Many Hands

Jul. 21 2016
From the Farm


The thing is, there’s no such thing as wool-gathering, if by wool-gathering you mean walking about a bushy area and detaching locks of fleece from branches.

When we gather wool it has been shorn from a sheep. We gathered our wool on June 21st from some 95 adult sheep and it had been shorn by Anson and Raylin Burns between 8:30 and noon.



You could tell that they’re professionals before they caught the first ewe. They rearranged the shearing parlor, for one thing—son/nephew Trevan helped—and their clippers were each powered by its own motor which made the hand piece lighter. Each shearing board was corrugated by time and the trade so there was no slippage and the brothers’ footgear were made of felt. When a sheep was shorn it was pushed back behind the shearer through a burlap curtain and it was followed by its fleece, kicked through in a pile to be collected and, once inspected, taken away. Nicks in the hide were immediately inspected and sprayed if necessary for fly control and healing. Water was handed around, shorn sheep were herded elsewhere, new groups of the unshorn were herded into the shed. And more water was handed around.


As patriarch, watching all that and pitching in where necessary, I reflected on three aspects of the process. The first was enunciated by John Heywood in the sixteenth century, and even then it was an old notion: many hands make light work. Indeed they do, John Heywood, but you’ve left out the part that refers to common understanding and purpose, and the ability of people to match their skills to what is needed.

The second aspect was that here there were three unrelated families at work, the three Burnses, four Patrys, and our family, grandparents, parents, and grandsons, purposeful and productive. It seemed rather nineteenth century, like wheat harvest, or corn shucking, and I wondered how few occasions are left for community productivity.


The third aspect was that while I agree that the first person at the dawn of things who gathered a bit of wool from a bush and thought that it could be put to use if only you could get enough of it actually was a wool-gatherer, since then you have to have someone who removes the fleece directly from the sheep. And for every bit of wool you have about you—carpet, necktie, potholder, scarf, trousers, blanket, socks, uniform, the sweater grandma knitted—and every bit of wool that any one of us has, there has to have been someone, somewhere, who removed it directly from a sheep.

Wool gathered, it was 95° F when we left off and sat down to lunch. Next year maybe we can get it done at the end of March.


Copyright Jerry Wigglesworth, 2016