June 3, 2011 at 10:29 am EST | by Terri Schlichenmeyer
A lovable wooly tale

You tried everything.

When you had trouble with insomnia the other night, it seemed like nothing would lull you back to sleep. Warm milk tasted bad. That previously boring book on your bedside table suddenly turned intriguing. Even infomercials held your interest, so you started counting sheep.

Then you got to wondering — why sheep? Why not count cows or dogs? Is it because sheep are, well, like sheep? Author Catherine Friend wondered that herself because she has a flock of them on her Minnesota farm, and in her new book “Sheepish,” she writes of the good and the ba-a-a-ad, the wild and the wooly.

Though her grandmother raised them on a Montana ranch, Catherine Friend had little experience with sheep – that is, until her partner, Melissa, wistfully admitted her dream of owning a farm and raising the critters.

And thus it came to pass that Catherine had a little lamb.

Fifteen years later, Friend has morphed from City Girl to Backup Farmer. It hasn’t been a gentle-as-a-lamb transformation, but Friend now appreciates her flock.

Ovines have a long history in North America, she says. Sheep were shipped to the New World in 1609 and within 60 years, there were more than 100,000 sheep on our shores. English lawmakers tried to outlaw the sale of wool but colonists managed to outwit the Brits and wool gathering became patriotic.

Sheep “show up everywhere in our language,” Friend says, and they’re good for supper, of course, but it’s their wool that she fell in love with.

Because of the price of fleece, she says, many farmers shear their sheep and throw the wool away. Most small operations won’t get rich on their wool, but Friend discovered the rich colors of wool dyes. Although she first makes fun of “fiber freaks” (knitters who bleat rhapsodically about wool fibers), she couldn’t wait to see what “her sheep” produced.

But life on the farm isn’t always laid back. Where there’s livestock, “there’s dead stock,” says Friend. Animals, like humans, don’t always do what you want them to do; they’re never born at convenient times; and sometimes, they get sick. When these things happen, even Backup Farmers do their best for their animals – even if it means giving those animals up.

Imagine a serene pasture filled with contented (nameless) sheep. Then imagine a reluctant shepherdess at the helm, add llamas, cats and dogs, chickens and a peacock, frisky calves, knitters, and Elvis, and you’ve got a good yarn called “Sheepish.”

Author Catherine Friend gives her readers a sense of the bucolic. She lulls us into total serenity with her poetic descriptions of her flock and then she knocks us upside the funny bone with asides that are dyed-in-the-wool hilarious. In between, Friend has a way of bringing tears to our eyes before she pulls us back to the funny farm.

If a taste of the country is what you crave this summer, if you’re a farmer or a wannabe, a knitter, or just love a wooly tale, here’s a book you’ll enjoy. “Sheepish” is perfect for ewe.

‘Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep & Enough Wool to Save the Planet’
By Catherine Friend
263 pages

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