Four Ewes are in a small group, three meters from the wide open gate that leads them onto some lush, deep green grass. We've just spent three hours on foot mustering the mob out of one of our biggest and steepest paddocks, "Keith and Allan's burn". Keith is my Grandfather's name, not sure who Allan was but they laboured hard to cut and burn scrub in this area to open the land up for farming. We now have 20ha of the paddock retired back into Manuka and beehives are part of the landscape.
These last four Ewes had climbed up out of the base of the paddock seemingly unaware that all of their mates had already got the message that it was time to move to a new pasture. They had climbed up to the track as I walked them around to the gate-way. We're talking a fair hike, it had taken them 30min, keeping enough distance to not scare them back down into the gully but still enough pressure so that they are eager to keep moving and not drift off the track for a nibble.
Finally, I'd get them to the gate and instead of trotting through they spook at something and shoot up the fenceline. I send a dog up to head them off and then there is a stand-off... Sheep and Dog, face to face, both waiting for the other to make the first move. This could go on for hours. But I don't have hours. I've got a whole bunch of jobs that I want to get done this morning and a truck coming for some lambs in the afternoon. I was quite keen on checking a few hives while I was out here to see how the bees are getting on after a week of wet weather. I send the Hunterway to get things moving. Bad move.
Hunterways are the noisy dogs in a Shepards team. They are all energy and bluster. Great for getting the mob moving at the start of the muster but less effective in the tight stuff that heading dogs are used for. I should have known better, but I don't have time to muck around.
Anyhow, one hour latter; with boots full of water and scratches all over my arm, I managed to get three of those four through the gate. A poignant lesson on the value of 'Slow'.
They used to say that a Shepard wouldn't be hired unless he smoked 'roll-your-own' cigarettes. The ability to wait, roll-up a cigarette and let the sheep figure things out for themselves was an essential skill. It's something that I often remind myself of when I'm out in the hills and at home with the family. Sometimes it doesn't matter how easily 'I' can see what needs to be done or how to do it, allowing the time and space for those around us to figure it out is far more effective. Whether you are working with an energetic toddler, a high school sports team or a small mob of flighty Ewes this is relevant and might just help you avoid ending up with boots full of water.
Practicing how to Slow down can be as easy as simply taking 5 minutes longer to do something that we would normally rush through as part of our daily routine. Journalist Annemiek Leclaire, who committed to spending a year slowing down, found great benefit in two simple tasks. In the morning she set the alarm 15 minutes early to make a cup of coffee, return to bed, look out at the trees and think about the day ahead. In the evening she would spend time with a mug of tea staring out the window into the city square. "At the beginning of the day, I no longer let myself be immediately tugged away from myself by all kinds of inconsequential distractions, and at the end of the day I took time to return to myself".
But it is not always easy to put these solutions to practice and frustration can be expected. Stephanie Bennet Vogt, American author and developer of the 'Simplify your life' course, says that 'we tend to have set patterns and an inner resistance that prevent us from putting the solutions into practice'. It's easy to say that I'm going to unplug the phone for the weekend but it's a hell of a lot harder to stay frustrated when you're into your third hour of trying to entertain the kids and you just want to have a cup of coffee and check the news. Sports Psychologist, David Galbraith, builds in 'mindfulness' into his athletes training schedule. For him, it might be simply doing the dishes or stacking bricks in the backyard. The key is to do this without distraction to make the mundane feel more 'productive' or go more quickly but to instead embrace the space that these tasks allow you to get lost in your thoughts and reset.
So, If you ever get the opportunity to go to watch a local dog trial, you should take it. Better yet, volunteer to help on the course because one of my most enjoyable days to practice slowing down is to spend an afternoon being a 'human thistle' (positioned to direct the sheep in the right way at the start of the course). Spending a day with the important task of standing still on the hillside. No reception out there, nobody to chat to, just a few hours in your own thoughts observing the master shepherds of slow persuasion guide their flock through a course and into a pen. Well, that's the idea anyway.