Lessons from Sheep

I’m writing this from a remote cottage in the Lake District of England. Across the road is the highest mountain in England (it’s not that high) and the deepest lake (it’s not that deep)—perfect record-holders for this country, which considers moderation in all things a top virtue.

The one thing England seems to relish overindulging in: sheep. The countryside is lousy with them, and I’m absolutely surrounded by them at the moment. Upon waking, I looked out my window, and a sheep was blinking at me. Hundreds of them roam the foothills outside the cottage, baaaaaaing, munching on grass, and clogging up the road to the pub.

At first, these creatures charmed me, but after several days, they began to work on my nerves. That’s mainly because even after I extended a hand in friendship—trying to strike up conversation; refusing to eat them even when cooked up in delicious meat pies; and singing charming rhyme songs about the terrible scourge of wolves—they simply ignored me.

It was quite a disappointment, considering that I have a history of winning over farm animals. I’m beloved by pigs, goats, and horses.

When I told a local farmer my frustration, he explained that grazing animals have no interest in humans, because they don’t rely on us for food. It was quite a shock! Apparently, animals only want us for our food. They feign unconditional love in order to get it. I made a note to have a chat with my dogs when I returned home.

As long as the farmer and I were on the subject of sheep, I asked why many of them had colorful spots on their coats. It looked as if a graffiti artist had been turned loose in the pasture, and attacked the sheep with cans of spray paint.

“Oh, that were a tuppin’ mark,” the farmer said. (Some English have trouble with their tenses.) Unfortunately, charming English country folk in quaint villages do not come with subtitles, so I had to wait until I got home to Google a translation.

“Tupping” is the mark left by a ram after he has his way with a lady sheep. In other words, it’s a shtupping mark. The farmer sprays the ram’s nether regions with paint (what a fun job!), and the paint rubs off on the welcoming ewe.

Shakespeare’s Othello has a famous “tupping” line, but I’ll let you look that up yourself, because it’s shocking and racist.

This information gave me a fresh perspective on sheep. As I passed pasture after pasture, and saw ewe after ewe with telltale tupping marks, I came to the stunning conclusion that all lady sheep are sluts! This gave me a whole new respect for sheep.

Then, this morning, while hiking in the foothills, I came upon a pasture of rams. One of them had several colorful tupping marks on his rump! I immediately trotted back to the farmer with this exciting news.

“Oi, that ram were a pofftah,” the farmer said calmly. “The other rams tup ’im. He don’t mind a bit.”

When I asked if any similar action was occurring among lady sheep, he nodded sagely, “Aye, but it’s harder to tell. When a ewe likes another ewe, she just stands very close to her, and won’t leave her side.”

This behavior could go on for the lifetime of the ewes, each standing close to each other, neither of them willing to make the first move.

Suddenly, all those years spent making meaningless eye contact with cute girls at lesbian bars made perfect sense to me.

“We’re all just sheep, ain’t we?” the farmer asked.

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