As mom and I were looking for lost sheep, it made me think of God’s word: “If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray” (Matthew 18:12-13). I prayed as I searched that I may be a good shepherd as my blessed Father is a good shepherd. We didn’t come to the mountains to look for sheep, but with the coming of fall, the many nights lit by a full moon, and quite a bit of rainy days, it is expected to have problems.
Mom and I with our three pack horses begin the two hour ride into Edwis’s camp. We stop at the spring that is just below the campground they were moving from that day. We realized we had forgotten water, but thankfully had empty bottles to fill with the mountain fresh water. Suddenly, I look up from the flowing water to see a sheep followed by one of my dogs, Marty, running down the hill in front of us. I call him off as the ewe crosses the stream and heads up the hill on the other side. Villa is no where in sight. I ride up the hill where the ewe went, wondering how to get a single ewe back to the herd that is several ridges away. I assume Villa to be with the ewe, trying to get around her and bring her back to me. She is pro at such things, but she is getting old and has a healed broken foot that gets sore, so I’m sure the wild lone ewe has a decent distance on her. I find neither of them. Instead, I see a small bunch of sheep on the ridge opposite the hill I’m on.
We tie up the pack horses and climb the steep rocky mountain to get around the 1 ewe and 8 lambs that had been left behind. Like lost sheep always do, they run up the mountain upon seeing us. I get up on top with them and send Marty up around them to bring them back down. We work them down to the spring. Mom stays with the sheep while I get the pack horses and we trail them to the top of the next ridge. From here we can see and hear the herd, but there is a cliff ledge and a huge bowl of a valley separating us. The ewe and lambs can hear their fellow sheep as well and head right down the cliff where it is impossible to continue down off from. Marty and my mom’s dog, Kayla, do their best to try and work the sheep back up off the cliff to work our way around the top to the rest of the herd, but they are not having it. They naturally and understandably want to go in the direction of the blatting sheep. After no luck of getting them off the cliff, and darkness nearing us with still an hours ride to camp, we leave our little bunch on the ledge to hopefully make their way around safely on their own.
At this point, there is still no sign of Villa, and I refuse to leave my best friend out in the mountains alone for the night when I know she was working for me. I hit a lope through the pine trees, along the ridge, and back towards the spring where I last saw my dog. As I drop down the trail that leads from the campground to the spring, she appears from behind me, panting with exhaustion. Tears of joy fill my eyes to see my Villa and we hit a lope back to the cliffs where mom is waiting for me, trying to beat the quickly approaching night. I let my trusty mountain horse lead the way, as I cannot see, and have not been to this campground so really don’t know exactly where I’m going. But Slim can always seem to find the trail and leads us right to the guys’ camp where we set ours up by the light of a flashlight. Thankfully, Luis the camp jack, has a pot full of food prepared which I starvingly snarf down before climbing into my canvas covered sleeping bag for the night.
We are up before the sun the next morning. Catching and saddling horses, and drinking instant coffee mixed with the boiling water from the wood burning stove sitting outside the tent. We make our way through the pines to a rocky ledge opening where Edwis and Luis have the herd bunched up for counting. My mom counts him out 25 head, such devastating news whenever we count less than what should be there. On a positive note, when we look across the huge bowl that separated the herd from the little bunch we left on the cliffs the night before, they are there! And they are in a spot on the mountain where we can actually get them down. We leave the herd as they begin their descent towards water for the day, and circle around the top of the mountain to where our little bunch of sheep is. I send Villa down the mountain to give the ewe and lambs a push down to where Edwis is waiting for them to take them the rest of the way to the herd. Now, to search for the missing 25.
Mom and I spilt up to cover as much country as we can, back in the area of the last campground and where we found the little bunch the night before. We search the patches of pines and check the openings in between. No sign of sheep. We ride back for camp, defeated and sad for our missing sheep alone in the vast forest with the coyotes and the bears. Once at camp, we eat breakfast/lunch, and wait for Edwis to return from his herd to go show him the rest of his allotment: the actual reason we rode in to Edwis. We go to the next 3 campgrounds, visit with a bow hunter and his cute little daughter, and shockingly find the Red Park pond to be dry, even on this wet of a year. We make it back to camp at 5:00, have all our stuff packed and loaded on the horses by 6:00, and head for our next spot- Teo’s camp. Edwis seemed half sad to see us leave. We always enjoy each other’s company, and the herders probably really enjoy seeing someone other than the only other person they see every day!
We make it to Teo and Ever’s camp as the light for the day is fading. This is my least favorite thing about fall, it gets dark earlier. Mom cooks up some of the pork we brought that we haven’t had a chance to eat yet, while 24-year-old Ever talks my ear off. I’m guessing he’s excited to chat with someone else closer to his age than his 54-year-old companion. I wake up multiple times tonight. Once listening to coyotes howling, praying they don’t hit the nearby herd; once listening to our staked out mare whinnying, leaving me worried that the rest of our horses had left; and then the 9 camp horses, 2 with bells, were grazing so close to our tipi I was sure they were going to knock it over!
The next morning we’re out to the herd by first light. Gathering the herd off their bed ground is the best time to count them before they spread out to graze and head to water. As we push the sheep together towards an opening, my mom unfortunately finds a freshly killed lamb from the night before. Damn coyotes. Thankfully the 5 guard dogs with the 2,300 sheep limited the coyotes’ kill to one instead of likely many more. After counting the full amount of sheep, we make our way down a straight up and down mountain, following an elk trail, to get over to the mountain separating Teo’s herd from where we found our little bunch of sheep. We believe this is the area where the lost 25 to be, so we spend a couple hours in search of them. Still Nothing.
We make it back to camp where we have breakfast and pack up camp once again. We head for the pickup this time, although we’re not done quite yet. On our southbound drive, we stop to count a third herd that is next to the road. They had gotten into poison, and herder, Edgar, wanted to know if more had died than what he found. I count him out 5. This isn’t bad, considering how deadly those poisonous plants can be when the herd gets to grazing in a patch of them. We help him to cross the herd over a culvert on the road before continuing on our way home. Mom and I discuss our coming week, wonder where our missing 25 head could be, and how and where to ride for them in the coming days. Oh, how blessed I feel to live this life, and how excited I am for my favorite month being upon us!