Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Counting Sheep

It was the perfect night for sleep. The cold breath of winter was rushing down through the pine trees, playing soporific lullabies on the silver windchimes, whistling quiet melodies around the cottage eaves, providing a hypnotic background to the comforting sounds of the three sleeping souls close around me.

I lay there, listening.

Toasty warm, and wide awake.

Oh, I knew it would happen. I was wide awake all evening, wide awake when I went to bed, when I closed my book, when I turned off the light. No pain or worry to keep me from sleep, just a mind that refused to turn off.

Knowing that if I sneaked out of bed to roam the darkened house - perhaps to read, to write, to knit - Edward would consider it a severe dereliction of his duties not to follow me, up from his warm bed, fur mussed from sleep, eyes half closed. I could not do that to him, so I stayed where I was and decided, like Wordsworth on a night long ago, to count the ever reliable sheep. I selected my flock and lined them all up. But like the great poet, I too soon learned that this time tested remedy is not always fool proof.

At first, my sheep were performing nicely enough, leisurely jumping over my conjured stone stile with an easy grace often afforded by one’s imagination. But then I noticed a slight distraction, a lack of focus in their ovine eyes. Soon, sure enough, one abruptly refused to follow his kin, taking off on his own down a pathway of green. Another turned left and ran off to the sea. Soon they were all going in different directions, willy nilly, paying no heed to my orders and leaving me no choice but to try and round them up.

I followed the wooly Swaledale to town where I found him outside an ice cream shop with red and white striped awnings. We wandered the village streets, gazing in shop windows and lapping up ice cream before heading back, me holding tight to the scruff of his neck.

Next I headed off after the Greyfaced Dartmoor, down an overgrown country lane to a garden, planted all with white flowers - peonies, gardenias, freesia - oh it was heavenly. We strolled through the ivory rows, sipping lemonade and thinking of spring, me in a white dress, my fleecy companion with daisies woven round his head.

I found the Spanish Merino perched on a hillside overlooking the sea, an estate agent’s brochure held tight in his mouth. It was chock full of photographs of Cumbrian cottages, Scottish crofts, and weathered seaside manors. We sat there for at least an hour in companionable fashion, trying to decide which one was the best choice for me.

A Dalesbred ram was trying on boots in Toulouse, an Icelandic ewe was having dinner with Robert Deniro. A Herdwick lamb was in Rome at the opera, a dozen Hebridean on a boat down the Nile.

As the light in the bedroom began to turn from silver to milky grey, the sheep began to wander off home. Exhausted, I let them go. Though they did not perform as expected, they made for an interesting night. No doubt my eyes will be scratchy at noontime, and my mood will be grumpy at five. But I shall fall into bed at an earlier hour, and hope for a restful night’s sleep.

To Sleep

A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by

One after one; the sound of rain, and bees

Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,

Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky;

I've thought of all by turns, and still I lie

Sleepless; and soon the small birds' melodies

Must hear, first uttered from my orchard trees,

And the first cuckoo's melancholy cry.

Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay,

And could not win thee, Sleep! by any stealth:

So do not let me wear tonight away:

Without Thee what is all the morning's wealth?

Come, blessed barrier between day and day,

Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!

by William Wordsworth