The exceedingly green fields across the lane from my house rise steeply, so from my second floor window (in Ireland it's the first floor, but I remain confusedly American on this point) I'm eye to eye with grazing sheep. Usually, the sheep aren't up to much. Sometimes there's a burst of activity when the young border collie the farmer is training appears, inciting the sheep into a crazy pack trot around the field. Generally, however, it's all about the grazing. Nice, quiet grazing.
A few days ago I was abstractedly looking out the window while brushing my teeth and I saw a sheep stop grazing, lift her head sharply, and stare, arrested, stage right. I couldn't see what the sheep saw. "What," I thought "could possibly get such considered attention from a sheep?" Had a totally unexpected and utterly absorbing idea suddenly illuminated that ovine brain? Sheep aren't known for deep thinking. In a cranium as presumably empty as a sheep's, will the smallest outside stimulus arrest her, or does it take something truly momentous to make an impact on those placid synapses?
This is a question for a zen master but it led me to remember the time I saw a sheep actually arrested, on the Great Blasket, about 10 years ago. The Blaskets were fairly uncomplicated then. If on a still and sunny summer day you got the urge to go there, you drove to Dunquin pier, hiked down the precipitous and much photographed twisting path to the harbor, got on one of two boats operated by the supernaturally gorgeous Slattery twins, and crossed the Blasket Sound.
Depending on the tides, you'd either jump down to the rocky pier in a quiet cove below the village, or be transferred by twin in a small zodiac. You'd be informed when the last boat was leaving. You could stay as long as you liked.
Walking up the steep green track, the famous white strand gleaming below, Sue Redican's house on the left and the remains of the village on either side, you'd feel a slow infusion of happiness. The track, and your intentions, led to the cafe, where you'd inevitably see a few friends drinking coffee in the sun at the outdoor tables. Of course they were there; of course you were. It was so obviously a day to be on the Blaskets.
On most days,however, you'd encounter an obstacle before you reached the cafe. Which was perhaps fitting for a place with such mythical overtones. You'd have to pass a test. You'd have to pass Rambo.
An extremely large ram who'd adopted the place as his own personal hangout, Rambo was the cafe gatekeeper. Sometimes he let you by with only a glare. Sometimes a warning nudge. He was surly. He was unpredictable. He'd swapped the grazing life for the cafe life, and so was as suave as a ram can get, yet still a ram, and sometimes confused by this. It's not always easy being an ex-pat, caught between two cultures.
Rambo was part of the scene, always there, never friendly, occasionally obstreperous. Who knew he was wanted? Turns out there was a bounty on him. For Rambo, lately, had become a bit too aggressive. He'd headbutted a tourist. He'd blocked the cafe door more than once. He'd charged and chased a few dawdling passersby. The verdict came down: exile.
The arrest was made on a sunny day in June. Tourists disgorged from the first boat of the day were re-fortifying with caffeine before trekking around the island. Rambo stood squarely on the track, eyes on the coffee drinkers, faintly hostile (though lacking the mental punch to be truly malevolent). He never saw it coming. Three men with ropes jumped him from behind and tackled him to the ground, shattering the morning's peace and startling the coffee drinkers as much as the ram.
Roped and semi-subdued, Rambo struggled with the appointed ram-catchers as they worked him down the green track and loaded him into a curragh. Destination: Beginish, the small, flat island immediately in front of the Great Blasket. Once on the boat, his options were few. He was unloaded onto that remote, open dot of land to start his new life as, well, a grazing ram. I picture a Cagneyesque Rambo snarling on the shoreline as the men row away: "You dirty rats! I'll get you for this!" His cafe life was over.
For awhile we amused ourselves with pictures of Rambo, bandanna on head and knife in teeth, swimming back across the Blasket Sound under a new moon, emerging dripping onto the White Strand, and beginning a slow, stealthy climb up the track toward the cafe. Like other minor offenders, his capture and imprisonment would only reinforce his anti-social behavior. He was back. And now someone was gonna pay.
But we never saw Rambo again. He was arrested and he stayed arrested. Perhaps sheep cannot swim. Perhaps he didn't mind his new life, ram among the ewes on an island where sheep are the highest life form. Perhaps even a highly imaginative sheep such as Rambo can only stretch his sheepy brain so far.
As I finished brushing my teeth I saw the sheep in the field across the lane unhook her focus from whatever had grabbed it and return to her grazing. I never saw what she saw so I don't know what held her attention for so long. But I do know it's definitely possible to arrest a sheep.