Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Woolly Olympics—High Jumps and Clever Ewes

“The sheep is said to be naturally dull and stupid. Of all quadrupeds it is the most foolish: it will saunter away to lonely places with no object in view; oftentimes in stormy weather it will stray from shelter; if it be overtaken by a snowstorm, it will stand still unless the shepherd sets it in motion; it will stay behind and perish unless the shepherd brings up the rams; it will then follow home.”

So said Aristotle1‘Aristotle: History of Animals IX’. 2023. Uchicago.edu <https://penelope.uchicago.edu/aristotle/histanimals9.html#:~:text=The%20sheep%20is%20said%20to%20be%20naturally%20dull%20and%20stupid> [accessed 2 August 2023].

As I trudged my way up Middle Head, the mist thickened and the swathes of ling on either side of the track became gradually thinner. I had this nagging feeling that I was no longer walking in a straight line. For no matter how straight it should’ve been, the track always seemed to be bending leftward, playing hide and seek with the Cheese Stone and every other landmark that dared to pierce that milky haze.

Then, out of the mist, I came across some sheep nonchalantly grazing in the heather. At last, a photo-opportunity. They had those broad muzzles and horizontal pupils in sunken yellow eyes, making them look like Aristotle’s poster children for dullness and stupidity, casually scattered across the moor, munching away like they had nothing better to do. Which, of course, they hadn’t.

But here’s the thing – those sheep aren’t as daft as they appear. Apparently, they can recall experiences and the faces of particular animals and humans for up to a year. There are stories that sheep, Yorkshire sheep mind, are actually quite clever, with folks saying they have figured out a way to cross cattle grids. How? Well, apparently they’ve been rolling themselves over on their backs to get over them2‘Sheep’, Wikipedia <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheep#Intelligence_and_learning_ability> [accessed 6 September 2023].

Well, I can’t say I’ve seen such a sight personally. But, I’ll tell you this much — I once saw a sheep clearing a cattle grid in one mighty leap. Jonathan Edwards had nothing on it. Now, you’d think it would take some spatial awareness to even think about attempting such a feat.

So, that sheep giving me the vacant stare might’ve been replaying memories of a lost loved one or a retired shepherd in its little woolly head. Or mentally preparing for an Olympic long jump.



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