One Sheep above Ullswater

Two miles and a ways out from Pooley bridge
Kairi stops alongside an abandoned stone farmhouse
She’s soaked through both her coats, but she’s seen a sheep.
It’s standing above us, not six feet away, un-moving.
We all stare at each other, puzzled.
Our dog inches forward, gently pulling my husband up towards the embankment.
The sheep bucks, falls, tugs, and freezes.
Excitement – the thing moved! Kairi gives a single bark.
I see now – it’s entangled itself in the thorny vines around it.
Maybe moved by the thought of the carcass on the hillside,
Of the crow hopping angrily away from our dog demanding her share
I eyeball the animal’s predicament, climb the embankment slowly.
These British brambles can’t be meaner than the choking thorns of Indiana.
The sheep tugs violently away from me
Kairi’s bark for chasing turns to an alarmed yowl for her human
I mumble nothings to the sheep-
How dumb you are
You must calm down
How did you get this stuck?

Unwrap a fat hoof, dragging thorns through wool
Leaving faint grey and white tufts like weeds on a flood branch
Kairi is crying now, twisting around my husband.
The sheep tries to get away again, freer now, aware of a dog again and again,
But gives up and flattens in fear, ready for death.
I sigh at these two children.
My wet gloves are cold but keep the worst of the thorns at bay
As I keep making sounds of gentle, if derisive, encouragement.
Finally, grabbing a last thick living rope from around the neck
The dirty sheep hops free and clears the thicket,
Stomps to the top of a rocky outcrop and stares at me,
Judgment in its dumb eyes, or perhaps a grudging acknowledgement.
Kairi yelps and off it trots, red painted hide back up to the muddy hills
To join the herd and poor carcasses above Ullswater.

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