personal and therefore relatable. When we share personal stories, our goal is to connect with others, to evoke feelings. And, at the same time (selfishly), maybe it will bring us one step closer to understanding ourselves.