Sunday, January 17, 2010

Of Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

As one of my brothers pointed out in a Facebook entry, I'm engaged in a contradictory project. I am spinning wolf-dog hair into yarn, a task usually reserved for sheep's wool.

Most of us are familiar with much of the folklore surrounding wolves and sheep. A wicked wolf slips on a sheepskin and worms his way into fooling a mark. A lonely young shepherd cries "wolf" for attention, and then when a real wolf appears and threatens his flock, no one believes him, no one comes to his rescue.

And there's the frightening story in Willa Cather's novel "My Antonia" in which a groom riding home on a sleigh with his bride throws her to a pack of threatening wolves to save his own skin.

But neither are flocks of sheep always regarded as innocent. Western range biologists and cattlemen often refer to sheep as "range maggots" because they gobble up forage and upset the ecosystem. Yet Judeo-Christian Bible stories elevate the animal as an important symbiotic unit for nomadic human survival. Both food (meat, milk and cheese) and cloth (clothing, tents, saddle blankets, etc.) can be derived from the animal. And because sheep stick together, flocks are used metaphorically to symbolize followers of the Way.

So, here I sit in my tiny Pocatello westside hovel spinning wolf-dog hair into yarn. If all goes well, I'll weave it into a piece of cloth that may well become an heirloom, or a future mystery for an archaeologist to dig up in a forgotten pet-lover's tomb long after my fingers, looms and spinning wheel have succombed to the deterioration of time.

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