Grasmere, England – July 2004
England was never high on my list of places to visit. I always considered it too normal of a destination. Much too easy for adventurous types like myself. It’s true that the usual dangers and annoyances are not present. However, I’ve finally realized that voyages don’t need to be difficult to be memorable.
Every two days, I walk several miles through the forest to Ambleside and back. It has a public library, where I can send an email to my husband to let him know that I’m okay. Taking the bus here seems like a crime. This is walking country.
And so I walk. Over hills, around lakes, through forests, and across sheep-dotted fields. When they see me, they bawl in indignation until I pass. Then they lower their heads to the grass again.
Some days, I go on longer hikes in the mountains. No. These aren’t called mountains, but fells. The small lakes in their crevasses are called tarns. It’s high tourist season, but only occasionally do I pass others on the trails. Low stone fences ribbon up and down the slopes. What, exactly, are they guarding?
High up on the trail to Alcock Tarn, I come across a lone sheep. It grazes near the edge of the fell. Plump and serene. Getting along just fine on its own.
A few mornings later, I’m awakened by a chorus of bleating sheep. This is not their usual contented rumbling. I hear despair. I get up and walk through the blue smoke light of pre-dawn. I pull the curtains aside and look out to the neighboring field. The sheep are being herded into trucks that will take them to slaughter. They shuffle forward in an obedient line. What else is there to do?
Just turn away from the path you’re told to follow and look at the wide open field. Maybe you didn’t see this coming, but if you work together, you still have a chance at escape. The farmers can’t catch an entire flock.
A communal death is less intimidating than a solitary existence. I think again of the lone sheep on the fell.
Most of the sheep have been crammed into the trucks. Soft white muzzles poke through the vents; nostrils suck frantically for air. The ruddy-jowled farmers slap and push and kick the stragglers. I squeeze the curtains in my fists. There is nothing I can do but count the doomed.