05 September 2014

A Story With Sheep

A Roman Bridge in Gimonde, in the Back of Beyond in Portugal.


Trás-os-Montes, the northeastern province of Portugal, is a mountainous country idyll steeped in ancient tradition. So steeped, in fact, that many traditions carry on today. We have seen at least three donkey carts in use, with one of those coming down the highway this morning, and another turning out onto the highway from the road in front of our hotel's restaurant an hour later.

We're staying in a new addition to A. Montesinho's lodging options, this one a 3-bedroom apartment fashioned out of an old farm building. 

It's still a working farm, and I accidentally caused quite the kerfuffle amongst the flock of ewes yesterday afternoon. Or rather, I would have if they were not being herded by such a consummate professional.

I had been prowling the fields and the wooded river bank, and was on my way back to our apartment, when a flood of recently-sheared ovelhas, tended by a middle-aged woman and an exceedingly businesslike white herding dog, began pouring through the open gate I was headed for. The sheep and the dog caught sight of me at the same time, and before the alarm of the flock could turn into panic, the dog gave several sharp barks, and instantly the ewes were one large white oval, packed tightly together, grazing again, having completely forgotten that scary things exist in the world.

For my part, I slowed my walking and continued toward the gate in a wide circle around the white oval. The dog, Bambi (I learned this morning), seeing that his charges were behaving, began trotting purposefully toward me, hackles raised. From a football field away the woman waved at me to stop moving so I did, standing calmly and still as Bambi approached.

I heard the woman say "Não, só uma senhora,"--it's only a lady--and realized she was taking on her phone, explaining the barking to someone.

A moment later, responding to a sign or a call that I didn't notice, Bambi turned away and went back to his duties, misplaced foreigners forgotten. I took several pictures of the masterful workmanship, and then made my way through the gate when all was clear.

As l started up the other side of the fence toward home I came upon an elderly man, clearly of the farm.

"Peço desculpa!" I said. I'm sorry!

"Não faz mal," replied the old man with a friendly smile. It's okay, don't worry.

"The ewes know me," he went on in Portuguese, "so they're not afraid of me. But they don't know you!"

"Não quero --I flung my arms around and made an indiscriminate fearful noise, not remembering the Portuguese for "to scare"--as  ovelhas!"

The man grinned at my demonstration and nodded, and wished me a good afternoon.

I was so impressed with that dog! He would've won any herding competition, anywhere. Really fun to see!

one-fingered on my phone

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